The Inevitable Awareness of Death

Michael Field’s “She gathered me rue and roses” from Underneath the Bough uses repetitive binaries and intentional syntax to exhibit the central and unavoidable awareness of death when love is present (37).

The verb “mingled” immediately draws a binary between “roses” and “rue” in the first line of the poem, revealing that they were apart before “she” brought them together. Roses generally symbolize love, and the Oxford English Dictionary defines “rue” as “sorrow” and “distress” (OED). “She” not only serves as the beginning of the poem but is also syntactically associated with a “complet[ed] bliss”. “She”, then, presents as the beloved of the speaker. Further, “sweet” and “bitter” replace “roses” and “rue” as synonyms in the last sentence of each stanza and therefore take on the initial binary, building on their already opposing definitions. Between these two binaries, there is a consistent distinction between a concept affiliated with nature or love and a concept associated with sorrow. The way that both binaries begin apart and then come together alludes to the larger opposition between life and death, which the poem proposes feels very separate until you love someone. When love is present, death and sorrow feel both intimate and imminent.

The almost identical syntax in the first and last lines of the stanzas point to the central and inevitable awareness of death. The only differences between the first lines are “she” and “life”. Both, the poem says, “mingle you rue and roses”, or bring together love and death. The near but unsuccessful identicality of these lines presents the awareness of death on both a personal and universal level. “She” caused this alignment for the speaker, but “life”, the piece proposes, will do it for you, too.  The last two lines of each stanza are also near-identical: the first reads “the bitter that lived with the sweet” and the second, “the bitter will smell of the sweet”. Both lines reinforce the intimacy between the binaries of love and death. Further, the use of both past and future tense in virtually the same line emphasizes the relativity of that intimacy.

This moment directly relates to the whole of the text because it clings to the Pagan aestheticism throughout “Underneath the Bough” that treats “death as the dark twin of desire” (Thain, Vadillo 113). Especially throughout Book 2, death is just as pertinent of a subject as love. Throughout Underneath the Bough and “She gathered me rue and roses”, love and an awareness of death come in unison.

One thought on “The Inevitable Awareness of Death”

  1. j3ss,

    I really enjoyed your blog. I like how you pointed out the relationship between death and love in this specific poem. I also think there is a manifestation of a more general theme here that persists throughout many of the poems in Underneath the Bough. “Love’s wings are wondrous swift” highlights a similar theme. The diction used in this poem presents a paradoxical representation of love. It reveals love in a way that connects with death and sadness, which differs from one natural image of love. Similarly to how to love in the poem you identified attaches itself to death.

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