By L. E. L.
My Interpretation of The Poem: "Sans Souci"
I am loathe to admit that even after over a month of reading and re-reading this poem, I dont feel as though I have been able to get to the "meat" of it. But, my attempt follows.
Constructed in nine stanzas of eight lines each, with a consistent rhyme scheme of abcbdefe, the poem reads quite lyrically, like a song. There are many, many references to colors and flowers that seem to be in the "post Romantic" mode. That is, in this particular piece she is taking the poetry of the "high Romantics" and perhaps exaggerating what they do. Her colors are more vibrant, her flowers are more flowery, and her language reflects a cariacturization of the Romantic spontaneous overflow of feeling, but at first glance, lacks the reflection. The theme of the poem is definitely centered on "care" -- what is done without care, and what is done with care. This is where I feel my analysis is lacking a definitive connection, but Im working on it.
I believe this poem was written, like many of L.E.L.s gift book poems, as an accompaniment to the piece of art, an engraving of the same name in the book. It appears to me that Landon wrote this specific poem in response to the engraving, and I did see in the literature about her writing that this was often how she wrote. In the engraving she sees a group of women and men socializing and frolicking, without care (sans souci) on the lawn of an elegant home in the summertime at dusk. In the first stanza she calls to the women to leave their handwork and make themselves beautiful, as she knows they want to do for themselves.
The poet can see the vanity which is the "sole care" of the "maids" on this summer evening. This is ironically juxtaposed with the title of the poem that indicates this evening everyone is "without care." The poet moves on to describe the fashion and beauty, which is, after all, what the trendy gift book is all about. Lines nine through 16 describe the hair, footwear, and dress that the beauties appear in on the lawn. The lawn is their backdrop where their beauty will shine because they have taken the care to make themselves beautiful so they can "come forth like planets from darkness/or like lilies at the day-breaks first light." Although, a "careless" lock of hair falling on their forehead will add to their beauty.
The careless hair brings the poet to note that the lovers who are anticipating the arrival of the fashionable beauties are "not worth that eyes teardrop/Not worth that sweet mouths rosy kiss," and no lover is worth any of this, according to the poet. The bitterness of the poet is coming through. Like the petulant child who proclaims, "I dont care " it becomes obvious that the child, and this poet, do care.
At this point, the male counterparts appear. They are lighthearted dandies, and although they revel in the beauty around them, there is a suggestion that their hearts are not just light, they are frivolous: "Come, gallants, the gay and the graceful/With hearts like the light plume ye wear."
All of this frivolity brings the poet back to the known "sorrows" and "troubles," and reminds us that this summer evening is about being "without care" and in a public space. "There are plenty of sorrows to chill us/And trouble last on to the grave" she tell us, but on this evening that is forgotten temporarily. Interestingly and unexpectedly, in the next stanza, the poet brings in a reminder that we must "be content with what you have got." This could refer to the lovers, or even the beauty and frivolity. Landon seems to be reminding her reader that there are many "gems" around and we always want what we cannot have, and arent content until we have that. This could be Landons response to the commodification of her work and her knowledge of what these gift books mean to those who own them. This could also refer to Landons own love life she often could not have the man she wanted, or the man she was with was not completely committed to her alone.
"Tis much in this worlds toil and trouble/To let one midnight pass Sans Souci." These final two lines of the poem are the most intriguing. At first glance I believed she was saying that there are plenty of worries in life and it is right and good to take time out and have fun for one evening, "without care." However, a closer reading shows that what she may be saying is, I believe, that it is wrong to pass even one evening of fun without care perhaps that it is even an error to allow the frivolity (consumerism or an illicit love affair) to take over our actions and thoughts completely, and me must care even in these seemingly frivolous times and situations.
Late breaking news
While I was working on this web site, I re-read an article by Emma Francis, titled "Letitia Landon: Public Fantasy and the Private Sphere" in Essays and Studies: Romanticism and Gender, edited by Anne Janowitz for the English Association. Francis makes some very good connections between Landons work and the issues of public and private spheres. I will take a new look at this poem in particular, but other LEL poems as well, in light of this critical consideration, and believe that what I will see will be completely opposite of what I have seen in my first critical look at this poem.