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Classic and Contemporary Poetry: Explained

RONDEL: SHALL IT BE SO, by                 Poet's Biography


The poem "Shall it so be? Shall I be thine?" by Charles D'Orléans is a rondel that explores the tender moment of uncertainty in love, asking whether mutual commitment is possible or even imminent. This short but emotive piece captures the tension, the vulnerability, and the hope that often accompany love's beginnings. The very form of the rondel, with its recurring refrains, emphasizes the cyclical nature of the speaker's thoughts, reflective of the oscillations between doubt and desire.

The opening line, "Shall it so be? Shall I be thine?" immediately presents the overarching question, one of romantic commitment. It also introduces the key players: the speaker and an implied "you," to whom the poem is directed. This introduction sets up a question that is both delicate and daring. The speaker asks whether a reciprocal love is possible, effectively placing his emotional destiny in the hands of another.

"Strife I resign / On bended knee," is a compelling representation of the emotional weight that the speaker places on this relationship. To resign strife indicates a willingness to give up previous concerns, fights, or doubts, potentially to enter a state of harmony and unity. The phrase "On bended knee" traditionally suggests a proposal or a plea, evoking vulnerability and solemnity. The speaker appears willing to lower himself, emotionally and perhaps physically, to attain this love.

In the next stanzas, "To this one plea / Thine ear incline," the speaker requests a moment of serious consideration from the person to whom the plea is addressed. "Thine ear incline" is a poetic way of asking for attentive listening. The following lines, "Envy may see / My faith I plight," add another dimension. They offer the notion that the outside world ("Envy") might observe and perhaps even resent the beauty or depth of the love he is willing to commit ("My faith I plight").

The phrase "My dear delight" is particularly striking. It suggests that the speaker not only loves the person to whom the poem is addressed but finds in them a source of happiness and joy. This is not just a poem of romantic tension but also one of profound affection. The following line, "Let us agree," invites mutual commitment, reflecting the initial question back to both parties.

In this rondel, the recurring refrain, "Shall it so be? Shall I be thine?" serves to continually refocus the reader's attention on the primary question at hand. Each time the line is repeated, its emotional heft grows, amplified by the layers of meaning and hope that the intervening lines have added.

Overall, Charles D'Orléans' rondel is a fine example of the emotional complexities that can be captured in a short form. It balances vulnerability with desire, uncertainty with hope, and individual contemplation with the promise (or the dream) of mutual love. Through its concise yet rich verses, the poem encapsulates the complex emotions involved in romantic commitment, leaving the reader to ponder the unspoken response to its poignant question.


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