The first five lines of “The Scrutiny” establish the poem’s theme, its playful tone, and its form. The poem begins in the middle of a conversation between the speaker and the “Lady” that he loves—at least, he swore that he loved her last night. But that was last night—now that it is “Morn,” he has moved onto new loves. He regards the vow he made as crazy, “fond,” an “impossibility.”
The Lady is, understandably, upset with his infidelity and unfaithfulness. The poem’s title, “The Scrutiny,” references the pressure that he faces from her: the speaker’s own actions are under scrutiny. But he refuses to apologize for his behavior—or even acknowledge that he has done anything wrong. Instead, in the poem’s opening rhetorical question, he asks why she’s angry in the first place, demanding “Why should you sweare I am forsworn … ?”
Throughout the poem, the speaker directly addresses his mistress, trying to appease her anger and justify his behavior. He does so by calling into question her right to be angry with him—sometimes explicitly, sometimes more subtly. For instance, the assonant /ee/ sound that runs through this first stanza—in words like “Lady” and “already”—suggests impatience with the Lady's demands, her scrutiny. Although he doesn’t get there in this stanza, the speaker eventually argues that his unfaithful behavior is justified and natural—he even argues that it will make him more faithful in the end.
The speaker is thus self-confident, even self-righteous. That confidence is reflected in the poem’s form. Note, for instance, the heavy amount of end-stopped lines here and throughout the poem: these end-stops reinforce the speaker’s air of self-possession. In the rare moments where the poem slips into enjambment, as in line 4, the reader might feel the speaker’s confidence cracking—perhaps as he meditates on the vow he made, his self-righteousness comes apart a little bit.
The poem is written with a regular metrical pattern and rhyme scheme. Each stanza is rhymed ABABB. Most of its lines are written in iambic tetrameter (meaning there are four stressed beats per line)—but the second line of each stanza is in iambic trimeter (three stresses a line). Short lines help the poem feel casual and playful—and they keep the poem moving quickly, despite its heavy and regular end-stops. The poem seems to self-consciously avoid a prestigious, elevated meter like iambic pentameter. Instead, the poem’s form subtly suggests that the poem itself is intended to be light-hearted, almost like a humorous song. Its speaker is not making a serious argument about love and fidelity; rather, he is simply showing off his wit.