This poem was first published in Cor Cordium, in 1913 - one from a whole book of love poems.
Blame you me that I reprove
Worthless labours, and employ
Monuments for idle Love,
Doting on a blinded boy?
That I suffer not the din,
When noisy honour passeth by,
Careless who may lose or win
In a short supremacy?
That I scorn the buffeting
Of a superficial day,
Idle gain and profiting:
Seeking out the narrow way.
By which only who aspires
To a secret, hidden fane,
Cometh to his dear desires,
Winding through a leafy lane?
Go your ways! my muse and I,
Under any sort of weather,
Heedless of your fantasy,
Will stand forth or fall together;
And if many-sided Love
Lure us to some transient joy,
We will sing, though you reprove,
Out of kindness to the boy.
A modern reader will soon be struck by Alfred's use of an archaic third person verbal form - passeth - which were already phasing out at the turn of the 17th century. Shakespeare's Hamlet, in 1600, contains a half-and-half split between doeth/hath and does/has, while Macbeth and the play Bonduca (attributed to Fletcher), 10 years later, contain only the modern forms does and has.
It is a matter of deciding what were Alfred's motives for this intentional archaism. We know that he was very fond of the Classics and despised most of the modern "muddle", as he called it. But taking into account that by 1643 the th forms had all but fallen out of common use in poetry - possibly for much earlier in actual speech - many of his admired English poets would have scarcely resorted to them. He may have been responding, also, to the pervading pull of the traditional Christian hymns and the old King James version of the Bible.
Following the ballad pattern of abab rhyming quatrains - with mere sight rhymes for a in the second stanza and b in the fifth, this poem-song takes a circular route, with the last stanza looping back to the first by repeating three of the four end words from the first: Love, reprove, boy.
The poem picks up the old topic of Love portrayed as Cupid, in the appearance of a blindfolded cherub or boy. The thesis is straightforward: the poet has chosen, along with his beloved, to pursue Love rather than worldly aspirations, which the poet calls worthless labours, din, noisy honour, short supremacy, buffeting/of a superficial day, idle gain and profiting; in brief: perishable, vain, shallow and unsteady. We almost hear Solomon lamenting the meaninglessness of human ambitions in Ecclesiastes.
The poet is not naïve; he understands the complexities of Love: the path he chooses is narrow and winding, though also a leafy lane. Love is many-sided, involving joys, even when transitory, but at the same time risk-taking and requiring commitment (under any sort of weather) and loyalty (will stand or fall together).
The final line is triumphant and heroic; the lovers will take the loss of passing pleasures and the criticism of scorners, who will think of Love as indolent and foolish (idle...doting on a blinded...) and still be willing to sing to Love.
It is Love itself that remains, and the love of Love, and kindness for those that have aspired to the secret, hidden fane (an archaism for temple, hinting at the sacredness of Love) by taking the narrow way. The spiritual resonance here is clear as it echoes Jesus warning the way to salvation is a narrow one.
In all its contradictions and intricacies, Love is real, as opposed to the fantasy of wealth, position, fame and power. This is Alfred the passionate, noble lover, who had known the unflinching, self-sacrifising love of his wife Mary for a good 10 years by now - and it is a man capable of profound love who will write a poem such as this in the 10th year of his marriage.
Maybe the archaism in the verbal forms is his way of telling us he believed those were sentiments of a bygone era.
Introducing Cristina Newton
Alphabetical list of poems online