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Written by Timothy Sexton
How strongly does my passion flow, Divided equally twixt two?
The poem opens with a literary device known as a rhetorical question, or a question posed by a speaker who does not expect an actual answer. The reasons one might do this can range from the answer being obvious to the desire to make an impact by raising a point. In this case, the answer is certainly not obvious. The use of this device will prove to be chosen for the purpose of creating a sense of confusion in the reader that mirrors that of the speaker. She really can’t answer the explicit question posed and eventually proves herself incapable of asking a more implicit question: whom does she love more?
Damon had ne’er subdued my heart Had not Alexis took his part; Nor could Alexis powerful prove, Without my Damon’s aid, to gain my love.
The lines that follow the rhetorical question are pretty much the poem in miniature. The reader is introduced to the two men that the women is torn between and learns they are named Damon and Alexis. That is all that will be learned about them. No other descriptive info is supplied, but more important is that very quickly the reader gets a view into the most important character: the woman. This is not great and profound romantic love of the type poets usually write about. This woman is possibly flighty, perhaps promiscuous and certainly of dubious romantic virtue. After all, she only really cares for the one when she is actually with the other.
But if it chance they both are by,
For both alike I languish, sigh, and die.
After four lines detailing how she feels about the one when the other is absent, she finally brings them together and offers a portrait of a trio trapped in a hopeless love triangle in which she simply cannot decide which of the two she actually prefers to be with her.
Cure then, thou mighty winged god,
This restless fever in my blood;
Further revealing the immaturity of the woman and casting her as completely unsuitable for a conventional romantic poem taking a less ironic and humorous look at the vagaries of love, she ultimately both lays the blame for her state on Cupid and shirks the responsibility of choice onto his delicate wings. The opening stanza kicks off with a rhetorical question while the closing stanza might be sad to bring things back to the beginning with a rhetorical cry to god. Or, in this case, the gods. If it was Cupid’s arrows being shot into two men that got her into this mess, then—as the rest of the stanza plays out—it is his responsibility to get her out of it by doing the right thing and taking out the dart he shot into them.
But which, O Cupid, wilt thou take?\
If Damon's, all my hopes are crossed;
Or that of my Alexis, I am lost.
The poem concludes on another question without an answer. This one is not entirely rhetorical, however, as the speaker genuinely seems to be making a sincere plea for someone—certainly not her—to help make this impossible choice for her.
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