A Quoi Bon Dire (What good is there to say?)

Charlotte Mews
 Read
the poem on you own.
 Write down your first responses to it:
How does it make you feel?
What do you think it is about?
Charlotte Mew was born in London in 1869. Her first
published work was a short story in The Yellow Book in 1894.
In May 1912 Mew was introduced to May Sinclair, a leading
novelist who was active in the women's suffrage movement.
Mew fell in love with her, but although Sinclair encouraged her
writing; she did not reciprocate Mew's feelings and the
relationship eventually broke up.
The period from 1913 was one of the most productive periods
for Mew's poetry, however, and she became an increasingly
published and admired poet. Living with her mother and sister
Anne, an artist, in difficult circumstances, Mew found
freedom and inspiration on holidays in France and Belgium.
In 1923 she was awarded a Civil List pension on the
recommendation of John Masefield, Walter de la Mare and
Thomas Hardy. A fear of hereditary mental illness had led Mew
and her sister to vow not to marry: both her elder brother and
another younger sister had been taken to mental hospitals. In
1927, still grieving from the death of her sister, Mew killed
herself, possibly because she feared the onset of insanity.
Seventeen years ago you said
Something that sounded like Good-bye:
And everybody thinks you are dead
But I.
So I as I grow stiff and cold
To this and that say Good-bye too;
And everybody sees that I am old
But you.
And one fine morning in a sunny lane
Some boy and girl will meet and kiss and swear
That nobody can love their way again
While over there
You will have smiled, and I shall have tossed your
In this gentle poem of loss and ageing, Mew
compares the idealistic optimism of youth with
the realities of age and mortality. There is,
though, no bitterness in the poem’s vision – the
final images are carefree, although separated
from the ‘fine morning in a sunny lane’ inhabited
by the young lovers.
 Consider the effects of the way the first two
stanzas isolate the speaker and the lost loved
one before they are brought together in the
longer third stanza. Note that the speaker
addresses the loved one throughout the poem,
implying that although separated ‘Seventeen
years ago’, the relationship still exists.
How can each stanza be summed up? Who is each one about?
Which lines particularly stand out and why has this been done?
Why has the same structure been used for stanza 1 and 2?
Why is “Good-bye” capitalised each time?
What do you understand by “stiff and cold” and “this and that”? Any techniques
used here as well?
How is language used in the final stanza to show a change in mood?
Analyse the second line of stanza 3.
Are any sounds predominant in this poem? What, where and why?
What do you notice about the rhythms of stanzas 1 and 2?
Why does Mew do this?
What rhyme scheme is used and why?
Can you find any internal rhymes? Why are they used in this place?
How does the tone change throughout the poem? Which words highlight this? What
is the mood by the end?
Here the premise of the poem is made clear, it is written
in the first person from the perspective of a person
whose partner died seventeen years ago. However,
although everybody else sees them as dead, in the
speaker’s eyes they are still alive and present. Their
love has transcended death itself and the speaker is
addressing the dead lover throughout the poem. The
sibilance in the stanza creates a slow pace and a calm,
somewhat sorrowful tone. The rhyme scheme of ABAB
gives it a measured pace. The steady rhythm in the first
3 lines of stanzas one and two is iambic tetrameter (or
four iambic feet) followed by an abrupt 2 syllable line in
lines 4 and 8. This rather short sharp end to the stanzas,
emphasises how the lovers are contrasted with
everybody else, and makes their love seem more
More information is given in this stanza ‘stiff and cold’ is
something of an idiom revealing that the speaker is on
the verge of death. ‘This and that’ is an example of
alliteration referring to life; the fact that it seems such
a casual phrase denotes how little life means to them,
compared to his or her lost love. Good-bye is
capitalised, showing that it is the final good-bye, the
farewell of death.
Structurally, the first two stanzas are mirror images of
each other. This parallel structure ties the two stanzas
together, also connecting the speaker to the object of
their affection.
In the final stanza the lovers, previously separated, are reunited
in death. The use of positive diction in the stanza ‘One fine
morning in a sunny lane’ marks a change in tone; showing the
speaker’s joy at finally becoming reunited with her lover.
‘Some boy and girl’ implies that everyone can feel as the two
lovers do. The listing of’ meet and kiss and swear’ also makes
the poem have universal relevance, it makes love seem easy
and commonplace. There is also consonance with the
repetition of the ‘l’ sound throughout this stanza. This
creates a soothing tone, like a lullaby which reflects the
‘While over there’ seems to imply that in death the lovers have
reunited and are watching over a young couple in spirit. The
final line shows the lover’s happily reunited and the poem
ends on a positive note.
The title ‘A Quoi Bon Dire’ means ‘What good is there to say’ –
what is the relevance of the title?

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