Explication of "Oh no we never mention Her"
In Bayly’s “Oh no we never mention Her,” as Virginia Lucas titles it in her scrapbook, the narrator is a man who proclaims that he can never forget the love that he once had with a woman, and yet he must pretend to move on in front of others, as she has already moved on.
Composed mainly of alternating iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter lines with a few deviations throughout, the four-stanza poem utilizes natural imagery and a theme of hope to untangle the speaker’s conflicting feelings for the woman he once presumably had a love affair with. Bayly’s “Oh no we never mention Her” is a poem that is based on his real-life relationship with his classmate Thomas Walter Clark Darby’s sister (Coleman). After neither of their fathers would agree to a marriage settlement after Bayly proposed to Darby, Bayly wrote was has become his most famous ballad. It was originally published with the name “Oh, No! We Never Mention Her” in 1820. The ballad became famous enough to be translated into various languages, including Spanish, French, Italian and German (Coleman).
The meter of the poem is composed mainly of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter, alternating between these two metrical forms throughout most of the poem. The poem begins with iambic tetrameter in the first line, then switches to iambic trimeter in the second, and continues alternating until line 7, where the meter changes to an anapest plus an iambic dimeter. The first stanza is finished off with a line of iambic trimeter (line 8).
The second stanza of the poem begins with a line of iambic tetrameter and alternates with iambic trimeter through line 16. The third stanza also alternates between iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter, from lines 17 to 24. The fourth stanza is where we see the poem deviate the most from the form established in the first three stanzas. Lines 25 and 26 alternate from iambic tetrameter to iambic trimeter as expected, but in line 27 we see an iambic dimeter with an anapest at the end. We see this metrical form show up again in lines 29 and 30. The lines in between and after continue the regular pattern of alternation between iambic trimeter and iambic tetrameter.
“Oh no we never mention Her” begins by telling readers exactly what the poem is going to be about in the first line: a woman whose name should never be mentioned. The speaker of the poem is a man who was once in a relationship with the woman whose “name is never heard” (line 2). The poem utilizes natural imagery to depict that the speaker of the poem has not forgotten the woman who is the main subject of the poem, despite his friends’ efforts.
Without telling the reader who this woman is, the speaker continues on to say that his lips are “forbid” to speak the woman’s name, which at one point was once familiar to his lips. The use of the extreme word “forbid” signals to the readers that there must have been something seriously negative that happened between the speaker and this woman. In line 5, the speaker introduces new people into the poem, more specifically people who hurry the speaker from one thing to the next, and refers to them as “they.” This “they” that the poem refers to is presumably his friends. “From sport to sport they hurry me / To banish my regret” read lines 5 and 6, demonstrating that the speaker has some regrets when it comes to the forbidden woman, regrets that his friends attempt to wash away with distractions. Line 5 is also where we first see the use of the word “me”. The word “me” is part of the many “E” rhymes in the poem, and is used five times, a lot more than any of the other words in the poem. The use of the word “me” throughout the poem can indicate that despite the title of the poem is about a woman whose name is never mentioned, the poem is truly about the struggles that the narrator faces in his own life. In line 7, where the regular meter of the poem deviates, the speaker admits that he gives his friends the reaction that they hope for, a smile, deceiving his friends into believing that he has forgotten about the regrets mentioned in line 6. This altered meter not only indicates the narrator’s deception but also emphasizes as the line does not read the same way the rest of the lines that follow the meter do.
The speaker continues to talk about his friends’ wishes in line 9 and 10, as his friends bid him “seek in change of scene / The charms that others see.” The ‘charms’ that the speaker refers to in line 10 could potentially be referencing other women, as it is obvious that the speakers’ friends wish the speaker would move on from the forbidden ex-lover. Despite these wishes, we are told that it would be unsuccessful for the speaker to travel to new scenery in an attempt to forget his old love, as his friends would find “no change” (line 12) in him. The speaker admits to the readers through the depiction of nature, more specifically through the imagery of a valley with a “hawthorne tree,” that although he may not clearly remember where he and his old love met, he will never be able to forget her. The speaker makes this declaration through the question, “But how can I forget?” This question can be read in two ways, the first being in a declarative manner as a rhetorical question asserting that the speaker will never be able to forget his old lover, and the second being in the manner of an actual question, with the speaker inquiring as to how he might be able to forget this woman.
Natural imagery returns in the third stanza as the speaker begins to recall other things that bring back memories to him, such as a breeze on sunny hills, “the billows of the sea” (line 20), and the rosy color of the sky when the sun is setting. In line 24 we are reminded that these beautiful scenes of nature forbid the speaker to forget this forbidden woman. By making allusions to these scenes of nature, the speaker is most likely making a comparison of the beauty of nature to the beauty of the lost woman.
Throughout the poem we see the speaker make strong declarations that he will never be able to forget the woman that he once loved. In the first two stanzas, we are shown that the speaker’s friends attempt to help the speaker move on, with the speaker fooling them into thinking that he has, and potentially even fooling himself a little. Towards the end of the poem we not only see the most deviation in the metrical pattern but also see how the speaker may be trying to convince himself that this woman, whom he seems to be infatuated with, will also never forget the love that she once had for him. The fact that three of the stanzas are composed with the same alternating metrical pattern, with the exception of one line in that stanza, and that the last stanza roughly maintains this pattern, makes the four lines where the metrical pattern is broken really stand out. The four lines that break the metrical pattern of the poem read thus:
(7) And they win a smile from me
(27) They hint that she forgets me,
(29) Like me perhaps she struggles
(30) With each feeling of regret,
These four lines all build up to the subsequent line. Line 7 is when it is first demonstrated that the speaker is deceiving his friends and possibly himself into thinking that he has moved on from this woman. Line 27 tells the readers that the speaker has been told multiple times that the woman has moved on from him and forgotten him, yet we see the speaker ignore this in lines 29 and 30. In these two lines, we see what seems to be denial, as the speaker seems to believe that the forbidden woman is still hung up on him and experiences the same feelings of regret that he does. The use of the alternating metrical pattern of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter, along with the use of enjambments, generally allows for the poem to be read in a smooth manner. In the four lines where the alternating metrical pattern is broken, however, the smoothness of the poem is lost, and these four lines become awkward to read. This disconnect in smoothness may relate to the wishful and false excitement felt by the speaker as he seems to ignore all comments and advice by his friends in regards to the woman who should never be mentioned.
Coleman, Carla, and Angela Courtney. "Thomas Haynes Bayly." Nineteenth-Century British
Dramatists, vol. 344. Literature Resource Center,
u=viva_vpi&sid=LitRC&xid=ecd9c790. Accessed 3 Apr. 2019.
Main Page of "Oh no we never mention Her"
Biography of Thomas Haynes Bayly
Formal Description of "Oh no we never mention Her"