QUIET SKIES RUINED: WILLIAM ERNEST HENLEY’S “FRIENDS”

Human romantic relationships can be difficult and messy, sometimes leaving a swath of emotional destruction in their wake, not only for those directly involved but also for those who know them.

Today’s poem by William Ernest Henley is precisely on that topic, and it is written with an effective but simple rhythm.  Its subject is that old (but sadly often true) cliché of the wreck of a close relationship by the involvement of one’s romantic partner with one’s long-time friend.

FRIENDS… OLD FRIENDS…

Friends… old friends…
One sees how it ends.
A woman looks
Or a man lies,
And the pleasant brooks
And the quiet skies,
Ruined with brawling
And caterwauling,
Enchant no more
As they did before,
And so it ends
With friends.

It is so simply written that its message is all the more effective.  All it takes to end a long and valued friendship is for one’s romantic partner and one’s friend to develop a desire for one another.  And then, suddenly one day, the formerly-oblivious neglected party notices, sees a glance, catches something slightly off in a conversation —

A woman looks
Or a man lies…

That moment of revelation is all it takes to change one’s perception of life; all at once,

…the pleasant brooks
And the quiet skies…

are ruined with quarrels, accusations and recriminations.  It taints everything.  Even the pleasure one had in the surrounding sky and earth, in passing clouds and sparkling waters, is gone.  “They enchant no more.”  And that is true as well of the friend and of the romantic partner.  All joy and trust are gone.

Friends… old friends…
And what if it ends?
Shall we dare to shirk
What we live to learn?
It has done its work,
It has served its turn;
And, forgive and forget
Or hanker and fret,
We can be no more
As we were before.
When it ends, it ends
With friends.

Well, what if it all ends?  Shall we ignore the lesson life has taught, shall we try to pretend that nothing has happened, attempt to glue the shattered pieces of friendship back together?  No matter if we try, the result will still be loss.  The experience has done its work, it has accomplished what it must.  And even if we wish to forgive the betrayal, attempt to smile and forget, what was will be no more.  “The fallen flower does not return to the branch.”

We can be no more
As we were before.
When it ends, it ends
With friends.

 

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One Response to QUIET SKIES RUINED: WILLIAM ERNEST HENLEY’S “FRIENDS”

  1. Ash says:

    This is exactly right, one cannot go back, the past cannot be re-created.

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