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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

In this poem the speaker bitterly complains about a woman he loved, who left him, after her father's advice, for a wealthier man. At the beginning of the poem, he reflects on the love he once shared with this woman, and remembers how it made him feel. In stanza five he says:

Many a night I saw the Pleiads, rising thro' the mellow shade,

Glitter like a swarm of fire-flies tangled in a silver braid.

The Pleiads (sic) is a cluster of stars visible from Earth, and the speaker invokes it here to evoke a romantic setting. He uses a simile to compare the stars to "a swarm of fire-flies tangled in a silver braid." The colour imagery in this simile (the implied red of the "fire-flies" and the "silver" of the braid) suggests a rather beautiful scene. Red also may connote the passion of the speaker's love at this time, and "silver" perhaps suggests how precious he considered the love to be. This quotation is also full of imagery connoting light (the stars, the "fire-flies", and the "silver"), implying that this woman he loved brought a light into the darkness of his life.

In stanza sixteen, the speaker reflects that, in hindsight, the relationship between him and the woman was always doomed to end. He describes how:

Love took up the glass of Time, and turn'd it in his glowing hands;

Every moment, lightly shaken, ran itself in golden sands.

In this quotation, love is personified and is said to have turned over an hourglass when the relationship began. An hourglass is a device used to measure the passage of time. It comprises two transparent bulbs, one containing a quantity of sand. When the device is turned upside down the sand trickles from one bulb to the other. When the speaker says that "Love took up the glass of Time, and turn'd it," he means that "Love" had already decided that the relationship was not going to last. It would last only as long as it took the sand to trickle from one bulb to the other. This image retrospectively gives to each moment they spent together a preciousness which haunts the speaker now that he has lost her.

In the next stage of the poem, the speaker's tone becomes somewhat angry and bitter. He accuses the woman, in stanza twenty one, of being:

Falser than all fancy fathoms, falser than all songs have sung,

Puppet to a father's threat, and servile to a shrewish tongue!

The repetition of the comparative adjective "falser" emphasizes the speaker's anger. He accuses the woman of being false because she left him, after, presumably, swearing her love to him. In the second line of the quotation the speaker uses a metaphor to describe the woman, scornfully, as a "Puppet to a father's threat." The implication here is that the woman was made to leave the speaker by her father. The puppet metaphor implies that the woman had no will of her own.

In stanza thirty three, the speaker questions himself, asking why he still cherishes this woman who left him. He asks:

Am I mad, that I should cherish that which bears but bitter fruit?

I will pluck it from my bosom, tho' my heart be at the root.

The rhetorical question in the first line points to the speaker's confusion and frustration. He knows that to still cherish this woman is futile and, worse, masochistic, but he continues to cherish her anyway. He tries to convince himself to, metaphorically, "pluck" her love, and his love of her, "from (his) bosom," even if...

(This entire section contains 811 words.)

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it means tearing out his own heart at the same time.

In the second half of the poem, the speaker digresses from the subject of the woman who left him to a broader, more philosophical reflection on the condition of the world. In stanza fifty, he wonders:

What is that which I should turn to, lighting upon days like these?

Every door is barr'd with gold, and opens but to golden keys.

The rhetorical question in the first line, like the rhetorical question in the previous quotation, points to the speaker's ongoing frustration with the world. Specifically, he is frustrated with the world because everyone seems to be so concerned with material wealth. The woman who left him did so, after all, because her father told her to marry a wealthier man. In the second line of the quotation, the speaker uses the metaphor of locked doors, "barr'd with gold," to describe how money, or a lack thereof, can determine where one can and can't go, and what one can and can't do. If one, like the speaker, does not have material wealth, or "golden keys," then one's options are limited. It is this sense of injustice which the speaker turns his mind to in the later part of the poem.