This is a poetry analysis of "With Lullay, Lullay, Like a Child" by John Skelton that looks specifically at the use of water imagery within this poem.
You are with your lover, you don’t realize what you have, and then you are no longer with your lover. Love is constantly changing. Its fluidity is like that of water. This fluidity of love can be seen in the poem, With Lullay, Lullay, Like a Child, by John Skelton. The poem starts in stanza one with two people who are lovers. She calls him her “paramour,” which is how you say ‘lover’ in French. Over the course of the four stanzas she winds up leaving him during the night to be with another man. She may have literally left him in the middle of the night or he could be dreaming of something that has happened in the past. John Dryden, a poet from the late 1600’s, is quoted as saying, “You see through love, and that deludes your sight, as what is straight seems crooked through the water”. In this quote, water is seen as a way of seeing things but not really seeing them factually. Water makes things unclear, like those in love often see their lovers in a distorted light, different from the way the rest of the world sees them. In With Lullay Lullay Like a Child, Skelton has us look at love through a watery lens, through his constant use of water related imagery throughout this poem. The literary devices of metaphor, paradox, symbolism, visual imagery, and structure help to prove the theme of a fluid constantly changing love.
Love is measured the same way water is measured. How powerful or how weak water is can be seen through its force or lack thereof and through its abundance or its scarcity. In the first stanza, the man is being referred to by his lover as being, “drowned in sleep”. This is the literary device of metaphor. “Sleep” is not something that can physically drown you. He is both being loved and “drowned” simultaneously by this metaphorical water. The love he has seems like so much to him that it is overwhelming and powerful. He is immersed in his love and it is surrounding him from all sides.
Since love is being seen as water it makes sense that love can also be seen in the byproducts of water. In the first stanza, the man refers to his love as “my daisy flower”. This is a metaphor because a “flower” is dependent upon water as he sees her to be dependent on love. He sees his lover as being dependent upon love but does not realize the implications that that has to it. In his not giving her enough love, he is therefore physically starving her.
The water and thereby the love has left the woman’s life by this point. In the third stanza, it is stated that, “she sparèd not to wet her feet”. The literary device of metaphor is used to convey the willingness to be loved. By saying, “sparèd not,” this implies that she did not avoid love. She was not afraid to try again in love. By saying, “wet her feet,” this use of water portrays water to be metaphorical of a way of getting into a relationship. Your feet are the first part of you to get wet when stepping into water. She’s not yet immersed in love. She is looking for someone to love but she is still in the beginning stages of trying to find a new love.
Water can distort and make things seem convoluted. What is seen is not always what is there. The literary device of paradox is used in the third stanza with the line, “the rivers rowth, the waters wan”. The river is abundant and yet lacking in force yet in reality a river that is abundant has a lot of force. The speaker talks about water in general with regards to how abundant this river seems and yet how abundant it must not be in reality. The love that seemed to be existent in her life before was not really what it seemed to be.
Love is seen once again as a step in a relationship through the use of water. The woman is seen in the third stanza where it is stated, “she waded over, she found a man”. This is the literary device of symbolism. The “wad[ing]” in the water is symbolic of loving a man. She “found” someone else and is starting to fall in love. She is no longer just “wet[ting] her feet”. She is attempting to plunge into love and doing so wholeheartedly.
Finally, the guy in the poem sees that he has lost her completely. In the fourth stanza, the literary device of visual imagery is used with the line, “she bleared thine eye.” The woman made his eyes blurry from tears. He is crying over the loss of her though when she was there he took her for granted. He didn’t realize what he had till he lost it. Now he was doomed to cry over the loss of his love.
Additionally, the literary device of structure is used to help to illustrate this theme. The irregular amount of lines in a stanza, now called Skeltonics, is used in this poem with 11 lines in the first stanza, 9 lines in the second and third, and ending with only 7 lines in the last stanza. This dwindling down of the poem is seen as the woman disappears from his life, like the love is draining from his life. This has a kind of fluidity to it. When the woman is there with him in the beginning of the poem, he is, “drowned in sleep,” and therefore surrounded by love. This is seen from the full stanza of 11 lines. As the woman leaves him, he emotionally loses pieces of himself. The poem also feels this loss of the love and shows this loss through the dropping of two lines from its internal stanzas, making stanzas two and three become only 9 lines long. In the next and last stanza, he has lost his lady and he realizes all too late and cries because of this loss. This loss is seen in the structure of the poem through an additional loss of two lines, making the final stanza seven lines. As the last words in the line have to do with tears and water is proven to be symbolic of love, the loss of water and the loss of love are seen through both the tears and the structure. As the love drains from his eyes, it drains through the poet’s loss of lines as well.
Love is fluid; it moves through stages slowly and steadily. Like waves in the ocean, so are the stages of love. You start to love very slowly. You don’t realize how you got to the stage of completely loving someone. Then, if it doesn’t work out, you recover from a lost love slowly as well. Water is the perfect element to describe the perfect sensation. Water is essential to life and so is love. To be loved, to love others, this is what most people search for their entire lives.
Dryden, John. http://www.cyber-nook.com/water/p-quotes.htm
Skelton, John. “With Lullay, Lullay, Like a Child”. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/With_lullay,_lullay,_like_a_child