Song: Ask me no more by Thomas Carew: Critical Appreciation

Ask Me No More is a plea to his beloved not to ask the speaker a number of questions that he seemed to have been asking to himself. From a single reading, we can see that the speaker has repeatedly requested her not to ask him certain questions. We can understand the literal meaning of what he is saying quite easily. But, what we wonder about is his intention.

Thomas Carew

On a closer study of the poem, we realize that he is telling his beloved not to ask those questions because he has now found out their answers; his intention is to "praise" her by attributing all the most beautiful things to her beautiful face, hair, voice, eyes and her heart itself. The poem is a poem of praise (eulogy) of a beloved in an indirect and strongly rhetorical manner.

The speaker's ideas, develop but the situation remains the same. In fact, there is no real indication of the actual, outward or physical situation when the speaker is speaking. The whole poem is significant only for the typical manner of the expression of the thoughts, and ideas and for the expression of universal feelings of love and admiration of a woman whom a man loves. The speaker begins and ends with the same strategy of telling us 'not' to ask him anymore certain questions, implying that it is no longer necessary to ask those questions. The development of ideas consists of mainly a series of questions that the poet no longer wishes to be asked because he can now answer himself, as actually he does. The series of conceits developments with a sense of interconnectedness, and the ending does have an air of finality in terms of ideas; the poet makes us feel as if there is no more to be said.

The speaker is now certain where Jove (god of the Greeks) takes the beauty of the rose when the summer is over. He says that the beauty of the roses go back and lie deep in the 'oriental' or eastern beauty of his beloved. He tells us to ask him no more where the golden atoms of the sunlight in the day go at night, because he now knows that the heaven itself enriches her hair with that golden powder. He next requests us not to ask him where the sweet nightingale goes after the spring, because it is now certain that it goes to her sweet voice. He also needs no answer about where the falling stars go, because he is now sure that they come and sit in her eyes that shine so bright. He also now knows for sure that the mysterious Phoenix goes and dies in the nest of her heart. He is explaining categorically the erstwhile mysteries of the nature, and also how and why his beloved is so beautiful. He suggests that he had been puzzled by questions like 'where the beauty of the rose goes after the spring and summer pass away': but now he understands that all the beauty of the nature goes into the beauty of his beloved. Rhetorically, he is explaining why his beloved is so beautiful.

Though the simple paraphrase can be so simple, the poem is based on an indirect, rhetorical strategy of emphasizing how beautiful the beloved is and by implication how much the speaker loves her. To understand the force of the poem's logic and its meaning, we need to interpret the figurative language it has used. To give the description of his beloved a classical note, he begins with a Greco-Roman allusion of Jove, who is there to take the beauty of the rose as it fades and put that into the appearance of a beautiful woman who has fascinated the poet. The beauty of the rose is here poetically compared with that of the beloved, but unlike the typical sonneteers of the Shakespearean era, this poet has put it in a very different way. Now, we should not think that the rose actually goes into the appearance of the woman being talked about. In the special poetic language or in the poetic sense, it is only that the speaker is playing with the speculation (thinking) that his beloved seems to take the beauty of the rose to become so beautiful all the time. The thought is in fact so fanciful and impossible in terms of scientific thought. But we know that the 'truth' of the feelings in the context of praising a beloved is compellingly convincing to the reader. Such "imaginative conception involving a witty logic" is called a "conceit". The poem uses, such conceits in all the stanzas.

In stanzas two to five, the speaker uses the same figurative language of the conceit (striking metaphor) as in the first; all the witty speculations of these stanzas are also imaginative significant. In the second stanza, the poet says that the golden atoms of sunlight become a part of the lady's hair. This is to suggest his sense of appeal to her beautiful shining hair. But the phrase 'golden atoms' is a reference to the medieval science that the sunlight is made of shining particles (that modern science calls 'photons'). But in saying so, the poet has shifted from the Roman Jove to the Christian 'heaven'. This Christianizes the issue; he gives his beloved a religious status, as if she is holy, and as if the heaven itself decorates her hair with the golden atoms. The "dividing" throat of the third stanza is also a special term of seventeenth century music, meaning "harmony". This is suggestive of the 'harmony' in the appearance and appeal of the beloved. The 'stars' of the fourth stanza are also poetically significant in suggesting the poet's strong appeal towards the eyes of his beloved. The word 'sphere' means the natural element from which things are made (tatwa): he feels that her eyes are naturally the origins of the brightness that she has. The Phoenix of the last stanza seems to explain the ultimate mystery of why and how his beloved is so beautiful. He knew that the Phoenix died every five hundred years and is reborn, but he never knew where it made its nest and went to die. He now knows that it goes to her fragrance (sweet smelling) breast to die and be reborn. She is the miracle of the nature. All the logic is directed at nothing but a flattering commentary on the mysterious beauty of the beloved.

The logical structure of the poem is understandable without much difficulty. The poet has designed his appreciation of his beloved in a series of parallel and emphatic statements followed by requests. In each stanza, he first requests his beloved not to ask him any longer a certain question, which he implies that he used to wonder about himself. Then he tells her the reality, always beginning with the same word "for" which means "because". This is also the reply of why she should not ask him the question any more. The request and explanation develop in a series of parallel structures, but the idea becomes more and more emphatic each time. The imaginative conception of the idea is original and striking. Each point is a subtle but powerful praise of the beloved's beauty. Surprisingly, there are not many adjectives or descriptive words; the poet does with logical trick what we would do with bombastic adjectives and other words. The choice of words is worth appreciating. The word 'orient' deep in the first stanza suggests the exotic and spectacular beauty of the east (Asia or Africa) which the poets of the west always look at with amazement. It also suggests remoteness, romance, splendor and so on. Similarly, the words 'golden atoms', 'heavens', 'Nightingale', 'dividing', 'sphere', 'spicy', 'Phoenix' and 'fragrant bosom' give the poem a classical note. The praise is done in grand words and a serious tone.

The rhythm and other musical elements of the poem match the theme of the harmonious appearance and impression of the poet's beloved. In fact, the regularity of the rhythm, the perfect rhyme-scheme reinforces the theme of harmony and beauty. The poem is written basically in the rhythm of iambic tetrameter. If the iamb gives the poem a serious tone, the tetrameter balance of the beat makes it light-hearted and pleasing. The pauses in the middle of most lines add to the meditative quality of the poem. In short, the beauty and elegance of the technique of the poem so perfectly fit the beauty and elegance of the woman the poet is praising. The eloquence in the expression, the force in its logic, the naturalness and ease in the selection of words, and the lilting rhythm makes us discard out critical stance to detect any fantasy which we notice only on analytically rereading the poem.

The questions that the speaker asks his beloved are of philosophical and poetic significance. That gives the poem its serious tone along with the 'classical' treatment of the subject. The speaker seems to have been speculating upon metaphysical and philosophical questions of the pre-scientific times. There are many, references of the medieval (middle age) and ancient issues, myths and learning. Among the many appreciable things in the poem, I was particularly struck by the simplicity of expression, wit and originality of the figurative language, and also by the delight of its easy and graceful rhythm.

Literary Spotlight

Summary of Song: Ask me no more
Literary Appreciation of Song: Ask me no more