Looking at when the poem was published, 1916, makes it easier for us to understand the themes of the poem. At that time countrywomen were unable to support themselves, which explains how the young woman got herself into such a painful situation.
The poem takes the form of a dramatic monologue as the farmer laments his loveless marriage. Mews makes use of the local dialect spoken in the countryside, which makes the narrator a realistic character when he moans at how one night “she runned away.” The reader feels sympathy for the simple farmer, as he is confused at his wife’s behaviour.
At first the farmer is bemused by his wife’s terror, but in the third stanza he shows his frustration when his wife does her housework “As well as most” and talks to the animals, but he says,” I’ve hardly heard her speak at all.” The use of italics here emphasises his change towards her and shows his growing irritation. The emotional strain upon the farmer conveys the farmer’s conflict. He has had to resist his sexual urges for “Three summers”. He still finds his wife attractive as he compares her sweetness to the “first wild violets”. His tension is felt throughout the poem and by the fourth stanza the farmer feels he is a victim of his wife’s moods when Christmas comes around and he asks what is Christmas without “some other” in the house besides them? As the poem ends, the farmer’s conflict appears to be at breaking point and he starts to go mad at the thought of her being so close without touching her. How long can the farmer wrestle with his conflict? He is thinking of the “soft young down” of her skin and “her eyes, her hair, her hair!” The use of repetition here together with the exclamation marks conveys the farmer’s desperation and we are left wondering about the fate of the young bride.
The poem is made up of different length stanzas and the rhyme scheme is irregular, possibly to reflect the behaviour of the bride herself. The only regular pattern is the couplets that finish each stanza but even this is broken in the final verse. In the second stanza, the rhythm gets faster, reflecting the young girl’s feelings as she runs across the fields and the farmer explains how they “chased her, flying like a hare”. Enjambment in this stanza also adds to the tension where there is no pause from where she is being chased until she is “caught” and “fetched” home and locked in a room.
The imagery of the poem is full of references to nature. The sudden change in the young woman is shown by the use of two similes: her smile disappearing like “the shut of a winter’s day” conveys the suddenness of her change of mood. In the winter there is no long, soft closing of the day as in the summer; the change is abrupt from light to dark. The change in young woman leaves her being compared to a “frightened fay”, showing how she has turned from a happy young woman to someone who “’twasn’t a woman” any more.
Mews illustrates how timid the young woman has become by comparing her to young animals that are usually hunted. She was chased by the neighbours “flying like a hare”; she does her work “like a mouse” and is “Shy as a leveret.”
Mew employs images that create sympathy for both the farmer and his wife. We feel sorry for the young girl “lying awake with her wide brown stare” too frightened to go to sleep. She is “chased” over fields by her neighbours before their “lanterns” and they find her “All in a shiver and a scare”. Her terror is felt severely when her eyes beseech “Not near, not near!” We can also sympathise with the farmer who has waited “three summers” for his wife to get over her fears. She hardly speaks to him and he is denied children and feels the loneliness of this at Christmas.
Mews has been successful in conveying the complexities of the relationship between the farmer and his bride. He is a simple farmer who has neglected his wife’s emotional needs because he doesn’t understand, and she got married too young to be able to cope with the demands of her husband.