April is Poetry Month and I have been reading through some of my favourite poems. April is a fine time to remember the power of poetry. (So are all the other months.) The best poems are packed with significance; they can change our perspectives, our minds, and our lives. But poetry need not be serious and portentous to convey meaning. It can make us laugh or smile in recognition of our own foibles, as does this wry sonnet by Michael Drayton:
Since there’s no help, come let us kiss and part
Since there’s no help, come let us kiss and part.
Nay, I have done, you get no more of me;
And I am glad, yea glad with all my heart,
That thus so cleanly I myself can free.
Shake hands for ever, cancel all our vows,
And when we meet at any time again,
Be it not seen in either of our brows
That we one jot of former love retain.
Now at the last gasp of Love’s latest breath,
When, his pulse failing, Passion speechless lies;
When Faith is kneeling by his bed of death,
And Innocence is closing up his eyes—
Now, if thou wouldst, when all have given him over,
From death to life thou might’st him yet recover!*
The poem quickly takes us through the stages of bluff bravado in the face of rejection. There’s a bit of sour grapes (“glad with all my heart,/ That thus so cleanly I myself can free”) thrown in for good measure.
The third quatrain seems to promise a turn to a more heartfelt farewell, one that will acknowledge that, despite the “Fine-I-don’t-like-you-anyway” attitude of the first eight lines, the speaker feels some regret at the breakup. The style is, especially in comparison to the opening quatrains, a little over-blown, but the poem is a snapshot of a moment when passions are running high, so we readers may be excused if we are inclined to be indulgent. Perhaps the speaker will tell us that our failed relationships make us the people we are today and will accept the parting graciously.
What we get instead in the final couplet is a sort of Hail-Mary attempt to get the beloved to change her or his mind and resume the romance. I think it a humourous and rather sweet admission of hope, of vulnerability, but one that does not really convey any expectation that the person addressed with react with more than a smile and a wave.
Much of the pleasure in reading the poem comes from the recognition that whether we existed in the sixteen-hundreds or live in 2018, whether we are inclined to make light of it or to take to our beds in despair, heartache is painful and often unavoidable. To sum up, we can quote the words of a more contemporary (contemporary for me anyway) word-smith, Neil Sedaka:
Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.