Sunday 24 January 2016

A Lover's Complaint by William Shakespeare

From off a hill whose concave womb re-worded
A plaintful story from a sistering vale,
My spirits t'attend this double voice accorded,
And down laid to list the sad-tuned tale;
Ere long espied a fickle maid full pale,
Tearing of papers, breaking rings a-twain,
Storming her world with sorrow's wind and rain

This "fickle maid" relates her story, a story of love unrequited, but as she describes her inner conflict, we receive a vision of the maid, no longer young:

"Whereupon the thought might think sometime it saw
The carcass of a beauty spent and done;
Time had not scythed all that youth begun,
Nor youth all quit; but, spite of heaven's fell rage,
Some beauty peept through lattice of sear'd age."

Crying despondently and wiping her eyes with a handkerchief, the maid tells a respectable man, who is grazing his cattle nearby, of her troubles.  

"Not age, but sorrow, over me hath power;
I might as yet have been a spreading flower, 
Fresh to myself, if I had self-applied
Love to myself, and to no love beside."

She fell in love with a young man with a silken tongue and enchanting brown curls, who stole her heart in spite of other more questionable qualities.  

"His qualities were beauteous as his form,
For maiden-tongued he was, and thereof free;
Yet, if men moved him, was he such a storm
As oft twixt May and April to see,
When winds breathe sweet, unruly though they be.
His rudeness so with his authorized youth
Did livery falseness in a pride of truth."

She "gave him all my flower," without being demanding of him like others.  She claimed that "mine honour shielded" but she became an "amorous spoil." Even though she knew of his other women, of his "foul beguiling" and of his illegitimate children, still she is taken in by his false charm.  Yet, in spite of this sorrow that is a burden to her heart, she claims that she would be captivated by him all over again.

O, that infected moisture of his eyes,
O, that false fire which in his cheek so glow'd,
O, that forced thunder from his heart did fly,
O, that sad breath his spongy  lungs bestow'd,
O, all that borrow'd motion seeming ow'd,
Would yet again betray the fore-betray'd,
And new pervert a reconciled maid.

Young Woman in a Straw Hat (1901)
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
source Wikiart

Popular in medieval and renaissance times, this "complaint poem" is written in rhyme royal (ababbcc), with seven lines per stanza in iambic pentameter, which I just encountered while recently reading The Brubury Tales (in The Feet's Prologue), a take on Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales.  Because this style was unusual for Shakespeare, some critics question his authorship, yet there are parts of the poem that certainly echo of Shakespeare, and coincidentially the first stanza is very close to the first stanza of The Rape of Lucrece.

As for figures of speech, the following are included in the poem:  alliteration, anaphora, hyperbole, metaphor, paradox, personification and simile.  Could I identify them all on the first read?  No, but that means that I'll have to read it again!

Deal Me In Challenge #4 


  1. The Sonnets were part of my reading list in my undergrad days and I remember one of my Lectures going on vehemently that this, along with some others are not Shakespeare's original work, but rather some underling of his! Which is why despite some similarities, it does fundamentally read like the Bard's work!

    1. On one level, I think it's admirable that people want to be accurate and find out the truth of what they're communicating. On another, I find it a little amusing. What's most important is that the work is beautiful or edifying or awe-inspiring ...... that it's art, and if it is, whoever wrote it won't change that. So to me authorship is interesting, but secondary, yet often the controversy is elevated above the art itself. If you read (well-researched) history, there is so little that we know for sure. Yet as humans, we hate not knowing every little thing, which is kind of ironic as there are so many mysteries in our world that we'll never know or understand.

      I heard Shakespeare in this, yet it was different. I'm looking forward to reading The Rape of Lucrece for a comparison.

    2. I think you make a very very valid point; we spend so much of time splitting the hair, that we stop looking at the bigger picture and I distinctly remember some LLLLLLLOOOOONNNGGGG classes just around the authorship...we need to admire the work for its worth...let me know your thoughts on The Rape of Lucrece

    3. Thanks ...... I think the nit-picking can sometimes make students enjoy works less or put them off reading.

      The other Shakespeare poem that I have on my Deal Me In list is The Phoenix and the Turtle, but perhaps I should read The Rape of Lucrece to try to see the similarities with this one. If I have time ..... I was feeling so on top of things but Blogger just ate a HUGE post I'd done so now I have to re-do it. Ugh .... :-P

  2. I admit I'm not that familiar with Shakespeare's poetry but I love the way the words go together in this one. That's a great point you made about authorship!

    1. I'm not familiar with Shakespeare's poetry either, other than a couple of sonnets, but I'm getting more of an introduction to it. He has such beautiful ways of expressing ideas, but they're often so profound that they take a very close reading to pick them up. Thanks for dropping by and the kind comment!