Many poems in this survey express regret or offer consolation because most human relations are touched at some time by feelings of regret for deeds done or not done, words said or not said. Consolation, if it happens at all, comes in different forms; sometimes the poet is left only with deep feelings of loss or disappointment, or with a consolation that fails to offer real solace. Closely related to regret is melancholy, a state of mind that has always been associated with the acutely sensitive poetic temperament that prefers solitude and is inclined to introspection and sadness.
One of the oldest poems written in England (in Old English, and therefore now mainly read in translation) is “The Wanderer” (c. 975). In this elegiac poem, the wanderer's philosophic speculation on life is set in a brief framework. The wanderer is an elderly warrior, far from home, whose companions and lord are dead. His meditation urges endurance, moderation, and patience under suffering. He offers advice on what it is to be wise, and how life's pains and losses lead to a humble, holy heart. The poem is famous for its use of the “ubi sunt” (“where are they?”) convention of the medieval Latin poem.
Many of Shakespeare's sonnets express regret, but the most sustained sonnet on this theme is Sonnet 30, “When to the sessions of sweet silent thought” (1709). In the first stanza the speaker tells us that when he remembers the past he laments how many of the things he had hoped for did not happen. Recalling these “old woes” reminds him of the time he has wasted, perhaps with the suggestion that he is wasting time now in recalling them. In the second quatrain he specifies what some of these losses are, which now bring a tear to his eye: valued friends now dead; old love affairs; “many a vanished sight.” At this point in the poem the reader can sense a gentle self-mockery in the speaker's tone: that he