Virginia Lucas Poetry Scrapbook

White Roses Explication

   “White Roses” is a poem describing the events of a wedding and its underlying tensions of infidelity and faithlessness. The poem juxtaposes the image of white roses as a symbol of purity and innocence with the image of the bride’s impure heart—the bride serving as a secondary subject that drives the dramatic situation, which is primarily illustrated through contrasting imagery in the foreground of the poem. The poem’s consistent “thudding” meter and alternating rhyme scheme lend a steady musical rhythm to the dour verse, resulting in an ominous and somber tone that mourns the misfortune of the tainted matrimony. The theme of decay is introduced at the end of the poem’s first stanza, and is reintroduced as the dark secret of the wedding is gradually revealed amongst the “wasted” beauteous aspects of the ceremony—overtly referring to the fate of the titular roses and possibly implying the future fate of the poem’s marriage.
   The poem begins with the phrase that is repeated at the start of each stanza, “They were gathered for a bridal!”, which refers to the white roses. The repetition of this phrase allows the speaker to transition from the beautiful décor of the wedding’s surface to the darker drama beneath, and serves to further the feeling of regret that is present throughout. The first stanza describes the beauty of the arrangement, comparing their coloration to “summer moonlight upon the sleeping dew”. The fifth and sixth lines illustrate the origins of the flowers as being taken “From their fair and fairy sisters / They were borne without a sigh”, giving them a mystical quality. This is also the first example of the poem’s f-alliterations, which add breathy pauses to certain moments of the verse. The final lines of the stanza comment on their short-lived use for the wedding and how they will eventually inevitably perish—“To blossom and to die.” The stanza also establishes the first-person perspective of the speaker (“I knew it by their hue”), perhaps indicating that the speaker was present at the ceremony.
   The second stanza begins to delve into the dramatic tension of the wedding without explicitly revealing anything about the bride. The initial lines state that the white roses are arranged in a wreath, and are “…purer…/ Than the heart that lay beneath”. The verse then digresses from the impure heart to the appearance of the bride, referring to her “lovely beaming eye” and “fair coral lip” before returning to allusions to the bride’s secret in the final two lines: “And the gazer looked and asked not / For the secret hidden there.”- The digression of this stanza could be read in different ways. One reading allows for an almost indignant tone regarding the bride’s duality, but perhaps it’s more likely that the speaker is merely bemoaning the fair qualities of the bride— knowing that they are for naught. It is worth noting that the last four lines of this stanza begin “Yet the”, “And the”, “And the”, and “For the” respectively, giving the last half of the stanza both a sense of urgency and a formal procedural tone. The “gazer” in this stanza is most likely the groom, but there is certainly ambiguity there, as it could refer to the speaker or anyone in attendance at the service.
    The third stanza details the ceremony itself. The image of “a thousand torches” in the second line paints the event as grand or extravagant, and is likely used to emphasize the magnitude of the wedding and thus the bride’s betrayal as a sacrilegious act. The bride is described as “the false and faithless” in the fourth line because of what is revealed at the stanza’s conclusion—she was once betrothed to another:
“And the false and faithless listened / And answered to the vow / Which another heart had [T]aken, / Yet [s]he was present there— / The once loved—the forsaken.” (20-24).
   “Another heart” here refers to the bride’s first groom who is apparently in attendance at the current wedding. The circumstances surrounding the bride’s previous engagement are uncertain, as are the reasons for her would-be groom’s presence. It can be surmised that she spurned her former lover, but it is not certain. Whatever the case, the speaker places blame with the bride. It should be noted that Virginia Lucas’s transcription records line 23 as “Yet she was present there”, but this is almost certainly a transcription error, as other publications of the poem have “he” in that line. While it is possible to read this stanza with the bride and groom in opposite positions, this reading of the groom as the “false and faithless” is not supported by the previous stanza which places the secret with the bride.
   The final stanza brings the poem to a melancholy conclusion. It illustrates the death of the white roses, as the insidious nature of the bride’s betrayal bodes ill for the future. Lines 27 and 28 describe how “The young Love at the altar / Of broken faith is sighing.” It is unclear whether “young Love” is meant to refer to the bride, or the first shunned groom, or to personify love itself—making the assertion that the bride’s act was blasphemous to the deity or entity of Love. The next two lines describe the white roses’ summer life as stainless—unlike “hers who wore them”, further condemning the bride’s actions and insinuating that her previous commitment happened in the summer season and stained her life. The final two lines give a final description of the roses that once were fair: “They are faded, and the farewell / Of beauty lingers o’er them”. While these lines literally apply to the white roses, it’s quite possible they are meant to figuratively apply to the newlywed couple—imparting a sense of doom to their tainted marriage.
   The poem features a complicated metrical scheme. The poet uses an informal trochaic dimeter, where several unstressed syllables in some metric feet are condensed. For some lines, this condensing of feet creates a kind of “stutter” or “drum-tap” leading up to the first stress, such as in the line “From their fair and fairy sisters”. The meter loses momentum at the end of the third stanza, where punctuation and slightly shorter lines create an awkward staccato: “Which another heart had taken, / Yet he was present there— / The once loved—the forsaken.” However it is likely that this deceleration is intentional, as it is accompanied by the narrative revelation that the spurned groom is at the wedding.
   Another interpretation of the poem’s metrical scheme would be alternating four-foot and three-foot lines. For example, in the first line of each stanza, “They were gathered for a bridal”, the reader could break the line into the first two equal stresses, followed by four trochees. However, the poem’s meter and rhythm quickly breaks down when interpreted as alternating trochaic tetrameter and iambic trimeter. Placing the sole stresses on the initial syllables of “gathered” and “bridal” in the same line results in a rhythmically consistent meter.
   The poem’s white roses are lent some personification in the initial stanza, but their eventual withering mostly serves as a metaphor for the corrupted purity of the bride and the wedding. The poem subverts conventional “floral poetry” by having the main symbolic action of the poem be the decaying of the eponymous flowers. 

White Roses

Formal Description