In this piece of coursework I shall explore how the themes of sadness and loss are recurrent in poetry throughout time. I shall do this by closely analysing two pre-1914 poems and four post-1914 poems and show how these two themes are explored by the poets. The two poems written before 1914 shall be La Belle Dame Sans Merci written by John Keats and The Lady of Shalott written by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The four poems written after 1914 shall be Modes of Pleasure and Black Jackets, written by Thom Gunn, and Afternoons and Mr Bleaney, written by Philip Larkin. I shall start with the poem La Belle Dame Sans Merci.
The poem La Belle Dame Sans Merci tells of a knight who is in love with, and has been abandoned by, a beautiful daughter of a faery. The fact that she is a faery is important as at the time this poem is set, faeries were classed a mysterious force, not to be reckoned with. When found, the Knight is said to be “alone and palely loitering” and also “so haggard and woe-begone”. This shows that he has lost his life, his friends, and is now sad to be so alone. The knight was said to have had a dream where the kings, princes, and warriors all warn “La Belle Dame Sans Merci hath thee in thrall.” Then he dreamt that the Knight was left on a “cold-hill side”, all alone, with nothing. This dream became true when he awake, and this mysterious creature had gone, showing loss. From this, the Knight was distraught- a severe state of sadness.
The Lady of Shalott tells the story of a lady’s love for the renowned Knight Sir Lancelot, and the curse she is put under living in the same place for a length of time. She is not aloud out of this ‘prison’ as it will bring a curse upon the lady if she leaves. An example of sadness is knowing she has no saviour, “She hath no loyal knight and true, The Lady of Shalott”. This lady has one major loss, the loss of leading a life, “Or when the moon was overhead, came two young lovers lately wed; “I am half sick of shadows,” said The Lady of Shalott. She wants to lead a life, be with her love and be normal. Sadness came upon her when she realised the curse was upon her sole, “The mirror crack’d from side to side; “the curse is come upon me,” cried the Lady of Shalott. Finally she dies in the end, losing the one thing she managed to possess, her life, “Heard a carol, mournful, holy… Singing in her song she died, The Lady of Shalott. This poet uses techniques to create a sorrowful theme, such as how he builds up hope in Sir Lancelot coming, and then the Lady of Shallot dies, on trying to escape.
Modes of Pleasure describes a middle-aged man in a bar, with no future, only the same he has done in the past. Already you can notice that this man must be feeling sadness in the fact he has wasted his life on the things that aren’t essential. The first line is powerful as it summarises the theme, “I jump with terror seeing him”. The man is scared of his life now as he sees his reflection in the bar. The biggest loss in this poem is the loss of life he has endured, “The Fallen Rake, being fallen from the heights of twenty to middle age”. The ‘Fallen Rake’ knows the sadness that will occur when he loses all he has, “In different rooms without a word would all be lost some time in time.” In that quotation he was talking about the cheap dates he gets in the bars, and what goes on to happen after the date. “Rigid he sits: brave, terrible, the will awaits its gradual end”- this man is willing to lose the rest of his life doing the same he has always done as he knows he is too far gone to change the future now; which bring sadness into his body.
Black Jackets tells the story of a van driver who has lost his life of being in a motorcycle gang, and now is now reflecting this past life. The quotation, “Remote excursion had lined, scratched, and burned insignia that could not revive the heroic fall or climb where they were earned”, shows he thinks of what it was like to fall of a bike and gain a scratch on their jacket, and the thrill of it would have caused a feeling of loss and sadness. This man has now lost his friends, “On the other drinkers bent together, concocting themselves for their impervious kit”, which means he is excluded from his former life, he has lost it.
Afternoons is a poem dedicated to the young mothers who have lost their freedom due to their children. “summer is fading” is the first line which strongly explains the poem as it is the summer of the mother’s lives, their youth, disappearing. The quote, “young mothers assemble”, suggests that the routine of going to the park is a common one among young mothers. These women have completely lost their lives, including with husbands, “Behind them, at intervals, stand husbands…Our wedding, lying near the television”, which suggests that husbands take up trades instead of staying with their partner, and also, recent weddings have just been forgot about like a normal part of life- this must show sadness to the mothers. The end two lines explain the feelings of loss and sadness in their lives, “Something is pushing them to the side of their own lives”. This is a great summary as it shows how they are being made to lose and being made to feel sadness.
Mr Bleaney is a poem describing the life people lead following another, even if they are not known to them. It depicts a man who has followed the same life as Mr Bleaney, the man who formerly lived in his room. The descriptions of the room show that he has no feelings now about anything, “Bed, upright chair, sixty-watt bulb, no hook behind the door, no room for books or bags- “I’ll take it.””. He wants to lead a plain life, so he is choosing his own destiny. This man has now lost his own life, and feels he leads the one of his predecessor, “So it happens that I lay… And his sister’s house in stoke.” He has learnt the habits of Mr Bleaney, and all his annual pastimes. The last two paragraphs show that he actually realised that you need to take the future into your owns with such quotes as, “how we live measures our own nature”. This room he lives in is reprehensively perfect, as he hates it, but it is a perfect situation to live in. After realising this, the man must have felt a sense of sadness of how he has ended up living life, in another person’s shoes.
As a summary, poems written before 1940 have no difference in the sense of feelings compared to those written after. Even though some portrayed Knights and Faerys, for example, as the only ones with feelings, they also portrayed the small people, normal people.