2.1 Language and Style
2.2 Content and Meaning
In the following essay I would like to analyse one of Lord Byron’s earlier poems, namely “Well! Thou art happy” which was written in November 1808 and thus belongs to the epoch of romanticism. The poem involves a poetic speaker who laments a love relationship to a woman that has come to an end. In his sadness, he is torn between the love he still feels and the jealousy that occurs inside of him when he is concerned with his beloved’s husband or their child. However, he is aware of the fact that it is necessary for him to get over the end of the relationship. As mentioned above, “Well! Thou art happy” belongs to Byron’s early poems as it was written in 1808 and in general, Byron’s poems written before 1809 are considered as early poems (cf. Marchand, 15). Apart from that the poem itself includes some hints which point out its early stage. In line 22 the poetic speaker talks about his “boyish flame” and in line 33 he describes his “early dream” (cf. Byron, 83). Hence, the poetic speaker seems to be a fairly young man who is not very experienced yet. This suits the typical characteristic of Byron’s early poems. Marchand calls it a “juvenile verse” that describes “youthful innocence” as well as “the fictions of flimsy romance” (cf. Marchand, 15 f.). Before I will begin to analyse the poem, I will start with a subchapter about its formal part.
2.1 Language and Style
“Well! Thou art happy” contains nine stanzas of which each has four lines. The rhyme scheme consists of cross rhymes. According to that, there are two cross rhymes in each quatrain. Since the last syllable of each line is stressed, the rhymes can be classified as male. Each line has four feet and alternates. There is an unstressed anacrusis and a metre that is mainly iambic. An exception can be found in line 4 of the first stanza: “Warmly, as if it was wont to do.” (Byron, 83) This line begins with a stressed syllable, in contrast to the preceding ones. Typical is further the frequent use of enjambments. Many sentences need two lines instead of one, for example: “Thy husband’s blest – and ‘twill impart / Some pangs to view his happier lot;” (ibid). A stylistic device that Byron uses frequently in this poem is the personification, mainly of the poetic speaker’s heart. Examples are “For still my heart regards thy weal” or “how my heart/ Would hate him […]” (ibid. My italics, SR). By doing so, the poetic speaker is able to emphasise his feelings and their impact on him even more. His heart is so occupied by his beloved that it seems to develop a life on its own; a life that is independent by the speaker’s rational thoughts and attitudes. Furthermore it is of course important to mention that the personification of feelings and the heart in particular, is something very common in love poetry. Another personification the speaker uses is the “Remembrance [which] never must awake” (Byron, 83). Again, this shows how much meaning this remembrance has on the poetic speaker. It is not just something that is on his mind, it seems to have existence of its own, whose awakening must be avoided. In general it seems as if the situation gets more difficult for the poetic speaker due to his personified heart and the personified remembrance. He wants to close this chapter of his life in order to be able to get over it and go on. He is aware that otherwise he may be hurt much more: “My foolish heart be still, or break.” (ibid) The adjective “foolish” shows that he does not agree with the attitude of his heart, his rational mind tells him that he must forget this woman, regardless of what is heart still feels.
In line 34 in the final stanza Byron uses an unusual metaphor which requires, at least nowadays, a certain degree of background knowledge. The speaker wonders: “Oh! Where is Lethe’s fabled stream?” (ibid) This refers to Greek mythology in which Lethe was one of the five rivers of Hades. Interestingly, it was also known as the river of unmindfulness because people who drank from it experienced complete forgetfulness. (cf. Schwab, 20). Thus, the poetic speaker is obviously looking for something which would help him to forget this woman and their relationship, as if it was deleted from his memory. This line also makes clear how longingly and desperately the speaker wants to clear his mind.
The main semantic field suits the topic of this poem very well since it is one about love. Words like “heart”, “weal”, “happy”, “love” and “dream” usually have a very positive connotation, however in “Well! Thou art happy” they are hardly ever used in a positive way, and if so, they are complaisant at most, for instance when the speaker says that he “still regards [her] weal.” (Byron, 83). All these positive expressions are uttered in an environment of longing, jealousy and sadness. In the end they only lead to resignation and desperation. Hence, there is an obvious contrast between the actual meaning of the words and their use. It is possible that this reflects the speaker’s own feelings. His heart is fulfilled with love and happiness due to the fact that he got to know this woman. Yet, these positive feelings cause much pain and negative feelings in him and in the end he wants to get rid of them.
To conclude this subchapter I would like to have a closer look on the title of the poem. Considering the plain semantic meaning of “Well! Thou art happy” the speaker just states that his beloved is happy. However, the deeper meaning of the title and especially its undertone suggest more than that. The title seems to imply an inherent accusation or criticism, as if the speaker was wondering how his beloved can be happy while he is not. A more detailed title would therefore probably be “Well! Thou art happy, but I am not”, at least that would suit the tone of the rest of the poem. Moreover the exclamation “Well!” in the beginning seems to imply a degree of resignation. The speaker might have not come to terms with the situation yet, however he has accepted it.