Study Guide

A Song of Despair Quotes

  • Abandonment

    Deserted like the wharves at dawn. (3)

    Why are the wharves the image that the poem uses to exemplify being deserted? Perhaps it has something to do with the way that wharves typically welcome ships into harbor, and connect with them—at least until they head back out to sea…

    It is the hour of departure, oh deserted one! (4)

    The wharves are deserted at the hour of departure, when all the ships leave. The speaker, too, feels like he's been left behind.

    There was the black solitude of the islands, (25)

    The speaker's state of mind before he met his lover was dark, lonely, and like an island that is completely isolated. Of course, after they split, he's not much happier. Maybe it's him?

    There were grief and the ruins, and you were the miracle. (28)

    Just as, earlier, the speaker felt as though he were on a dark, lonely, island, when he met his lover he was surrounded by sadness and ruins. At that moment she seemed like a miracle that would save him from being abandoned in the wilderness.

    Cemetery of kisses, there is still fire in your tombs, (33)

    The woman is compared to a cemetery and tombs, a place where kisses go to die! This gives us the idea that she didn't fulfill the expectation of saving him from his abandonment, and that he was left alone after all. Of course, "there is still fire" in that cemetery. Maybe the speaker here is holding out hope for a reunion. What are the odds?

    It is the hour of departure. Oh abandoned one. (58)

    The poem ends almost like it starts: at the wharves, with the ships gone and the speaker feeling abandoned. What does this circular structure tell us about speaker's state of mind?

  • Sadness

    The river mingles its stubborn lament with the sea. (2)

    The river is a metaphor for the speaker, who is using the poem to lament his loss, just like the river's sounds are like a sad song (lament).

    You girdled sorrow, you clung to desire,
    sadness stunned you, in you everything sank! (17-18)

    The woman was expected to save the speaker from his sadness, but it seems as though she was trapped in it, too. In fact, she seems like she was paralyzed by it.

    There were grief and the ruins, and you were the miracle. (28)

    The woman was to be the miracle that magically erased the sadness for the speaker, but maybe since they "found love in a hopeless place" they were doomed.

    Oh the mad coupling of hope and force
    in which we merged and despaired. (37-38)

    The love that the couple felt for each other was a crazy one. It seems that they tried to come together in their sorrow, but that the sadness was stronger than they.

    what sorrow did you not express, in what sorrow are you not drowned! (44)

    Hmm. Deflect much there, speaker? Does the speaker blame his lover for being too weak to overcome the sadness?

  • Foolishness and Folly

    Oh pit of debris, fierce cave of the shipwrecked. (6)

    The woman is described as a cave where hapless, shipwrecked sailors ended up. She's like the ultimate destination for foolhardy voyagers, and you can count our speaker among them.

    turbulent drunkenness of love, in you everything sank! (14)

    The comparison of the woman to the sea, which swallows up everything, is paired with the reason for their shipwreck: their love was wild and mad… and pretty much foolish.

    Lost discoverer, in you everything sank! (18)

    The speaker feels like a shipwrecked sailor, one of those brave souls who crazily went out to discover new lands and never came back. In the same way, he can never really come back from his love affair.

    How terrible and brief was my desire of you! How difficult and drunken, how tensed and avid. (31-32)

    What would make a love terrible and foolish? Do you think there are relationships that are doomed from the start? Shouldn't the participants know better?

  • Memory and the Past

    The memory of you emerges from the night around me. (1)

    The whole poem begins with the figure of the memory rising up out of the darkness. Opening this way lets us know that memory will be an important theme throughout the poem.

    You swallowed everything, like distance.
    Like the sea, like time. In you everything sank! (9-10)

    Time is compared to the sea in these lines, because it can swallow up every single thing, like love affairs or happy times.

    It was the happy hour of assault and the kiss.
    The hour of the spell that blazed like a lighthouse. (11-12)

    These lines give us the exact coordinates of the memory that the speaker mentions in the first line: it was a time when he was wildly happy with his lover. Sadly, that didn't last.

    In the childhood of mist my soul, winged and wounded. (15)

    Hmm. What does mist look like as a child? We can only guess. Still, the image here reminds us that, really, it's the speaker's soul—and specifically the long-last past of that soul—that we're dealing with here.

    Cemetery of kisses, there is still fire in your tombs, (33)

    So you're saying there's a chance. At least, the speaker seems to think so, even after all this time has passed. The speaker still seems to cling to some fantasy of "fire" that continues to burn, despite what's happened in the past.