|Queen Elizabeth I, circa 1575|
Oil on panel, 113 x 78.7 cm
Ever since I heard Glenda Jackson read this poem as she played Elizabeth I in the BBC series Elizabeth R, I haven't been able to get it out of my head. The music of the words, the opposition in the images, and the melancholy cadence just come together in a unique way. Plus there's the fact that it's a tantalizing glimpse into the mind and heart of a well-known - yet enigmatic and private - ruler.
Elizabeth wrote this poem shortly after ending her courtship with the Duke of Alencon, which was likely her last chance at a married life and for children of her own to continue the Tudor dynasty.
For my part, I have always believed that Elizabeth never meant to marry and not for any of the overly dramatic or weird medical reasons put forth by historians. It seems perfectly reasonable to me that a highly intelligent woman, like Elizabeth, who had power and security would never wish to give up either to a husband.
Even so, she must have had some moments of regret about having to make this choice. And I've always read that regret in these lines. I doubt she truly second-guessed her choice, as it was the only choice that made sense for her, but all of us sometimes wonder - in our introspective moments - what if...
On Monsieur's Departure
I grieve and dare not show my discontent,
I love and yet am forced to seem to hate,
I do, yet dare not say I ever meant,
I seem stark mute but inwardly do prate.
I am and not, I freeze and yet am burned,
Since from myself another self I turned.
My care is like my shadow in the sun,
Follows me flying, flies when I pursue it,
Stands and lies by me, doth what I have done.
His too familiar care doth make me rue it.
No means I find to rid him from my breast,
Till by the end of things it be supprest.
Some gentler passion slide into my mind,
For I am soft and made of melting snow;
Or be more cruel, love, and so be kind.
Let me or float or sink, be high or low.
Or let me live with some more sweet content,
Or die and so forget what love ere meant.
- Queen Elizabeth I