Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The importance of love in human life
The primary theme of George Meredith’s sonnet cycle is the importance of love in human life. Meredith explores numerous aspects of this theme, mainly in terms of romantic love between a man and a woman but also in regard to the centrality of the emotion within the human psyche. In the latter regard, the poet lays out many different aspects of the fundamental theme of mortality. For him, love plays such a key role in life that continuing without it represents a kind of death. Continuing to develop the mortality theme, he wonders how love for one person can continue after that person’s death. In this case, that person is the speaker’s estranged wife.
One complication of the poem is that the speaker is relating his reflections about a failed marriage along with his grief over the death of his beloved. His contemplation of the effects of his wife’s betrayal develops the important theme of fidelity. Faithfulness and constancy are significant in regard to the speaker’s understanding of his own moral obligation, as he reflects on his own fidelity to the idea of love. How can he be constant to that belief when he has been forced to confront the effects of his wife’s betrayal? If he gives up on love, he intuits, he would actually be betraying something more important than the bond between any two people. The idea of love transcends individual human passion or affection.
God's sublime design
This conviction suggests the theme of God’s sublime design. Because love is such an important force in human life, the speaker believes it is equally important in the universe. Turning his thoughts to spirituality more generally, he conveys how God’s will has placed love within humans as a way to connect with divine energy. This conviction brings him away from the theme of death to look ahead toward renewal: new love will arise after death because it is the motivating force in life.