“On Monsieur’s Departure”, with its highly interpretive nature and use of strong themes and appropriate literary devices, expresses the inner turmoil of its author, Queen Elizabeth, to the reader.
The basic concept of this 17th century poem is one of the divided passions of Queen Elizabeth. Elizabeth loved her country with fierce loyalty and control, but also had her own personal needs, and though it is not entirely certain as to whom this poem was referencing to, it is speculated to be about either the 2nd Earl of Essex or the Duc d’Anjou (French duke of Anjou). Essex (Robert Derereaux) was 30 years Elizabeth’s junior and was a charming, opinionated man with whom Elizabeth was completely enamored, but the relationship terminated when Essex and Elizabeth had a terrible fight and Essex directed an unsuccessful revolt against her. The tragedy pierced further when Elizabeth painfully agreed to have him executed.
The duke of Anjou, who later became King Henry III, was a prime member of the French royal family, being both the duke of Anjou and Alençon. He was an unattractive man, both body and face, but Elizabeth fancied him enough to allow a lengthy courtship by him. This courtship ended when the duke withdrew from the marriage negotiations in 1582, but there is uncertainty as to why. Elizabeth, if gaining nothing more from this arrangement, did secure a defense alliance and French aid against Spain. The country, in Elizabeth’s mind, remained above her own personal longings – she never married and reigned as the proud Virgin Queen.
The first stanza of “On Monsieur’s Departure” contain uses of Petrarchan conceit, paradox, and the theme of disassociation between the queen and her desires. The Petrarchan conceit (common in Elizabethan love poems) is seen for example in line 2, “I love and yet am forced to seem to hate”. These comparisons of love and hate are extreme, as the conceptions of both love and hate are the most ultimate and divergent emotions in the English language and do demonstrate a distinct parallel. The literary paradox (statement which is contradictory yet sensical) is prominent in this poem, and can be seen in many instances. The main examples of this are Elizabeth’s contradictions shown in line 2 with “love” and “hate”, and in line 5, where she states, “I am and not, I freeze and yet am burned”. In line 5, the figure of paradox is evident in “am” and “not”, as well as “freeze” and “burned”. The recurrent disassociative theme is very prominent, suggesting Elizabeth’s frustration between being a ruler, with obligations and expectations, and being a human being, with inner yearnings and the need for expression
. This is especially noticeable when Elizabeth states, “I seem stark mute but inwardly do prate…./Since from myself another self I turned” (4 and 6). Elizabeth is saying how she remains silent about her inner turmoil, but is churning inside with thoughts and concerns. Also, Elizabeth is saying how she turned from herself to another. This could be taken as either Elizabeth pushing aside that part of herself to remain a competent and commanding ruler, or as Elizabeth turning to another person (either the Duc d’Anjou or Essex) for personal reasons and her culpability for doing so. This theme continues throughout the poems through use of other literary contrivances and intricate wording.
In the second stanza of “On Monsieur’s Departure”, Elizabeth includes figurative language, alliteration and the subject of an unattainable self to voice her thoughts. The application of figurative language (expression which uses comparison to describe) is present in line 7, where Elizabeth uses a simile (comparison using ‘like’ or ‘as’). It is written, “My care is like my shadow in the sun”, stating that to Elizabeth, there is a comparison between her care and her shadow when in the sun. This can be interpreted in many ways, but it is because a simile is used that a mental picture develops to compare the two. The use of alliteration (the repetition of like sounds in speech ) is seen in line 8, where the initial ‘f’ consonants are repeated. The line, “Follows me flying, flies when I pursue it”, with use of alliteration is concise and artful, with a condense accumulation of emotion. The theme of Elizabeth’s care (of this man) being unattainable for her to grasp is very eminent in this stanza, with two supporting examples.
The first comes in lines 7 and 8, where Elizabeth conveys, “My care is like my shadow in the sun,/Follows me flying, flies when I pursue it”. She is articulating that her own personal feelings are unconstrained to her, without the control she is wishing to enforce. The second instance in line 11, “No means I find to rid him from my breast,” expresses not that there is a physical person which she feels the need to remove, but instead that Elizabeth believes that there is no way to eradicate the thoughts and feelings she has for this man from her heart. This continuing theme of separation from oneself and separation from emotional control is echoed throughout the poem, creating a delicate symmetry between each stanza, and allowing them to unite.
The third stanza of “On Monsieur’s Departure” embraces again figurative language, repetition, and a final accumulation of sentiment through deliberative wording. In this stanza, Elizabeth uses a very important metaphor (expression relating one thing to another) to represent herself. She writes, in line 14, that she is “made of melting snow”, a phrase which captures thoughts and images that may otherwise not have been so evident. Saying that she is “made of melting snow” tells the reading audience that Elizabeth is weakened by this, or that she is softened but not yet defeated – the interpretations are ceaseless, which makes this an important part of this final stanza and of the whole poem. The repetition Elizabeth uses in this stanza are towards the end, when she writes, “Let me or float or sin, be high or low./Or let me live with some more sweet content,/Or die and so forget what love ere meant” (16-18).
By using this series of choices as her final statement, Elizabeth is implying a sense of urgency and desperation in her search for a solution. Her final statement is left with a final, hopeless alternative – for her to die and forget about love. By reading these alternatives, each worse than the next, the reader is left with a final note of despondency and a climax of emotion which is expressed with phrases like “be more cruel”(15), “float or sink… high or low” (16), and “die and so forget”. These are intense statements that leave the reader silent from their effect. That is the essence of this poem, a pull and tug game of emotions, with no end solution other than to live forward and exist with ever-constant turmoil, to live, to rule, to sacrifice oneself for something greater.
Through the use of different literary devices and a powerful backing theme, Queen Elizabeth has left the world with a literary victory. This poem is a saddening one, but as a love poem, it is expressing not only the pain, frustration and despair longing can produce, but also the strength and might that backs it.