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Absent from Thee

Absent from Thee

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'Absent from Thee' is a poem written in the mid-1600s by famous English poet John Wilmot (1647-1680), also known as the Earl of Rochester. Wilmot questions traditional relationships in his poetry.

Below is a summary and in-depth analysis of 'Absent from Thee'. You will also find an exploration of modern criticism on Wilmot and his literary impact.

Written inMid-1600s
Written byJohn Wilmot
FormLove poem
MetreIambic tetrameter
Rhyme schemeABAB
Poetic devicesJuxtaposition, alliteration
Tone Ironic, lustful
Key themesInfidelity, manipulation
MeaningThe power of sexuality. The poem argues against traditional relationships.

'Absent from Thee': poem

Let's first consider the poem:

Absent from thee I languish still;

Then ask me not, when I return?

The straying fool 'twill plainly kill

To wish all day, all night to mourn.

Dear! from thine arms then let me fly,

That my fantastic mind may prove

The torments it deserves to try

That tears my fixed heart from my love.

When, wearied with a world of woe,

To thy safe bosom I retire

where love and peace and truth does flow,

May I contented there expire,

Lest, once more wandering from that heaven,

I fall on some base heart unblest,

Faithless to thee, false, unforgiven,

And lose my everlasting rest.

'Absent from Thee' poem: summary

Let's break down Wilmot's poem stanza by stanza.

Stanza one

The narrator of 'Absent from Thee' begins by stating that he is absent from his lover and that this upsets him greatly. However, he has not returned to her and does not want to be asked why. He describes himself as a 'straying fool', which suggests that he has committed infidelity. The narrator seems to wish for this woman's company, yet cannot stop himself from straying. He thinks of his partner all day and spends the nights mourning their separation.

Stanza two

In this stanza, the narrator asks his lover to release him from her arms. This will allow him to live out the fantasies of his unfaithfulness to her. However, Wilmot's narrator also views his affairs as 'torments', suggesting that they are something for which he deserves punishment. Regardless, these fantasies keep his heart far from his partner. The narrator uses the word 'fixed' to describe his heart's state. This is clearly said ironically when his infidelity is taken into account.

Stanza three

Stanza three details what the narrator believes will happen when he returns to his lover. When he becomes exhausted from his 'world of woe', he will return to her. He sees her as a safety net that represents peace and love. The narrator believes that he will be so contented in his lover's arms that he can die happy there. However, there is no apology or explanation for his unfaithfulness. Nor is there any expectation that it will cause an issue. He sees his deep love as an excuse for any other behaviour.

Stanza four

The final stanza of 'Absent from Thee' describes what may happen if the narrator is in the likely scenario that he is tempted again. He may find an 'unblest' woman and commit more acts of infidelity. This will mean he has been unfaithful and false again, which the narrator appears frustrated about. If he does this, he will no longer have access to the heaven he sees his lover as representing. He will be permanently condemned because of his sins. However, at no point in 'Absent from Thee' does the narrator attempt to change his behaviour. This is quite a negative ending to a poem about the narrator's love for his partner.

'Absent from Thee': form and structure

'Absent from Thee' consists of four stanzas, all of which are quatrains.

A quatrain is a stanza of four lines.

Wilmot's poem has a very consistent structure. It is written in iambic tetrameter and has an ABAB rhyme scheme throughout.

Iambic tetrameter is when there are four iambic feet per line of poetry. This involves an unstressed followed by a stressed syllable.

While 'Absent from Thee' doesn't follow any particular form, it can be classified as love poetry. Wilmot's poem revolves around the theme of love and is addressed from one lover to another. However, Wilmot subverts this form in his poem. Although 'Absent from Thee' purports to be about the narrator's love for his partner and how she represents heaven, it heavily focuses on his unfaithfulness to her. This is an unusual and ironic use of love poetry. Wilmot is mocking the genre.

The consistency of structure in 'Absent from Thee' is also ironic. While true love would be seen as reliable and constant, like the structure of Wilmot's poem, the love the narrator has for his partner seems unreliable and easily swayed by other women.

Absent from Thee, notebook with a heart design laying on pebbles, StudySmarterFig. 1 - A notebook where non-ironic love poetry could be written.

'Absent from Thee' poem: analysis

Let's analyse further aspects of Wilmot's poem.


The narrator of 'Absent from Thee' is arguing in favour of a non-traditional relationship. He takes typical conventions of love poetry and subverts them, often mocking them. This suggests a mockery of the very concept of traditional love as well. As an alternative, this narrator believes in the power of sexuality and lust. These take priority in Wilmot's poem.

Poetic devices

Below are relevant poetic devices found in 'Absent from Thee'.


'Absent from Thee' uses the device of juxtaposition.

Juxtaposition is when two things or concepts that are very different are contrasted or compared.

Wilmot juxtaposes the subject of 'Absent from Thee' with the form that the poem takes. The poem is a love poem, a genre usually focused on intense romantic feelings of passion and dedication. However, Wilmot's narrator spends the majority of the poem detailing his urges to be unfaithful to his partner, which he typically indulges in. Wilmot uses much of the language often found in love poems, for example, addressing his lover as 'dear' and writing of her 'safe bosom', to depict a life of infidelity. This creates a stark contrast between what is expected in a love poem and what is present in 'Absent from Thee'.


Alliteration is also present in Wilmot's poem.

Alliteration is when the same consonant sounds are located closely together in a poem. Different sounds can have different impacts on the overall effect of a text.

An example of alliteration in 'Absent from Thee' can be seen below.

When, wearied with a world of woe (l. 9)

'W' alliteration is found in this line. This noise creates an uneasy and negative effect. This noise fits thematically with this line that depicts 'a world of woe'. The feeling of woe describes the narrator's apparent feelings over his life of infidelity and unfaithfulness.


The tone of 'Absent from Thee' is both ironic and lustful. Wilmot is mocking traditional love poems and, perhaps, traditional relationships in his poem. The poem's narrator continually thinks back to his lover, but it is often in the context of having relationships with others. He also sees his actions as reprehensible but does nothing to change them. There is a clear irony present here.

The narrator of 'Absent from Thee' is also lustful. He is unable to help himself from being unfaithful to his partner. Despite the love he claims to harbour for his partner, he cheats regardless. Wilmot shows the power of human sexuality and desire in his poem.

Key themes

Infidelity is a key theme in 'Absent from Thee'. Wilmot's narrator spends a significant amount of the poem describing his own betrayals of his lover. He has cheated regularly on her, and it seems likely that he will again. The narrator pours out his heart to his lover, yet never changes his behaviour.

Another important theme in 'Absent from Thee' is manipulation. The narrator of Wilmot's poem has ulterior motives beyond expressing love for his partner. He states the deep love and comfort he finds in his partner to defend his unfaithfulness. He believes his love is an excuse for his infidelity. This manipulation is seen in the below quote. The narrator addresses his lover by a term of endearment and, immediately following this, asks her to let him go to facilitate his affairs.

Dear! from thine arms then let me fly, (l. 5)

'Absent from Thee': critics

Little contemporary criticism of John Wilmot's work remains as he was active in the 1600s. However, many modern critics have analysed his impact on the world of literature. Wilmot is viewed as representative of his age. King Charles II had become monarch after the previous repressive Puritan era. Charles ushered in a new culture that was much more vulgar and honest, particularly in matters of sexuality. The critic Ed Simon sees many of Wilmot's works as 'congruent with the spirit of the era'.1

'Absent from Thee' is no different. It too exemplified the era of Charles II. The poem has sexual themes and prioritises sexual needs over all else. Only a few years previous, topics such as these would have been highly taboo in literature. Wilmot's poem also critiques traditional relationships, which could only be done because of the new permissiveness of Charles II's era.

Absent from Thee - Key takeaways

  • 'Absent from Thee' is a poem from the mid-1600s by renowned poet John Wilmot.
  • It is a love poem in iambic tetrameter.
  • 'Absent from Thee' questions traditional relationships and prioritises lust.
  • Wilmot uses the poetic devices of juxtaposition and alliteration.
  • Infidelity and manipulation are key themes in the poem.


  1. Ed Simon, The Restoration’s Filthiest Poet (and Why We Need Him), Daily JSTOR, 2018.

Frequently Asked Questions about Absent from Thee

The poem is about the narrator's various acts of infidelity against his partner, despite his apparent love for her.

'Absent from Thee' was written in the mid 1600s.

Love is presented as secondary to sexuality and lust.

'Absent from Thee' is a love poem.

John Wilmot wrote 'Absent from Thee'.

Final Absent from Thee Quiz

Absent from Thee Quiz - Teste dein Wissen


When was 'Absent from Thee' written?

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Mid 1600s.

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What was John Wilmot's official title?

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Earl of Rochester.

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What metre is 'Absent from Thee' written in?

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Iambic tetrameter.

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What is iambic tetrameter?

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When a poem has four iambic feet per line.

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What poetic devices are used in 'Absent from Thee'?

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Juxtaposition and alliteration.

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What are two key themes in 'Absent from Thee'?

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Infidelity and manipulation.

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What is the rhyme scheme in 'Absent from Thee'?

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How can the tone of 'Absent from Thee' be described?

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Ironic and lustful.

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What does Wilmot's narrator prioritise over love?

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Sexuality and lust.

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What does Wilmot do with the conventions of love poetry in his poem?

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Subvert them.

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What is juxtaposition?

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When two different concepts or things are contrasted.

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How do modern critics see Wilmot?

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As representative of the permissive age of Charles II.

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How does Wilmot's narrator excuse his infidelity?

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He uses his deep love for his partner as an excuse.

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What kind of alliteration is found in 'Absent from Thee'?

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'W' alliteration.

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What is juxtaposed in 'Absent from Thee'?

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The traditional form and the unusual subject of the poem.

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