The Antidote: A Reading of ‘You’ll Love Me Yet’ by Robert Browning

By Christopher Nield Created: February 14, 2013 Last Updated: February 18, 2013
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(Liza Voronin/The Epoch Times)

(Liza Voronin/The Epoch Times)




You’ll love me yet
You’ll love me yet!—and I can tarry
Your love’s protracted growing:
June reared that bunch of flowers you carry,
From seeds of April’s sowing.

I plant a heartful now: some seed
At least is sure to strike,
And yield—what you’ll not pluck indeed,
Not love, but, may be, like.

You’ll look at least on love’s remains,
A grave’s one violet:
Your look?—that pays a thousand pains.
What’s death? You’ll love me yet!
— Robert Browning (1812-1889)

Roses are red, violets are blue. The rites, rituals, and rhymes of Valentine’s Day are once more upon us. With cards, chocolate, and flowers—and with hearts full of hope—we seek to express our love. Faint heart never won fair maiden.

The heroism and the folly of our quest are brilliantly caught in this poem by Robert Browning. It begins on a note of brave defiance that immediately awakens our pity: “You’ll love me yet!” It’s as if Romeo were shouting up at Juliet’s balcony, only to see her roll her eyes with boredom and quickly draw the curtains.

But love is a waiting game. The speaker declares that he can “tarry” his beloved’s “protracted growing.” The cumbersome formality of his language indirectly reveals his comic lack of self-knowledge. Exactly how “protracted” has her love been? One can hear him stifling his heartache, as he reflects on her implacable indifference.

His head has surely been turned by too many love poems. Rather than give up, he draws a romantic analogy to justify his persistence: as the summer “flowers” she carries have blossomed from “seeds” sown in April, so her love too will finally burst into radiant life. Is this a bouquet he has presented himself? Or are these flowers from another suitor, further compounding the speaker’s self-delusion?

The seeds that he plants are surely the words he expends trying to win her heart. They are the words of the poem itself. But every hope he expresses suggests that the opposite is, in fact, true. The speaker’s tone takes on a faintly pathetic air, as he tentatively wonders if she will even “like” his attentions. I somehow doubt whether this ice-maiden will melt.

Every stanza takes us deeper and deeper into the realms of hapless desperation. In the final lines, the speaker hopes she will look “at least” on “love’s remains”: a single violet. Pining for her look, he would be content with a single glance upon his grave. All his suffering would be worthwhile even if she only loves him after death!

In the poem, we see the speaker descend from noble thoughts to absolute self-abasement. Yet far from despising him, we laugh knowingly at his plight, recognizing some of our own miseries and mistakes. Who hasn’t lost their dignity in the dating game? But as the poet Tennyson wrote: “Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.”

Robert Browning (1812–1889) was an English poet and playwright, famous for poems such as “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” and “My Last Duchess.”

Christopher Nield is a poet living in London.

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