English 495 ESM
My Most Precious Epitaph:
Explication of “Jenny kiss'd Me” by Leigh Hunt
Relatively simple in form and rhyme scheme, Leigh Hunt’s “Jenny Kiss’d Me,” can seem to be fall into a part of what was considered “The Cockney School of Poetry,” categorized as works written off by critics that could never be taken “seriously” (Mullen 332). Hunt was heavily criticized because he lacked a “proper” upbringing being “lowbred,” Hunt himself recollected that “his first memory was of a cell,” as his father was in debtor’s prison and faced continual financial hardships (Mullen 328). Thus Leigh Hunt was dubbed the “wit in the dungeon” facing hardships which “would keep him acquainted with a cell” (Mullen 328). Stigmatized, Hunt would inevitably “fail to meet certain standards” and secure “his status as a second-rate poet” (Stewart 26). However, regardless of Hunt’s upbringing and how apparently basic his work may seem, to write it off as amateur reveals only a first reading of the piece. Although apparently generic in form, diction and scheme, “Jenny Kiss’d Me,” is first read as a love poem, however, a thorough reading can reveal themes of struggle of finding and keeping love against the conflicts of time, financial stability, health, and death.
At first reading “Jenny Kiss’d Me” has a simple form and lyrical rhyme scheme, composed of a single stanza of eight lines and scheme of ABABCDCD, reminiscent of a pop track one can pick up on a top 40 radio station. Form at first glance, also seems direct and simple, but is actually broken down into several chronological stages of romance by every two lines, starting a new stage after an indentation; these stages are further detailed below. The spelling in the opening line is notable, “Jenny kiss’d me when we first met,” as the word “kissed” is written without the “e,” indicating a causal tone and supporting a more lyrical-music approach in the reading (Smith 33). The first two lines introduce the reader to Jenny and the speaker, who are possibly pre-adolescent, as it is revealed that Jenny “jumped from her chair,” unable to control her excitement (Smith 33). This can also suggest the first stages of love, as it is still child-like and innocent and possibly even free of sexual complexities. An agreement can be mitigated with Mullen, in regards to this work celebrating friendship, as the first stages of love start in that regard, but the progression of romance clearly evolves with the successive lines (Mullen 334). Friendship is a part of romance, and inclusive in the work, but not principal.
The next successive stage of love is marked by the speaker and Jenny, marrying or living together, and have begun to grow old; in lines 3-4, the speaker personifies and chastises time as a thief, who steals the “sweets,” the physical attributes of beauty from Jenny, recording them on a list (Smith 33). Recorded or the very act of recording one person at any given moment, has aged by the next day, and one day less beautiful than the day before. Time steals the attractiveness of the young, the sweetness of being young and in love as the human form slowly withers and decays.
Lines five and six further reveal the next stage of love, as the speaker reveals that he is “weary,” and shows some minor lament over not having prioritized the pursuit of wealth or for that matter having taken a higher regard for their own health, or even implying their own physical health and appearance, because of his love, or state of love (Smith 33). This subtle mentioning of “health” and “wealth” may seem only as a elementary selection of diction for rhyme scheme, however Hunt during this time was considered the “epicenter of his times, which bring the Romantic and mid-Victorian ages,” specifically well known for social activism (Colby 415). Although Colby does not press this connection, this activism, and “tirade against the Prince Regent” for which he was imprisoned for, set against an established backdrop of debtor’s prison tarnishing the family, certainly infuses the struggle of stability possibly the struggle against capitalism and the bonds of the nuclear family and physical well being of the nuclear family (415). The speaker further indicates he is “sad,” as both Jenny and the speaker have grown old and have deteriorated in health, this further implicates that Jenny has succumbed to time and has passed away (Smith 33).
The first two lines implies a young state of love and uncontainable energy, the next two lines, mark the thievery of time, and how it takes days away from the individual, leaving them with less of a fortune of time. Lines 5-6 have a tone of lament over never having earned great wealth or recognition, or never having focused on the speaker’s own beauty and health. Although the speaker laments all these aspects of the decay of the human form, lost opportunities, experiences and ultimately a lost love, the speaker has no regret over the decisions made in choosing to remain and nurture his love and relationship with Jenny. In the final lines, lamenting over all other things missed or lost, are all minor in comparison to having received the love at one time of the revered Jenny, or in the least, having lost opportunities and other experiences, it was all worth having received a single kiss.
Although simple in form, tone and scheme, Hunt creates a work imbedded with thematic struggles which have created conflicts between man and woman, and how they will form a bond and yet still find a way to navigate the realities of the world while maintaining that bond; “the reader’s doubtful conception of the value of Hunt’s poetry is a central part of a proper appreciation of it” (Stewart 25). Life, death, health, beauty, recognition and wealth are all captured an encompassed in this very simple love poem which is culturally universal, as the name “Jenny” can easily be replaced with any other name, or also “she,” and still capture the same experiences and trials each couple would face in a lifetime, particularly the male. Indeed it is the last two lines, 7 and 8 that not only culminate the certainty of the speaker’s affection for Jenny, without hesitation and regret, but also are akin to a final epitaph on a tombstone; throughout the lifetime of the speaker, no greater achievement completed or not pursued, is of any greater achievement than that of having found Jenny, and having received her love and that single kiss.
Colby, Robert Alan. “The Selected Writings of Leigh Hunt.” Victorian Periodicals Review
38.4 (Winter 2005): 414-17. Project Muse. Web. 16 Feb. 2013.
Hunt, Leigh. Ed. Philip Smith. “Jenny Kiss’d Me.” 100 Best-loved Poems. New York: Dover
Publications, 1995. Print.
Mullen, Alexandra. "The Lost Romantic." The Hudson Review 59.2 (2006): 327-34. JSTOR.
Web. 16 Feb. 2013.
Stewart, David. “Leigh Hunt’s Accidental Poetry.” Essays in Criticism 62.1 (2012): 25-40.
Oxford Journals.Org. Web. 16 Feb. 2013.