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A Quoi Bon Dire

Over a montage of clips depicting reunions at the Heathrow airport arrivals gate in the famous introduction to the film Love Actually (2003), Hugh Grant narrates, ‘It seems to me that love is everywhere’, before the film dives into more personal stories of love. Published 81 years earlier, ‘A Quoi Bon Dire’ (1916)1 by Charlotte Mew presents a similar sentiment as the speaker reflects on their own experiences of love and the love shared by others. So, let's find out what this mysterious little poem has to say about the powerful, painful, and deeply personal feeling of love. 

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A Quoi Bon Dire

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Over a montage of clips depicting reunions at the Heathrow airport arrivals gate in the famous introduction to the film Love Actually (2003), Hugh Grant narrates, ‘It seems to me that love is everywhere’, before the film dives into more personal stories of love. Published 81 years earlier, ‘A Quoi Bon Dire’ (1916)1 by Charlotte Mew presents a similar sentiment as the speaker reflects on their own experiences of love and the love shared by others. So, let's find out what this mysterious little poem has to say about the powerful, painful, and deeply personal feeling of love.

'A Quoi Bon Dire': poem overview

Here are some of the basics of the poem to keep in mind before we get started with a more detailed analysis:

Title'A Quoi Bon Dire'
Written byCharlotte Mew (1869–1928)
Published 1916, The Farmers Bride collection
TypeLyric poetry
Structure3 stanzas, varying meter, ABAB CDCD EFEFF rhyme scheme
ThemesLove and loss

'A Quoi Bon Dire': meaning

Perhaps inspired by the time she spent abroad in France, many of Mew's works contain the French language, including 'A Quoi Bon Dire'. Meaning 'what good is there to say' or 'what's the point of saying', the title sets the stage for an ambiguous reflection on love and the speaker's feelings about it.

It is difficult to interpret the poem as presenting the topic of love in a wholly positive or negative light, and this could be related to the poet's own difficult experiences with love and loss – whether romantic or familial – throughout her own life.

Born into a large family of seven children, Mew witnessed the deaths and asylum incarcerations of all her siblings until only she was left. In addition to the trauma of losing so many family members, Mew experienced multiple rejections by the women she loved and pursued romantically.

Do you think that love is being presented in a positive, neutral, or negative light in the poem? Read through the poem below and reflect on your first impressions.

'A Quoi Bon Dire': annotation

If you want to analyse and write about a poem, carefully reading through it and collecting your thoughts together as annotations are a great way to start.

With your poem in front of you, start by reading through the poem and noting down your overall first impressions – how does the poem make you feel? What is it about? Then you can begin to look at the smaller details of the poem, such as its literary devices, structure, and themes.

Have a go at annotating the poem yourself and then compare your annotations with the example annotations below. Are there any differences?

Stanza number/linesStanzaAnnotation
1 (lines 1–4) Seventeen years ago you saidSomething that sounded like Good-bye; And everybody thinks that you are dead But I.
  • Rhyme scheme: ABAB
  • 4 lines of varying meter
  • Irregular spacing that sets the final line of the stanza apart from the rest of the stanza
  • Contrast drawn between 'everybody' and the 'I' of the first-person speaker
2 (lines 5–8) So I, as I grow stiff and coldTo this and that say Good-bye too; And everybody sees that I am old But you.
  • Rhyme scheme: CDCD
  • Meter and spacing identical to stanza 1
  • Line 5 maintains the focus on the first-person speaker, which then shifts to focus on the speaker's subject, 'you' in line 8.
  • Contrast drawn between 'everybody' and 'you'
3 (lines 9–13) And one fine morning in a sunny laneSome boy and girl will meet and kiss and swear That nobody can love their way again While over thereYou will have smiled, I shall have tossed your hair
  • Rhyme scheme: EFEFF
  • 5 lines of varying meter but with slightly more regularity as lines 1, 2, 3, and 5 all contain 10 syllables
  • Similar to the previous 2 stanzas, the spacing sets line 4 apart
  • Line 13 spacing is identical to line 10
  • Lines 12 and 13 contain rhyming couplet

'A Quoi Bon Dire': rhyme scheme

'A Quoi Bon Dire' is an example of lyric poetry.

Lyric poems: typically shorter in length, they get their name from the musical, song-like qualities of their rhythmic structures and expressive themes, often concerning topics such as love and loss.

Like a song, 'A Quoi Bon Dire' has both regular and irregular aspects. The rhyme scheme (ABAB CDCD EFEFF) lends a regular rhythm to the lyric poem in addition to the patterns that can be found in the poem's indentation and meter.

On the other hand, these structural aspects also add to the poem's irregularity. The rhyme scheme is changed slightly in the final stanza with the introduction of a rhyming couplet. The stark changes in meter that occur in the final lines of stanzas 1 and 2 and in the second-to-last line in stanza 3 interrupt the flow of the poem's rhythm. Furthermore, although the poem's indentation follows a particular pattern, it is also unexpected. This creates a loose effect, reflecting the speaker's creative and perhaps less restrained expression of emotions.

Can you connect this contrast between regularity and irregularity in the poem to the themes of love and loss it discusses?

'A Quoi Bon Dire' by Charlotte Mew: analysis

'A Quoi Bon Dire' is a reflection on the topics of love and loss in various shades. The structure of the poem lends to the multiple ways in which the poem and its attitudes towards these themes can be interpreted.

Earlier on in the article, we asked whether love is presented in a positive, painful, or negative light in the poem. However, it could be argued that love in the poem is presented in a more complex way: as powerful, painful, and personal.

Love as powerful

The title of the poem could be a reference to the difficulty of expressing the power of love in words as, throughout the poem, the speaker reflects on how the love they shared with their loved one transcends (or is not limited by) life and death.

In the first stanza, the speaker makes clear that, although their loved one is gone and everyone else thinks that they are dead, they are still alive in the speaker's mind. That love transcends life and death is also suggested in the second stanza as the speaker states that 'everyone sees that I am old / But you' (line 8).

The connection between power, youthfulness, and love is also portrayed in the final stanza as the pair are seemingly reunited after death. Paralleled against the image of a 'boy and girl' swearing their love for each other (lines 10–11), the speaker and their loved one are intimately engaged as 'over there / You will have smiled, I shall have tossed your hair' (lines 12–13)

Love as painful

The title of 'A Quoi Bon Dire' could also be a reference to the inability to truly express the heartbreak of a relationship cut short.

In the line 'Seventeen years ago you said / Something that sounded like Good-bye' (stanza 1, lines 1–2), the capital 'G' in 'Good-bye' reflects the abruptness of the loved-ones' death.

This abruptness is also reflected in the poem's spacing. By indenting the phrases 'But I' in the first stanza and 'But you' in the second stanza, the poem disconnects the speaker and their loved one from 'everybody' (lines 3 and 7). This highlights the strong connection between the speaker and their loved one and demonstrates the alienation that comes with grief. While the rest of the world seems to have moved on and forgotten about the speaker's loved one, they are still alive to the speaker. While the rest of the world sees the speaker as old, the speaker has lost the one person who truly saw who they were inside.

Love as personal

Although it is difficult to say for certain what the speaker of the poem thinks about love, it is clear that the poet views love as a highly personal experience.

In the final stanza, the speaker introduces the figures of 'Some boy and girl' who 'swear / That nobody can love their way again' (lines 10–11) before describing the connection they share with their loved one. This reflects that, although love is a commonplace emotion, to the people in love it feels special, private, and unique.

Perhaps this is why the title asks 'what good is there to say' or 'what's the point of saying' – what is the point of talking about the love and connection shared with someone if it cannot be truly communicated to the outside world? Lyric poetry may then serve as a necessary compromise by allowing the speaker to engage with their feelings and immortalise their loved one in words.

A Quoi Bon Dire - Key takeaways

  • 'A Quoi Bon Dire' was written by Charlotte Mew (1869–1928) and published in 1916.
  • 'A Quoi Bon Dire' is an example of lyric poetry.
  • The title of 'A Quoi Bon Dire' is in French and means 'what good is there to say' or 'what's the point of saying'.
  • 'A Quoi Bon Dire' deals with themes of love and loss.
  • The structure of the poem has both regular and irregular elements and lends to the multiple ways in which the poem and its attitudes towards love and loss can be interpreted.

1 Charlotte Mew. 'A Quoi Bon Dire.' Published in Charlotte Mew and her Friends by P. Fitzgerald. 2002. 240.

Frequently Asked Questions about A Quoi Bon Dire

The main themes of 'A Quoi Bon Dire' are love and loss. 

'A Quoi Bon Dire' is about the powerful, painful, and deeply personal feelings of love and loss. 

'A Quoi Bon Dire' is an example of lyric poetry. 

Charlotte Mew (1869–1928) wrote 'A Quoi Bon Dire'.

'A Quoi Bon Dire' was published in 1916 in The Farmers Bride collection.

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

What type of poetry is 'A Quoi Bon Dire'?

What is the name of the collection in which 'A Quoi Bon Dire' was published?

What are the two main themes of 'A Quoi Bon Dire'?

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