“When we two parted in silence and tears, half broken-hearted to sever for years.”Lord Byron
Welcome back to Beyond’s AQA Love and Relationships Poems revision for GCSE English! This week, we’re exploring When We Two Parted by everyone’s favourite Victorian renegade, Lord Byron. Our When We Two Parted blog will focus on:
- When We Two Parted context
- When We Two Parted structure
- When We Two Parted analysis
Shall we begin?
When We Two Parted Context
When We Two Parted is a poem by the English Romantic poet, Lord Byron. Lord Byron was an English aristocrat who wrote about love, romance and great adventure in his poems. His most famous creation is probably Childe Harold from ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’, the poem that made him instantly famous. In it, he records the travelling adventures and misadventures of Harold, who is loosely based upon himself. Harold is melancholy, passionate and damaged. He is the first of many Byronic heroes created by the poet.
When We Two Parted expresses the love, grief and anger of Byron at his separation from his lover. The lover in question here is believed to be Lady Frances Webster with whom he had a secret relationship. Though married, Lady Webster had a number of affairs with prominent men including Byron and the Duke of Wellington. Byron may have penned this poem after hearing about her affair with the Duke…awkward.
- When We Two Parted is a poem by the English Romantic poet, Lord Byron
- Byron was an English aristocrat who wrote about love, romance and adventure
- When We Two Parted expresses the love, grief and anger of Byron at his separation from his lover
- The lover in question is thought to be Lady Webster, who had numerous affairs it seems
When We Two Parted structure
The title When We Two Parted reflects the poem’s structure. It tells us that this is a poem in the first person in which the narrator speaks not to us, the readers, but directly to his lover. It shows us that the event, the parting, was in the past and that the poet is reflecting on events from some point in the future. The separation is termed a ‘parting’ which might be seen as a wish – a parting normally infers that there will be a chance of a reunion. The word is not so final as ‘farewell’ for instance.
The poem takes a very measured and stately pace. It is composed of four 8-line stanzas which follow a strict ABAB rhyme scheme. Line length is occasionally altered for effect, as in the line ‘Pale grew thy cheek and cold’. The poet speaks directly to his lover, asking rhetorical questions about the nature of his love for her and her indifference to him.
He speaks variedly of the past, the present and the future, showing that he is still not over the separation. He speaks of feeling the same grief now and in the future as he did when the parting occurred and in the last lines he restates the ideas of the first stanza, saying that he would still greet her ‘with silence and tears’ as though no time at all had passed.
Repetition of the word ‘long’ on line 23 enhances the sense of the word as the poet explains how ‘long’ he ‘shall rue’ the relationship (whether simply its demise or the entire thing is not clear).
While he mourns the loss of his lover, Byron is also angry with her. He talks about their parting being ‘Half broken-hearted’, perhaps telling the lover that she was not as in love with him as he was with her and so could not lose her heart as he lost his. He says ‘long, long shall I rue thee’ showing that some parts of the relationship will be regretted by him forever.
It may be that he regrets the end of the relationship, her attitude towards him or even the starting of the relationship in the first place.
We are left to wonder how far his anger and sadness go. He accuses his lover of deception (‘Thy spirit deceive’) and forgetfulness (‘thy heart could forget’) while he is the exemplar of a broken-hearted man. He reflects at the end that he would greet his lover in the same way now as when they first separated: ‘with silence and tears’. Perhaps he would like her to see exactly how much she managed to hurt him.
- The title When We Two Parted reflects the poem’s structure
- The poem is written in the first person
- The poem has a very measured and stately pace
- It is composed of four 8-line stanzas
- Strict ABAB rhyme scheme
- The poet speaks directly to his lover
When We Two Parted analysis
The poem deals with feelings of loss and anger. The poet speaks from a point after long years’ from the time in which the events detailed in the poem took place. He reflects on the way he felt then and the way he feels at the time of the writing of the poem – it seems things have not changed for him, he feels the loss as deeply as when it first occurred.
The language is quintessentially that of loss and grief. He relates the idea of a failed relationship to that of a death using words like ‘knell’ to draw the language of the grave into the poem. He talks about his lover (‘Pale grew thy cheek and cold,/ Colder thy kiss’) as though she were already dead, reflecting the idea that a failed relationship should be treated like a death.
It is unlikely that the two will see one another again and the separation is felt like the separation of dying. The use of the word ‘sever’ brings an element of violence into the actions that separated the lovers, as though the parting was physically damaging. This mirrors the idea of the ‘broken-hearted’.
The relationship was a secret one and Byron talks of this and the required silence of his grief: ‘In silence I grieve’. Because no one knew of their relationship there is no one to help him mourn her loss. Although their relationship was secret it appears that she has had other, not so discrete, affairs.
He refers to her ‘vows’ being broken and we do not know whether he refers to her original marriage vows or the vows and promises she made to him as her lover. ‘Light is thy fame’ reflects the fact that she is shamed and found out – people are aware of her affairs and ‘they name thee before Byron. He is not only mourning her loss as a lover but having to listen to the malicious gossip about her.
Though their relationship was private he still has a ‘share in its (her name’s) shame’ inferring that he may feel responsible, in part, for the position she finds herself in. The ‘sh’ in ‘share’ and ‘shame’ remind us of the secret of the relationship, since the ‘sh’ sounds like the hushing of a whispered conversation.
- The poem deals with feelings of loss and anger
- The poet speaks from a point after long years’ from the time in which the events detailed in the poem took place
- The language of the poem explored loss and grief
- The poet likens a failed relationship to that of a death using words like ‘knell’ to draw the language of the grave into the poem
When We Two Parted Lesson Pack from Beyond
If I should meet thee after long years, how should I greet thee?— with silence and tears…Lord Byron
Explore even more set texts from the AQA GCSE English syllabus here.