Love poetry is an effective and popular way of showing ones emotions without having to go into explanations and detail. There are many different kinds of love poems, each with their own unique styles and structure. The purpose of this essay is to consider how different poets have explored different aspects of love. There are a few main ways in which love is portrayed in the love poems I will talk about. These are praise, unchanging love, jealous and obsessive love, betrayal, romantic love, and just sex. Over the course of this essay, I will be investigating different love poems, and assessing how the poets explore different aspects of love.
Firstly, I will compare and contrast ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ with ‘My last Duchess’. These two poems are quite similar, in that they both portray love in a bad way. Both are examples of jealous, obsessive love, and not surprisingly both were written by the same author, Robert Browning. “Porphyria’s Lover,” which was written in 1836, is one of the earliest and most shocking of Browning’s dramatic monologues. The narrator in the poem lives in a cottage in the countryside. His lover, a young woman called Porphyria, enters the cottage from a storm outside, and makes a fire in the cottage for her lover, which shows that she cares about him. She embraces the narrator, but he tells us that he does not speak to her.
“And, last, she sat down by my side
And called me. When no voice replied,
She put her arm about my waist,”
The narrator soon realises that Porphyria worshipped him, and that she was his to keep forever. This mentality drives him to do a horrid deed, in strangling his lover with her own hair. He winds her long ‘yellow’ hair around her throat, strangling her to death. He then tries to justify this action, by saying:
“No pain felt she;
I am quite sure she felt no pain.”
He then talks about her beauty, and he props her head up on his shoulder, toying with her corpse. The last line of the poem is another justification he has made for his actions, as he states that God has not moved to punish him as they lay there.
“And all night long we have not stirred,
And yet God has not said a word!”
This compares to ‘My last Duchess’, as it is a similar situation. The narrator, the Duke of Ferrara, is show as a very controlling person, especially in conversation. For example, he seems jealous that he was not able to monopolise his former duchess’ smiles for himself. The Duke could not control her smile or her love for life, and thus considered her unfaithful. The Duke seems slightly bemused that his Duchess might be unfaithful, as he claims that she is rating his gift of a nine-hundred year old name with anybody else’s gift, and that she does not give him sufficient respect. Browning uses these lines to convey what the Duke does to sort out this problem:
“I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together.”
This is implies that he had her executed, and was driven to this by his possessive love for her. He is now satisfied because Fra Pandolf has painted a portrait of her smiling, and he can keep that smile for himself only, as he has the painting covered, and this painting is only for his eyes.
Another way love has been portrayed by different poets is that love is only about sex, not mutual respect. The two poems that draw similar comparisons to this statement are ‘The Flea’ and ‘To His Coy Mistress’. In ‘The Flea’, John Dunne, a very metaphysical poet, was already married to his wife when he wrote the poem to her. She was higher in status than him and her parents disapproved of their marriage so they couldn’t get together yet. The poem is about seduction of the woman with the use of the flea as a metaphor of their marriage. The narrator thinks that they have both been bitten by the same flea, so they should be together. This is another poem about a man trying to convince a woman to have sex with him. In the marriage ceremony the wife and husband become one and because their blood has already been mixed inside the flea.
The speaker now thinks that they are married because they were both bitten by the same flea. However she kills the flea in the third stanza and tells him that true love does not bear such false fears as the death of the flea. After the speaker’s lady kills the flea he asks her if she has “purpled her nail in the blood of innocence”. The speaker applies a certain duality to the flea and therefore to sex. The whole argument is shown to be only a ploy to prove that if the speaker’s lady can treat sex so irreverently after he had made comments about how sacred it was, than sex should not be dealt with so seriously. After the speaker’s wife kills the flea, he agrees with her, so the argument is ends there. This poem compares to ‘To His Coy Mistress’ by Andrew Marvell, as this is another poem where the man is trying to convince a woman to have sex with him. At first, the speaker says sweet things about her, and starts talking about everlasting love and how he will always be with her because they are one. His thoughts begin to shift towards her body later in the poem, and we can infer from this that all he is after is sex. By the third stanza he is getting desperate, and his patience gives out. This makes him sound quite shallow-minded. He threatens her by saying that worms would take her virginity, and that she would die a virgin.
“And your quaint honour turn to dust;
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.”
In the third stanza, the speaker has lost all hope, and tells her straight that their attraction is going to end one day, so they should do it now. He says that they cannot make the sun stand still, but they can make it run. Marvell leaves the outcome as a mystery, so the reader can make out what the woman’s response was to his pleas.
Another aspect that poets have explored is the physical effects of first love. This aspect is shown in ‘First Love’. In this poem by John Clare, the speaker seems completely taken away by the power of first love. He describes the physical feelings he felt at the time:
“My face turned pale as deadly pale,
My legs refused to walk away,”
The poem is principally about the emotions he went through when he met this unnamed woman, or his words of praise about her. It shows love in good light, as it is not talking about sex, but how love can change the way people feel. The last two lines tell us that love has an everlasting effect on people, as the speaker says:
“My heart has left its dwelling place
And can return no more.”
This poem links in with poems of praise and idealised love, as the poem shows more than one aspect of love, as it shows a hint of flattery.
Another interesting aspect of love considered by poets is flattery and praise. This theme is common to many love poems. ‘A Woman is a Worthy Thing’ is a poem just about praise for women in general. It is a poem from the medieval time period, meaning equality between men and women was always an issue. The poet is trying to show that women should not be taken for granted, because they are worthy creatures, and along with this argument comes praise and flattery, but of a slightly different nature to the other love poems. For example, in ‘Sonnet 18’, Shakespeare is praising his lover by comparing her to different things and justifying that she is greater than those things. This is different to ‘A Woman is a Worthy Thing’, because in the sonnet he is praising the woman because he is in love with her, and wants to impress her and make her feel good. In ‘A Woman is a Worthy Thing’, the speaker is not praising a woman he is in love with, but just praising women in general for their role in life. More examples of flattery and praise of women is in ‘Sonnet 130’, ‘How Many Kisses?’ and ‘Upon Julia’s Clothes’. However, as with the case of ‘To His Coy Mistress’, the flattery and praise is sometimes associated with motives for the man. In ‘To His Coy Mistress’ the speaker only praises the woman because he wants to have sex with her, not because he loves her.
There are a few other aspects of love explored by poets that will briefly be elaborated on. ‘The Voice’, written by Thomas Hardy, is about the loss of a loved one. Hardy shows that the speaker has great compassion for his lover but a sense of desperation, as he can hear her calling but knows that she is not there. The poems ‘Ballad’, ‘Villegiature’, and ‘A Woman to Her Lover’ are all similar because they are written by woman and use the same sort of imagery. ‘A Woman to Her Lover’ is a poem about a woman’s view to love and marriage, which is an interesting angle through which love is shown. The speaker is emphasising the fact that woman are equal to men, no more, no less. The woman refuses to be her lover’s ‘bondslave’, ‘servant’ or ‘doll’, and asks that he treats her as a comrade, friend, and mate. This poem has a historical background, because it was written in the 1800s, when equality between men and women was a big thing, and at the time women wanted the vote. Another poem written by a woman, ‘Villegiature’, is about the contrast between a woman’s romantic dreams and tedious reality of the lover.
This poem is showing that from the speaker’s point of view, love is not as great as it would seem, and it has a false pretence. Also, the poem ‘Ballad’ describes how the woman has had sex and how it has got her into trouble because she had a child before she was married. ‘Ballad’ is linked to ‘The Flea’ and ‘To His Coy Mistress’ because it is describing how the man-woman relationship has gone bad after having sex while ‘The Flea’ and ‘To His Coy Mistress’ both show the man-woman relationship before the sex issue. Although this links the poems together this would also have been seen as a contrasting point because the relationships they are describing are different in both poems, even though the outcome in both is bad. The language used in Ballad is also different to the language used in ‘The Flea’ and ‘To His Coy Mistress’. In ‘Ballad’, archaic words used such as “thee” and “thou” are used frequently and there is not as much use of this in the other two poems.
In conclusion, there are many different aspects of love shown by the handful of poems I have studied, with some of the poets showing distinctive styles in all of their love poetry. There are many examples of imagery, rhythm, rhyme, and a variety of emotions being conveyed in the poems. Many different messages are being put across, but some poets express them more effectively than others. In my opinion, Robert Browning has conveyed his idea of jealous and obsessive love very effectively and successfully. In both ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ and ‘My Last Duchess’ Browning uses the same gripping style of having the speaker kill his lover due to obsessive love, and try to justify their actions.
‘The Flea’ by John Donne is also an effective poem because it is a realistic image of man-woman relationships, and he uses a number of interesting similes and metaphors. He shows a bad side to love as it were because of how he writes about a man trying to have sex with a woman against her will. Andrew Marvell also expresses similar emotions and imagery in ‘To His Coy Mistress’ because there is the same sort of situation in both poems. ‘A Woman to her Lover’ by Christina Walsh also shows a bad aspect of love in her poem because it talks about how cruel and awful love can be, which is a common theme in many of the other love poems. Imagery, metaphors, similes, alliteration and the structure of the poems have all shown how love can be viewed from different perspectives and portrayed in different ways. Even the old poems are still relevant to modern society because much of what is said in these poems still goes on today.