Virginia Lucas Poetry Scrapbook

Explication of Thomas Moore's "The Last Rose of Summer"

Thomas Moore begins his lyric poem “The Last Rose of Summer” with a melancholy description of the final rose, “left blooming alone,” in a garden at the end of summer. The narrator observes the final rose in relation to the other roses in the garden, asserting that, “All her lovely companions/Are faded and gone.” From these opening lines, Moore creates a parallel between the roses in the garden and the human experience of the passage of time which dramatizes the loss of love. This metaphor gets stronger as the piece progresses, flowing from the blooming rose to its plucking, symbolizing the loss of love, and concluding with the direct identification of the narrator with the final rose.

Roses are often equated with youth and beauty, so by establishing the object of the poem as “the last rose of Summer,” Thomas Moore not only suggests that the rose represents the loss of a youthful love but also equates the rose with the loss of youth itself. Summer is often associated with a youthful exuberance; however, this care-free season is followed by autumn, a season of death and decay. The title of this piece thus suggests the end of youth and love giving way to the deterioration of relationships and a sense of pessimism associated with old age. This sentiment is reflected in the rhyme scheme of the poem wherein the second and fourth line display end rhyme, and the sixth and eighth line display an additional end rhyme. This creates the rhyme pattern: ABCBDEFE which is repeated in all three stanzas. By interspersing the paired rhymes with unrhymed lines, the rhyme scheme appears to be fading much like the withering roses in the garden.

In the first stanza, Moore rhymes “alone” with “gone,” creating a slant rhyme which throws the reader off balance and places a heavy emphasis on the word “gone.” This produces a sense of finality regarding the roses, suggesting that there is nothing the last rose nor the narrator can do to bring the other roses back to the garden. This sense of deterioration and pessimism is further illustrated through the personification of the roses in the last three lines of the first stanza when Moore writes, “No rosebud is nigh,/To reflect back her blushes,/And give sigh for sigh.” These lines suggest that while the last rose still blushes and sighs—often symptoms associated with a youthful love—the other roses have abandoned such actions and passed from the lover’s bower of the garden, leaving the last rose still clinging to the youthful bloom of love.

In the second stanza, the narrator transitions from remotely describing the scene of the garden and inserts himself into the poem by directly addressing the rose. “I’ll not leave thee thou lone one,” the narrator declares, “To pine on the stem;/Since the lovely are sleeping,/Go sleep there with them.” In these lines, the narrator projects human emotions onto the rose, imagining it pining for the roses that are gone. The diction of “pining” further indicates a romantic relationship, particularly one that is unreciprocated or unacknowledged. This romantic language strengthens the image of the last rose representing youth and love by suggesting that the final rose yearns for a reciprocated love which is unattainable because the other roses have all died.

 By directly addressing the rose, the narrator assumes an authoritative voice which commands the rose to join its fellows. The narrator then plucks the rose and “kindly” scatters its leaves over the flower bed where the other roses “Lie scentless and dead.” Moore places a subtle emphasis on the line “Thus kindly I scatter” by breaking out of the syllabic verse pattern that the poem has previously been following. This causes the word “kindly” to be emphasized and encourages the reader to pause for the missing syllable beat at the end of the line. By shifting the syllable count, Moore has subtly emphasized this brief line, suggesting that it is the fulcrum upon which this poem turns. At this point, the narrator effectively removes any agency the rose may have had by picking it— despite the fact that it is still in full bloom— and scattering its leaves over the garden. The narrator views this action as “kindly” because it reunites the last rose with the remains of its fellow flowers; however, in the frame of the extended metaphor, this stanza represents the diminishing of love and inescapable passage of time. Thus, the narrator’s kindly action consists of forcing the rose to abandon its youthful romantic notions and instead accept that love fades. By equating the roses with humanity, Moore suggests that all love must eventually diminish or be parted, with lovers only to be reunited through death.

“The Last Rose of Summer” regularly uses the poetic device of enjambment which breaks sentences across lines, such as in, “All her lovely companions/Are faded and gone,” or “Thus kindly I scatter/Thy leaves on the bed.” This enjambment encourages the reader to scan through the lines more quickly, drawing the reader into the jaunty rhythm of the poem. While the sentiment expressed in this poem seems regretful or melancholy, the regular enjambment creates a jaunty rhythm which suggests that the speaker is mocking himself for such thoughts. This is most clearly seen in the second stanza when Moore writes, “Since the lovely are sleeping,/Go sleep there with them./Thus kindly I scatter/Thy leaves on the bed/Where thy mates of the garden/Lie scentless and dead.” At first, the narrator portrays the roses as “sleeping” and himself “kindly” scattering the leaves of the last rose to join its fellows; however, this is contrasted with the final image of the roses lying “scentless and dead.” This contrast, aided by the enjambment, suggests that the narrator has caught himself in such fancies and is mocking himself for giving in to naïve romantic thoughts. Thus, the shift in syllable count at the line “Thus kindly I scatter” not only acknowledges that the narrator has transitioned into an active role in the poem, but also signals the narrator’s awareness of their own romantic notions.

An additional shift occurs in the final stanza of the poem, wherein the narrator turns from describing the last rose of summer, to directly equating himself with the rose. “So soon may I follow,” the narrator states, “When friendships decay,/And from love’s shining circle/The gems drop away.” This shift is emphasized by another change in the syllabic pattern of the poem. While the first two stanzas followed a seven/five syllable pattern, the final stanza switches to an alternating six/five syllable pattern and thus breaks the pattern of syllabic verse established in the previous stanzas. Shortening the syllable count in the final stanza increases the tempo of the poem, highlighting the intensity of the emotional climax the speaker is experiencing. In these final lines, the narrator laments the distance that grows between friends over time and the loss of the youthful love from the first stanza. This is conveyed through the diction of friendships “decay[ing],” which recalls the image of the dead roses lying scattered beneath the rosebush where the final flower blooms. This strengthens the tie between the narrator and the last rose by equating the dead roses with the loss of love and friendship that the narrator is experiencing.

 In this final stanza, the narrator transitions from directly addressing the last rose of summer to voicing an internal reflective monologue which equates himself with the rose.  This is clearly illustrated by the final lines of the poem, “When true hearts lie wither’d,/And fond ones are flown,/Oh! Who would inhabit/This bleak world alone.” In these lines, the narrator imagines himself as the last rose of summer, abandoned by his companions who have all died, moved on, or whose friendship has faded, leaving him alone. This final stanza completes the metaphor that associates the roses with the deterioration of love by describing “true hearts” as lying “wither’d,” creating an image which echoes that of the roses from the second stanza which “Lie scentless and dead.”  In these final lines, the narrator claims that once love dies or all the people you care about are gone, death is a mercy because the alternative is to “inhabit/This bleak world alone.”

This grim ending expands on the idea of kindness from the second stanza, indicating that the speaker believes it is better to be surrounded by love and companions than to continue living a solitary existence. Thus, his decision to pick the rose and spread its leaves among the dead roses in the flower bed, while ending the flower’s physical life, reunites the rose with its companions in death. In this final stanza, the narrator equates his own situation with that of the rose. Not yet, but “soon may I follow,” the narrator confesses, suggesting that he is about to suffer a loss. This loss becomes more tangible in the following lines, “when friendships decay,” or “true hearts lie wither’d,/And fond ones are flown,” hinting that the narrator is nearing the end of a relationship that is important to him.  When viewed this way, the poem becomes more than a mere dramatization of the loss of love and is instead a eulogy for a dying relationship which emphasizes the narrator’s hope that lovers can be reunited in death.

Moore has succinctly dramatized the loss of love through the involvement of the narrator in each stanza, with the narrator gradually becoming more involved as the poem progresses. At first, the narrator stands removed and provides descriptive details which personify the flowers, but gradually the narrator becomes a tangible character within the poem who interacts with the roses and ultimately becomes the focus of the poem itself when he transitions to an internal reflection that equates himself with the last rose of summer. This progression strengthens the parallel between the roses in the garden and the human experience of the passage of time which dramatizes the loss of love. At first, the speaker is objective and removed, an outsider reflecting on the solitary nature of youth and life which leaves the individual craving love and companionship. The piece slowly gets more emotional as the narrator becomes more involved in the poem, until finally the narrator reaches an emotional climax, indicated by a change in the syllable count, where he states that life is only worth living as long as there is love, and once love is gone it is kinder to be reunited with your loved ones through death than to continue living in the world alone.

"The Last Rose of Summer" by Thomas Moore
Formal Description of "The Last Rose of Summer"
Biography of Thomas Moore