A Short Analysis of Edmund Waller’s ‘On the Friendship betwixt Two Ladies’

‘On the Friendship betwixt Two Ladies’ was written by Edmund Waller (1606-87), who is probably best-known for his short lyric ‘Go, lovely rose’. Waller, whose life was as colourful as one might expect of a poet who lived through the English Civil War, is one of the wittiest minor poets of the seventeenth century, although not as great (or as famous) as his contemporaries, Robert Herrick and Andrew Marvell.

On the Friendship betwixt Two Ladies

Tell me, lovely, loving pair!
Why so kind, and so severe?
Why so careless of our care,
Only to yourselves so dear?

By this cunning change of hearts,
You the power of love control;
While the boy’s eluded darts
Can arrive at neither soul.

For in vain to either breast
Still beguiled love does come,
Where he finds a foreign guest,
Neither of your hearts at home.

Debtors thus with like design,
When they never mean to pay,
That they may the law decline,
To some friend make all away.

Not the silver doves that fly,
Yoked in Cytherea’s car;
Not the wings that lift so high,
And convey her son so far;

Are so lovely, sweet, and fair,
Or do more ennoble love;
Are so choicely matched a pair,
Or with more consent do move.

‘On the Friendship betwixt Two Ladies’: as titles go, this one is pretty straightforwardly descriptive of the poem’s contents. Little further elucidation or analysis is required. In this witty poem, Edmund Waller, a Cavalier poet of the seventeenth century, celebrates the close friendship between two ladies but also suggests that they are perhaps too close, and deprive themselves of male company (especially, one assumes, Waller’s).

Love gets a mention at several points, albeit through allusion: Cupid is implied in ‘the boy’s eluded darts’ which ‘Can arrive at neither soul’, while Venus, the Roman goddess of love,  is summoned in ‘Cytherea’s car’. But the women are having none of it. ‘Why so careless of our care, / Only to yourselves so dear?’ Not so much ‘hoes before bros’ as ‘sisters before misters’?

Waller was a politician as well as a poet: having entered Parliament at a young age, he became a Royalist during the Civil War in the 1640s. In 1643 he even led a plot to seize London for the king, but the plot failed and Waller was arrested and would have been executed, but he traded details of his fellow conspirators in exchange for his life.

Image: via Wikimedia Commons.