Study Guide

Lord Randall Themes

  • Death

    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.

    Questions About Death

    1. Why do you think Lord Randall holds off on announcing his impending death? Is it possible he doesn't put two and two together until his mom does? Or does he for sure know all along?
    2. Lord Randall never comes out and says he's going to die, Instead he uses the metaphor of exhaustion, and the euphemism of lying down to sleep (implicitly in his deathbed). What is the purpose of this evasive figurative language? Why bother?
    3. Do you think Lord Randall resists death? Or do you think he goes to it willingly?
    4. We have no evidence at all with which to answer this question, but why do you think Lord Randall gets poisoned? What, if anything, does this fate say about his relationship with his girlfriend?

    Chew on This

    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.

  • Sadness

    "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.

    Questions About Sadness

    1. Between the oddly calm Lord Randall and his distressed mother, we don't get much of a conventional picture of sadness. In the early stanzas (before puppies dying and poison eels), how do we know that this is a "sad" poem?
    2. Though Lord Randall, like a typical young guy, has some trouble expressing his feelings, what are some clues we get towards his inner state?
    3. Lord Randall's doting mother keeps emphasizing his youth and beauty. How does that contribute to the melancholy air of this poem?

    Chew on This

    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.

  • Betrayal

    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.

    Questions About Betrayal

    1. Betrayal is another thing that's not openly stated here (you're probably not surprised about that). How do we know what happened to Lord Randall?
    2. Why do you think Lord Randall chooses not to directly accuse his girlfriend of poisoning him? 
    3. Lord Randall seems more sad than angry that his no good, poisoning, dishonest lady friend has betrayed him in the worst way. How do you read his reaction?
    4. Are you surprised? Sympathetic? Annoyed?

    Chew on This

    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'.

  • Love

    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.

    Questions About Love

    1. How do we know that the source of Lord Randall's melancholy is love?
    2. What do we learn about Lord Randall's lover? Is she important at all in the poem? Why do you think her character (if we can even call it that) doesn't appear directly? 
    3. What kind of depiction of love does this quietly tragic poem present?

    Chew on This

    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.