Death lurks in the background of "Lord Randall" until it jumps out and yells "Surprise!" at the end. And once that big reveal happens, we can't help but look back and see death everywhere. Lord Randall may not slink off and die until the last line of the poem, but it is foreshadowed pretty heavily through his emphatic repetition of the refrain. In some ways, this poem requires multiple readings; the first time, you go through it and feel surprised and saddened by the twist at the end, but the second (and third, and fourth…) times, knowing that death is the ultimate ending here just makes the whole thing a lot sadder all the way through.
The incremental repetition in "Lord Randall" evokes a sense of gradual resignation towards the Randall's inevitable death.
Lord Randall's apparent acceptance of his fate implies that he cannot bear to live without his untrustworthy "true love," suggesting that he believes a life without love is not worth living.
"Lord Randall" is sad. And no, he doesn't particularly want to talk about it, especially with his mother. However, even though his bit-by-bit answers aren't entirely straightforward, they do consistently communicate one thing: he's so tired, and he just wants to be alone… on his deathbed. We don't have to be Freud to recognize these things as classic symptoms of melancholia—you know, a kind of extreme, er, sadness. In the end, we discover that his sadness isn't an existential condition as it seems to be at first, but that it's specifically caused by the betrayal of his lover. Yet even before we find this out, we can't help but notice that the poem is brimming over with a vague, bummer atmosphere.
Since the straightforward dialogue form of this poem does not allow us to see the characters' reactions, the poem relies upon the reader's (or listener's) response to create a dramatic air of sadness and mourning.
While Lord Randall's sadness is not expressed overtly, we see evidence of his melancholy attitude in his emphasis on his physical weariness; in this way, though the poem lacks detailed description of his feelings, we can see emotions projected through Lord Randall's body.
Boy meets girl, boy loves girl… girl destroys boy. Sound familiar? That's because it's the oldest story in the book—or rather, the Book. Like, you know, the Bible. Ever since Eve gave Adam that blasted apple, the idea that all women are deceiving deceivers has been an ever-popular theme with creative types. We can't say that we gender-neutral Shmoopers appreciate this misogynistic treatment of ladies, but we do have to admit that it does make for some pretty excellent stories, and this is one of them. "Lord Randall"'s tragic tale of betrayal by his ladylove is a heartbreakingly simple and elegant example of this classic theme.
Lord Randall's complete passivity and resignation to his fate suggests that it is not the poison, but his lover's betrayal that kills him in the end.
Lord' Randall's honey probably killed him so she wouldn't have to deal with his meddlesome, nagging mother. Just sayin'.
Pat Benatar said it best: love is a battlefield. Though "Lord Randall" is about death, loss, and betrayal, it's also classic tearjerker about the consequences of love. The reason it's so sad is because it's got longing and misery all tied up together. Love songs about happy shiny people living happy shiny lives are all well and good, but more often than not, you just want to sit around with a pint of Ben and Jerry's and listen to something that'll really tug—or in this case, strum—at the heartstrings.
Lord Randall's statements that he is "weary," and eventually "sick at the heart" express sadness and resignation rather than resentment at his true love's betrayal, depicting love in a contemplative, rather than passionate, light.
Love hurts, and that's what "Lord Randall" is all about. No matter how you feel about someone, you never know when they're gonna up and poison your eels.