Featured Poem: When We Two Parted

Byron’s poem ‘When We Two Parted’ is one of the most famous of all love poems and probably the greatest of all ‘breakup’ poems. But the most striking thing for me is the way this poem cuts through sentimentality to offer a direct and emotionally true realisation of how things will be: the lover will be left in ‘silence and tears’ while the loved, who has moved on, apparently feels nothing. This kind of tough Romanticism was called hard-boiled when Hemingway did it a century or so later in the 1920s.

When We Two Parted

When we two parted
In silence and tears,
Half broken-hearted
To sever for years,
Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
Colder thy kiss;
Truly that hour foretold
Sorrow to this.

The dew of the morning
Sunk chill on my brow–
It felt like the warning
Of what I feel now.
Thy vows are all broken,
And light is thy fame:
I hear thy name spoken,
And share in its shame.

They name thee before me,
A knell to mine ear;
A shudder comes o’er me–
Why wert thou so dear?
They know not I knew thee,
Who knew thee too well:
Long, long shall I rue thee,
Too deeply to tell.

In secret we met–
In silence I grieve,
That thy heart could forget,
Thy spirit deceive.
If I should meet thee
After long years,
How should I greet thee?
With silence and tears.

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