'Maude Clare' - Language, tone and structure

Language and tone

Character through dialogue

Throughout the poem, the characters are depicted through a series of dialogues.

Thomas' mother expresses her sympathy and concern for the couple by attempting to hide her tears behind smiles and voicing her blessing

Maude Clare's fierce language is not obviously trying to hide any of the anger or malice she feels. She addresses Thomas with the cry ‘Lo' before launching into scornful dialogue. ‘Lo' corresponds to both the cry ‘Oh' and the exclamation ‘Look!' Rather than conveying any joy or respect, it is a cry that serves to stop Thomas and Nell in their tracks and forces them to hear what she has to say

Compared to Maude's direct and abrupt language, Thomas speaks in faltering tones that perhaps reflect the fact that he has been stopped unexpectedly.

‘Lady', he said,—'Maude Clare', he said,—    ‘Maude Clare:'—and hid his face. (lines 31-2)

The caesurae that break up the lines, created by the dashes, reflect Thomas' sense of confusion and apprehension:

  • By not knowing how to address Maude, he demonstrates his anxiety about their relationship
  • In hiding his face, he makes a feeble attempt to avoid responding to her insults
  • By remaining silent, he gives Maude the freedom to address Nell with her seemingly pre-prepared speech.

Nell's speech seems to begin less with an expression of her emotions than with an echo of what has just passed. By uttering the words, ‘For he's my lord for better and worse' (line 43) directly after coming out of the church, she repeats the words of the wedding service in which she has just participated. The phrase ‘for better or worse' is used in a traditional Christian marriage service to articulate the fact the bride and groom accept each other in spite of what may happen in the future. They promise to love one another whether things go well or go badly.

However, in the final verse, Nell's courage increases and her language expresses her pride in her new husband. She declares her firm intention,

I'll love him till he loves me best,      
Me best of all, Maude Clare'. (lines 47-8)

By using the word ‘till', she suggests that, despite marrying her, Thomas does not yet love her better than he does Maude. In repeating her intention to cause him to love her ‘best of all', she acknowledges the struggle she experiences in presenting herself as an image of security and happiness. The repetition also suggests that she may be trying to convince herself of the belief that Thomas will eventually love her best.

Investigating language and tone

  • In what sort of tone do you think that Nell's words were uttered?
    • Do you think she uttered them in haste?
  • What indications are there that she is insecure in her marriage?
  • In what sort of tone do you think Maude's words were uttered?
    • What indications are there that they were prepared in advance?

Structure and versification


Maude Clare is structured around a series of comparisons and juxtapositions.

1. Maude Clare and Nell

Maude Clare and Nell are compared as suitable marriage partners for Sir Thomas. Their differences are emphasised from the start. Whereas Nell was ‘like a village maid', ‘Maude Clare was like a queen' (lines 3-4). The similes here highlight the difference between Nell, the country maiden and Maude Clare, the imperious, jealous ‘other woman'.

In the final verse, Nell herself draws attention to the differences that stand between herself and Maude Clare. She tells her,

‘Yea, tho' you're taller by the head,   
More wise and much more fair;    
I'll love him till he loves me best,    
Me best of all, Maude Clare'. (lines 45-48)

She suggests that she can accept and willingly grant Maude Clare's superior beauty and intellect because she will become the woman that Thomas loves best.

2. Generational contrasts

Sir Thomas' mother compares her own marriage to that of Thomas and Nell. She tells her son that she wishes him the happiness that she has enjoyed for the past thirty years, but foresees a shadow over them. She tells him that her husband was ‘not so pale as you, / Nor I so pale as Nell' (lines 11-12). We are told that whereas ‘inward strife' is the cause of Thomas' paleness, ‘pride' was the cause of Nell's (lines 13-14).

A ballad

Maude Clare is written in the form of a traditional ballad. With an abab rhyme scheme and alternate iambic tetrameter and trimeter lines, traditional ballads were often written to make a moral statement, tell a popular story or to celebrate or attack certain institutions or people.

Although Maude Clare retains many aspects of the genre, it differs from the convention in certain ways. For instance, the abcb rhyme scheme offers a variation on the traditional ballad in that, by not rhyming the final words of the first and third lines of each verse, it avoids fitting smoothly into a predictable pattern.

Investigating structure and versification

  • What is the effect of structuring the poem in the form of a ballad?
  • Read the poem aloud and tap out the metre. What is the effect of its strict regularity?
  • What and whom does Maude Clare attack?
    • What sort of moral statement do you think that the poem could be making?
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