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GCSE Poem analysis: The Farmer's Bride by Charlotte Mew
April 03, 2017
What is it about?
The Farmer's bride is a dramatic monologue in which a nineteenth century farmer considers his relationship with his wife. He relates how they were married, she ran away, he forcefully recaptured her and her current state in the house. It ends with him expressing his sadness and frustration that they have no children and expresses his physical longing for her.
The Farmer's Bride by Charlotte Mew
Three summers since I chose a maid,
Too young maybe - but more's to do
At harvest-time than bide and woo.
When us was wed she turned afraid
Of love and me and all things human
Like the shut of a winter's day
Her smile went out, and 'twasn't a woman
More like a little frightened fay
One night, in the Fall, she runned away.
'Out 'mong the sheep, her be,' they said,
Should properly have been abed;
But sure enough, she wasn't there
Lying awake with her wide brown stare.
So over seven-acre field and up-along across the down
We chased her, flying like a hare
Before our lanterns. To Church-Ton
All in a shiver and a scare
We caught her, fetched her home at last
And turned the key upon her, fast.
She does the work about the house
As well as most, but like a mouse
Happy enough to chat and play
With birds and rabbits and such as they
So long as men-folk keep away
'Not near, not near!' her eyes beseech
When one of us comes within reach.
The women say that beasts in stall
Look round like children at her call.
I've hardly heard her speak at all.
Shy as a leveret, swift as he,
Straight and slight as a young larch tree,
Sweet as the first wild violets, she,
To her wild self. But what to me?
The short days shorten and the oaks are brown,
The blue smoke rises to the low grey sky,
One lead in the stll air falls slowly down,
A magpie's spotted feather's lie
On the black earth spread white with rime,
The berries redden up to Christmas-time.
What's Christmas-time without there be
Some other in the house than we!
She sleeps up on the attic there
Alone, poor maid.'Tis but a stair
Betwixt us. my God! the down,
The soft young down of her, the brown,
The brown of her - her eyes, her hair, her hair!
Six uneven stanzas allow the farmer's voice to be expressed in a variety of ways. Throughout the poem, The Farmer's Bride, he refers to farm and wild animals, with whom his wife seems to have a closer bond. He is given a slightly archaic and non-standard English in which to speak, with all its connotations of innocence and lack of education.
Overall this creates a strong mood of wistfulness, sorrow and frustration, a portrait of a woman with deep emotional scars and a picture of a relationship of a sort that must have been all-too-common.
Although the length of the stanzas change in the Farmer's Bride (9, 9, 10, 4, 8 and 5 lines), they all move to a fairly regular iambic quadrameter. (see below for definition) Mew mixes couplets (aabb) with alternate (abab) and arch rhyme (abba) and sometimes rhymes three of four lines together: this all has the effect of creating a flowing, irregular rhythm that she can interrupt with line breaks, punctuation and stanza breaks to great effect.
By fitting a complete sentence into a single line at the end of the first stanza, Mew makes this surprising statement even more pithy and sudden. Her action is described very simply and at this stage no explanation or detail is given - it is as puzzling to the reader as it was to the farmer.
Mew uses enjambement very carefully throughout the poem. For example, in the third stanza the farmer tells us that his wife was 'happy enough to chat and play', which read alone might imply that the wife made a full mental recovery from the cruelty done to her, but the sentence is continued in the following line: her 'chat and play' is not with her husband or children but 'with birds and rabbits'. The following line introduces more modification of her play: even this is conditional on the absence of threatening 'men-folk'.
In the fourth stanza the poet includes a pretty monorhyme quatrain that initially sounds like a dreamy lover's praise - until Mew agains enjambement to modify the meaning of the phrases: the wife is 'shy', 'swift', 'straight and slight' and 'sweet', but only to 'her wild self'! This trick of hiding crucial information on the next line in a later part of the sentence goes a long towards creating the wistful mood of the poem: the farmer still loves, or desires, his wife, despite his frustration with her.
quadrameter: four strong beats in a line
iambic: two syllables with the stress on the second - like the word 'begin
In this Charlotte Mew's poem, the farmer has a range of non-standard words and forms in his vocabulary: early on he says 'us was wed'. He says 'she runned' and uses 'up-along'.= This simply goes towards creating his character as a rural, uneducated speaker and was exactly the method used by writers of other dramatic monologues like Tennyson and Browning.
The use of animal imagery throughout The Farmer's Bride means that animals, not humans, actually dominate the farmer's language. This reinforces his character - as a person more accustomed to dealing with animals than people - as well as creating some of the mysterious mood of incomprehensible emotions.
'Fast' has two meanings - 'firmly' and 'quickly'. The farmer, having a slightly old-fashioned vocabulary, probably means he closed the door properly or well, but the sense of the need for speed in the reader's understanding helps reinforce the idea that the wife has become like a wild animal. A 'fay' is an archaic word for a fairy, harking back to rural superstitions and stories of stolen wives, changelings and enchantments in the dusk.
'Maid', ie maiden, usually implies 'virgin' as well: this seems to be some of the answer to the wife's reaction. Turning 'afraid | Of love' could well be her fear of the physical act of sex - particularly understandable if she was as young as many nineteenth century rural brides. Her fear of her husband is unexplained, but we don't know his age or size and this dramatic monologue inherently presents the events from his perspective.
At the end of the poem we learn that the wife is still a 'maid' - i.e. that their marriage is unconsummated. At least if she was scared of her husband on her wedding night, he seems not to have violently forced himself on her. This would make his longing for her all the more poignant.
The farmer reveals that he didn't expect to find his wife easily or in a predictable place - when told to look in the sheep-field he says 'But sure enough she wasn't there'.
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For More GCSE poem analyses similar to The Farmer's Bride: Love's Philosophy, Porphyria's Lover, Neutral Tones, Nettles, The Yellow Palm, My Last Duchess, and Medusa.