Review/analysis – ‘My Picture Left in Scotland’

by Jon on July 25, 2011

University poetry essay on ‘My Picture Left in Scotland’, 2004.

The poem ‘My Picture Left in Scotland’ is by Ben Jonson and is from the Renaissance period.  In the poem the speaker (Jonson) states that he believes love is deaf, and not blind, and then begins to describe to the audience why.  In the first verse the speaker tells the audience that he has been spurned by a woman he loves, and describes how sure he was that his language could capture her heart , although the audience learns that this did not happen.  In the second verse the audience learns about the speaker’s insecurities regarding his physical form (in contrast to his confidence in his spoken and written intellect) and how he believes this is what drew the attention away from her ears and onto her eyes, sealing his fate.


The genre of the poem is of love and romance.  It is an ode; it has high seriousness (the nature of love) and has irregular stanzaic forms.  However, the god Apollo (proper noun) is mentioned and the poem is iambic in nature, with some words being exaggerated (described later on in this answer) resembling a poem of heroic nature as well.  The first stanza has ten lines and the second stanza has eight lines (an octet), and the number of syllables in each line differ.  The poem does not appear to follow a Shakespearean or Spenserian form of three quatrains and a couplet (a total of fourteen lines), or the Petrarchan form of an octet and a sestet (again a total of fourteen lines).  The rhyme scheme is also different.  In the first stanza the rhyme scheme is a, b, b, b, a, c, c, c, b, b and in the second stanza the rhyme scheme is d, e, e, d, d, f, f, d.  In the second stanza there is slightly more of a pattern than in the slightly erratic first stanza, with two couplets (e, e and f, f) separating the rhyme in the first and fourth and fifth and eight lines.  There is an example of off rhyme in the fourth and fifth lines of the second stanza, with ‘hairs’ and ‘years’ only slightly rhyming.


The poem is iambic in nature, with unstressed syllables being immediately followed by stressed syllables, as demonstrated in the opening line of the poem in the answer to question one.  Although there are not ten syllables in each line the example shown in question one has five feet and is therefore an example of pentameter.


In the opening line of the poem the first person personal pronoun ‘I’ is used and the narration is evidently homodiegetic, as ‘I’m’ and ‘my’ are also used throughout the piece.  This gives the speaker a distinctive voice and informs the audience the subject matter is something very personal to the speaker, and suggests he is recounting an emotional tale which becomes obvious in the first four lines of the poem.  The third person pronoun ‘she’ is used to refer to the subject matter (and ‘her’), the audience never leans the name of the woman in question that the speaker is telling us about.  Although the subject matter is the woman that has ‘slighted’ the speaker, the main subject matter is love itself, emphasised through the capitalization of the abstract noun ‘love’ in the first line of the first stanza.  The verb ‘slight’ used in the fourth line is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘To treat with indifference or disrespect; to pay little or no attention or heed to; to disregard, disdain, ignore’.


There is plenty of caesura in the poem, breaking up many of the lines.  Initial caesura is used in the first line of both the first and second stanza.  This appears to be an introduction to the following text.  In the first line of the first stanza a comma is used after the words ‘I now think’, as if to introduce what the speaker thinks.  In the first line of the second stanza the comma is used after the word ‘O’, to introduce the conclusion to the first stanza; a commentary on what the speaker believes went wrong and therefore concluding why he thinks love is deaf and not blind as mentioned in the opening line.  Medial caesura is used in the first, fourth, sixth and eighth lines of the first stanza and in the sixth and eight lines of the second stanza.  Like the initial caesura, these are only commas, creating a pause urging the reader to reflect on what has just been said and then continue reading with an elevated meaning of the words that follow the caesura e.g. ‘I’m sure my language to her, was as sweet).  This contributes to the speaker’s voice and conveys the emotion the speaker is feeling upon reminiscing about the lost love.  The most common caesura is terminal caesura, occurring at the end of all of the lines except the seventh line in the first stanza and the third and sixth lines in the second stanza.  This breaks up the text, again adding to the voice and urging the reader to take a pause and digest what has previously been said.  There are full stops at the end of each stanza to signify the end of that section of the speaker’s thoughts, and the colon used in fifth line of the first stanza is used to tell the reader that the text following that colon (the speaker explaining how sweet he was sure his language was and why he believed it failed him) will be the explanation for the preceding statement (why the speaker believes love is deaf).


The speaker is very proud of his use of language, and describes this in a very interesting way.  The seventh line in the first stanza ‘And every close did meet’ suggests the language is perfect, with nothing being left open for criticism or error, and the subsequent eight line ‘In sentence, of as subtle feet’ likens the language to the delicate feet (metaphor) of a younger man, sitting in the shadow of the tree of the great Apollo himself (whom the Oxford English Dictionary describes as ‘the sun-god of the Greeks and Romans, the patron of music and poetry).  This is in strict contrast to the second stanza where the speaker expresses his physical attributes in a rather derogatory fashion.   This is evident in the use of adjectives with the speaker describing his hair as ‘grey’ (and having ‘hundreds’ of grey hairs) and his face as ‘rocky’, as well as stating he is forty-seven and overweight.  In the sixth line of the second stanza ‘Read so much waist, as she cannot embrace’ the speaker uses the words ‘so much’ to amplify the size of his waist.  The word ‘so’ is also used twice in the fourth line of the first stanza to elaborate and emphasise the verb ‘adore’ when describing the intensity of his love for the woman, and to intensify the verb ‘slight’ when describing her resulting actions.  ‘Embrace’ appears to be used here as a verb, and has sexual denotations adding a physical, sexual meaning to the poem to match the physical descriptions within the second stanza, as opposed to the more abstract terms of love and romance in relation to the mental descriptions in the first stanza.


Simile is also used when the speaker describes his physical features.  The speaker likens his belly to that of a mountain (also metaphor as although the noun ‘mountain’ is being used to express the largeness in size no belly is truly like a mountain), and his face as ‘rocky’.


There are lots of sharp consonants used, illustrated through the consistent use of the letter ‘s’ (especially in the first stanza), examples including ‘she, so, slight, sweet, sure, sentence, subtle, sits, shadow, fears, hairs, years, seven and stopped’.  Even ‘embrace’ and ‘face’ have a similar  ‘s’ sound, and alliteration is present in the tenth and final line of the first stanza: ‘’sits in shadow’.  This could help to elevate the emotion, giving the words a shrill and loud sound when being spoken.  The consonants ‘d’ , ’r’ and ‘t’ are also common (although like ‘s’ these consonants are common throughout the English language)  as are the vowels ‘a’ and ‘e’, although words containing both ‘e’ and ‘t’ are evident throughout the poem, often creating a similar sound e.g. ‘sweet, meet, feet’ and ‘he’ and ‘tree’, adding to the rhythmic nature of the poem (although erratic and without a particular pattern).


In conclusion the poem is very passionate and emotional.  There is something of a moral message apparent in the modern world; ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ that the speaker is conveying.  The first stanza is more positive than the second, with the speaker describing his sweet language although we learn he has been ‘slighted’ by a mysterious lady he loves.  In the second stanza he explains why he believes love is deaf and not blind, almost launching an attack on his own physical features (and telling the audience his insecurities) in contrast to his appraisal of mental attributes and skills portrayed through his use of language (and evidently his strength – poetry, even being compared to the patron of poetry Apollo) that he wishes the woman he loves could hear.  The speaker believes she saw him aesthetically, through her eyes, and not listened to his words through her ears and seen his inner beauty, therefore rejecting him.  The speaker does not appear to be bitter at her but more at love itself, and the importance that is placed upon what the eyes perceive instead of the ears, which the speaker obviously believes is more important as that is, to him, where the spirit of love lies.


 The poem

I now thinke, Love is rather deafe, than blind,
For else it could not be,
That she,
Whom I adore so much, should so slight me,
And cast my love behind:
I’m sure my language to her, was as sweet,
And every close did meet
In sentence, of as subtile feet
As hath the youngest Hee,
That sits in shadow of Apollo’s  tree.
Oh, but my conscious feares,
That flie my thoughts betweene,
Tell me that she hath seene
My hundreds of gray haires,
Told seven and fortie yeares,
Read so much wast, as she cannot imbrace
My mountaine belly and my rockie face,
And all these through her eyes, have stopt her eares.







Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: