Virginia Lucas Poetry Scrapbook

Explication/Analysis of "Ask Me No More"

            “Ask me no more” begins as it ends, with the repetition of the phrase “Ask me no more.” While the phrase does not change throughout the poem, its meaning and tone do. At the start, “Ask me no more” undoubtedly has a forceful tone, as though the speaker is commanding the addressee not to ask him any more questions, and as if he or she is frustrated or annoyed by the continuous questioning. In this first line, the speaker provides some natural imagery, suggesting that the moon may draw the sea, signifying that the moon is in control of the tides and the ocean. The consonance with the letter “m” continues into the next line, with “more; the moon may draw the sea; / The cloud may” With this consonance, the speaker provides flow within the lines, making them more aurally pleasing and also easier to read. This consonance is a stark shift from the forcefulness of “Ask me no more.” Where the speaker originally seemed angry or annoyed, we see a softer, more sensitive side to him or her. This idea is furthered with the imagery found in the second half of the first line and the full second and third lines. The beautiful description of the ever-shifting landscape contrasts with the harsh command of “Ask me no more.” This might suggest that the speaker is not as forceful as was originally thought.
            The description of the landscape does not serve to solely provide the reader with beautiful imagery. The moon draws the sea, showing the changing of the tides, and the clouds stoop from high above to make mountain- or cape-like structures in the sky. These descriptions show an ever-changing landscape, and when the fourth line is introduced, this natural imagery adds an increased contrast to the harshness that the speaker conveys. In the fourth line, the speaker asks, “… when have I answered thee?” The addressee has asked the speaker some question many times before, but still, the speaker refuses to answer, and it still sounds as though the speaker is annoyed by all the questioning. Even with parts of the natural world constantly changing themselves and being changed by other parts of the natural world, the speaker refuses to change. The speaker is addressing the constant movement of the natural world and his or her own refusal to change, so it can be suggested that the speaker recognizes his or her own faults, as if his or her stubbornness isn’t something that’s necessarily desired, but more something that’s inherent.
            “But, O too fond,…” is part of the line that is never fully addressed in this stanza, and never really throughout the rest of the poem either. If the speaker is fond, then it might be implied that he or she cares about the addressee’s feelings, so the question will go unanswered for fear of hurting him or her. Or, if the addressee is too fond, then it seems as if the speaker is trying to distance himself or herself from this person, whether from lack of interest or from fear.           
             As usual, the next stanza continues with the phrase “Ask me no more.” However, with the addition of the second half of the line, the speaker changes the tone of the phrase. He or she asks, “what answer should I give?” This can have multiple interpretations. One might suggest that the speaker knows the answer to the question, but does not want to answer for fear of hurting the addressee. This then would continue the idea of the line “when have I answered thee?” in the first stanza. The addressee might be asking the speaker a very important question, and the speaker does not know how to respond without being hurtful. Then, the cold tone of “Ask me no more” in the first stanza turns to a sense of kindness towards the addressee. The other interpretation might be that the speaker just plainly does not know the answer to the question. Whereas in the first stanza he or she seemed omniscient, he or she now seems helpless, and even scared.
            With the second line of the second stanza, the speaker notes that he or she does not love “hollowed cheek or faded eye.” This too can be interpreted a few ways, with the first being through aesthetics. The speaker might solely appreciate physical beauty, saying that bad facial features aren’t something that’s attractive to him or her. However, with the addition of the third line, there can be a different, more plausible interpretation; the speaker is saying that he or she “will not have thee die!” With this, there is an introduction of the theme of death. That is, the addressee might be on his or her deathbed, and the speaker does not want this person to die. Then, the “hollowed cheek” and the “faded eye” are qualities of the addressee because those are features of a dying individual. The speaker does not love these physical qualities because they remind him or her that the addressee is about die. With the addition of the third line, the first interpretation of the second line (that the speaker simply dislikes the addressee’s appearance) becomes a little less reasonable, but the possibility is still there.
            The fourth line of the second stanza begins with another repetition of the phrase “Ask me no more,” but the phrase that follows is one of the most important lines in the poem. The speaker says, “Ask me no more, lest I bid thee live.” At first glance, this line seems to contradict the previous line, in that it seems as if the speaker is saying, “I don’t want you to die, but don’t ask me again, unless I were to tell you to live.” This makes the speaker appear as if he or she has the power to control whether the addressee lives or dies, and this makes the lines seem contradictory and confusing. However, the lines become clear due to the fact that the speaker has no control. The speaker doesn’t want the addressee to die but has no control over whether he or she does or not; the speaker is finally coming to the realization that death is inevitable.. “lest I bid thee live” is not literal in that the speaker can control life and death, but rather it serves as the speaker’s admission that he or she feels powerless against death. At this point, the speaker acknowledges impending death and does not want to think about the possibility of life because it might take all hope and tear it apart.
            The phrase “Ask me no more” as found in the fourth and fifth lines of the second stanza is representative of the phrase’s change in tone throughout the poem. Whereas in the first stanza the phrase conveyed a sense of stubbornness, it’s now associated with a feeling of grief and despair. The speaker did not want to answer the question earlier because of the fear of death and its inevitability. In the second stanza, the speaker is slowly coming to terms with death, but still does not want to answer out of sadness. In the third stanza, we finally see the speaker’s full acceptance of death. It starts out as usual, with “Ask me no more”; but then the speaker acknowledges his or her powerlessness with the phrase “thy fate and mine are sealed.” He or she finally fully comprehends that there are forces at work beyond understanding, and there is nothing that can be done to stop them. Thus, when the speaker is saying “Ask me no more” in the first line, he or she is saying that there’s nothing that can be done, so don’t even bother asking; just try to accept it.
             In the second line of the final stanza, the speaker puts into words the change in tone - the battle that was faced: “I strove against the stream and all in vain.” The stubbornness and harshness that was present in the first stanza was the speaker’s battle against the stream. He or she tried so hard to deny the impending death, but in the end it was all in vain, for death is inevitable. The alliteration of the letter “s” adds to this struggle; “s,” especially with the addition of “tr” in “strove” and “stream” in the second line, is a longer and more difficult letter to pronounce when spoken aloud, so the reader connects to the speaker in that while the speaker is talking about his or her own struggle, the reader is dealing with his or her own. The fourth line continues the speaker’s acceptance of death, and the beautiful imagery that was found in the first stanza makes its return. The speaker fought at the start, but he or she is finally allowing it to take him or her to the sea. As was seen in the first stanza, the natural world constantly changed and the speaker would not, but now the speaker is joining the natural world and going with the ebb and flow of life and death. The speaker wraps up the final stanza by saying that “at a touch I yield.” While it seems like this touch might be one by the beloved on his or her deathbed, it’s more reasonable to assume that this “touch” is the touch of death. The speaker does not want his or her beloved to ask any more questions because once death gives its touch, one must accept the inevitable.
             Repetition is certainly the literary device used most commonly in this poem, with the phrase “Ask me no more” repeated seven times in a poem of fifteen lines. There is not much textual evidence to suggest what question the speaker was being asked. Seeing that the theme of death is very present, one might assume that the question is “Am I going to die?” This is a reasonable question, and it would definitely show the speaker’s slow acceptance throughout the poem. However, I believe that Tennyson did not have a question in mind when he was writing this poem. Rather, I believe that the question solely acts as an outlet through which the speaker can express his or her emotion, and through which Tennyson can show how the speaker slowly accepts his or her beloved’s death. With the repetition of the phrase, we see the change in tone of the phrase, which provides insight into the speaker’s acceptance.