It is often claimed that love poems are soppy and sentimental. Refer to the poems that you have studied in this collection, and find evidence for agreeing or disagreeing with this view. Comment on the language, style and form of the poems you refer to, as well as their content and viewpoint.
Love poems are traditionally romantic and often ‘soppy’ and ‘sentimental’, however not all the poems fall into these categories.
‘First Love’ by John Clare, in my view, is one of the more romantic and sentimental poems between it and the other John Clare poem ‘The Secret’. There are many emotions in ‘First Love’, probably because it was written after Clare was taken into Northampton General Lunatic Asylum. It is often exaggerated ‘And blood burnt round my heart’, making it less romantic and more of suffering, however there is the mention of ‘my heart’ which is a typical symbol of love. So in a way it is like a valentine’s card, with strong imagery ‘turned to clay’ and philosophical lines ‘I never saw so sweet a face’. Clare uses several conventional poetic techniques with similes ‘Her face it bloomed like a sweet flower’ and ‘They spoke as chords do from the string’, which adds to the ‘soppy’ effect.
The repetition of ‘sweet’ makes the content of the poem more positive. The rhetorical questions ‘Are flowers the winter’s choice?’ and ‘Is love’s bed always snow?’ makes it sound like she didn’t love him back, especially with the sibilance in the next line ‘She seemed to hear my silent voice’ this suggests that he is not sure if she has heard his love towards her or is not showing any back. Towards the end of the poem it seems to be less positive and there is even a question of doubt ‘Not love’s appeals to know.’ This gives the impression of unrequited love even though at the last two lines he has supposedly given his heart to someone else, maybe her, ‘My heart has left its dwelling-place and can return no more.’ Although unpunctuated, the poem is written in a regular pattern of three stanzas, each of which has eight lines and the rhyme scheme ababcdcd. The effect this has is that each stanza has its own meaning for the reader to work out, therefore creating a positive affect with the rhyme scheme as well.
In the same way, ‘The Secret’ also is also written in a regular pattern of three stanzas, each of which has four lines and the rhyme scheme abab. In many ways these two poems are similar with the positive vocabulary ‘joy’, ‘beauty’ and ‘charms’, these are also typical emotions or symbols of love. However the use of ‘loved’ is still positive vocabulary but also seems to show that he is suffering, now that whatever he loved has gone because it is in the past tense. The use of the personal pronouns ‘I’ and ‘My’ reveal personal feelings although they are used less often than in ‘First Love’ they still manage to put across the feeling of longing and resentment for not being able to give the relationship his best, ‘I loved’, ‘I told’, ‘My theme’, ‘I saw’, ‘I gave’ and ‘I felt’. The archaic language makes it sound more into the past, ‘thee’, and the conjunctions ‘And’ and ‘Which’ add another light to the poem by carrying on his feelings, which is similar in ‘First Love’.
Alternatively there are a few love poems that are not at all soppy or sentimental. ‘A Woman to Her Lover’ by Christina Walsh is one of them. The purpose of this poem is to show that women can be brave and stick up for what they believe they are entitled to do and be, and not be bossed around. Walsh used the word love in a different context because instead of it being Eros, physical attraction based on sexual affection/passion; she uses Agape because it involves charity, tolerance and respect for all people. Walsh uses many personal pronouns, ‘me’, ‘I’ and ‘we’ to get across her personal feelings; she has used many more than ‘First Love’ and ‘The Secret’ but has also got a lot of second person pronouns which seems to show the poem focusing directly upon the addressee ‘Do you come to me to bend me to your will’. In the same way as the first two poems, Walsh has used connectives to extend her persuasive argument ‘Or’, this might make her sound slightly possessive but it sounds like she is giving her lover options by trying to persuade him.
The use of sibilance ‘skin soft….supple’ emphasises key words in the same way that they are used in ‘First Love’. The metaphor ‘wingless angel’ suggests that she does not want to be idealised because it is shortly followed by a single exclamative ‘Go!’ Instead of lots of positive vocabulary like the other two poems this uses all negative which makes it no where near the sentimental category. The use of the negative group of words ‘bondslave’, ‘wearing out’, ‘drudgery’, ‘silence’ and ‘servant’ all combine for her argument of I will not be a slave, which in patriarchal society was a very brave statement to make because it was a society dominated by males and feminine voices, views, and perspectives were rarely found.
Repetition of ‘I refuse you!’ helps to emphasise her point especially with the exclamative on the end. With the stanzas and rhyming is where it is totally different to both ‘First Love’ and ‘The Secret’ because they both have three stanzas but ‘A Woman to Her Lover’ has four and no rhyme at all, except in one sentence ‘bear….wearing’ and this seems to suit her mood and attitude of no-nonsense Each stanza has its own message, the first “I will not be a slave”, the second “I will not be put on a pedestal”, the third “I will not be a sexual play thing” and the fourth “I will be an equal partner”. The fourth stanza’s message is slightly different to the other three because she has had a change of feelings from fool to lover to husband. She now wants equality and respect ‘co-equal love’. Similarly with the other two poems she is now using positive vocabulary ‘passion’ and ‘joy’, with personification ‘make the stars laugh’ and grand imagery ‘music of the spheres’ she shows that she has accepted that they are equal although it is still not soppy and sentimental.
‘Sonnet 130’ by William Shakespeare is not a typical love poem because it compares the speaker’s lover to a number of other beauties – and never in the lover’s favour, ‘If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun’, ‘And in some perfumes is there more delight’ and ‘My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun’ but yet he says ‘I think my love as rare’. Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 130’ is similar at the end like Walsh’s ‘A Woman to Her Lover’ because they both have a twist at the end.
The Sonnet’s twist is empathised by a rhyming couplet ‘rare….false compare’. Sonnets were usually very romantic in C15 and C16 but this is totally opposite like Walsh’s it is more genuine and authentic ‘As any she believed with false compare’. ‘Sonnet 130’ is written in iambic pentameters with quatrains of abab. The use of the personal pronouns ‘My’ and ‘I’ make the poem more personal like ‘A Woman to Her Lover’. In the third quatrain, he admits that, though he loves her voice, ‘music hath a far more pleasing sound’ and that, though he has never seen a goddess, his mistress — unlike goddesses — walks on the ground. In the couplet, however, the speaker declares that ‘by heaven’ he thinks his love as ‘rare’ and valuable ‘As any she belied with false compare’ – that is, any love in which false comparisons were invoked to describe the loved one’s beauty. The use of the couplet is effective because it contains a separate point/image.
Instead of being romantic or unromantic, ‘To his Coy Mistress’ by Andrew Marvell fits right in between the two categories because it is ‘soppy’ in a way but for all the wrong reasons because all he wants to do is get her in bed. ‘To his Coy Mistress’ can be split into three stanzas with the rhyme scheme aabbcc. The use of careful structure in this poem is different from the effective use of structure in ‘Sonnet 130’ because the quatrains in ‘Sonnet 130’ make the poem’s lines all seem the same in their mood and emotion, whereas, the stanzas in ‘To his Coy Mistress’ make each section of lines have their own mood, emotions and meaning.
In the same way, Marvell uses a metaphor like Walsh which both mention wings ‘Times winged Chariot hurrying near’. It seems that all the unromantic poems, ‘Sonnet 130’, ‘A Woman to Her Lover’ and ‘To his Coy Mistress’ all have references to heaven which in a way is quite romantic, even though the rest of the content isn’t as romantic. Like Shakespeare, Marvell has used a rhyming couplet ‘side…Tide’, however it is used to show a different thing in ‘To his Coy Mistress’ because it is used to emphasis his love – as if he loved her. The language in the poem is completely different to the other four because this one is not attempting to sound genuine ‘Nor would I love at lower rate’. This poem is very sentimental but not soppy, ‘My vegetable love should grow’ this shows that he doesn’t see her beauty or inner beauty he just wants sex. It is overly exaggerated, ‘An hundred years should go praise thine eyes’, and no one would spend a hundred years praising someone’s eyes.
In the poem there is constantly a reference to time ‘Had we but World enough and Time’, which makes his argument about getting her in bed stronger because he is persuading her ‘before us lye desarts of eternity.’ The repetition of the connective ‘But’ adds to his persuasive tone showing that he’s saying that they’re wasting their time but at the same time he simultaneously develops a systematic argument of reasoning. This persuasive tone is exactly like Walsh’s poem ‘A Woman to Her Lover’ because they both use the beauty of the opposite person to persuade them ‘And the last age should show your Heart’. But where Walsh doesn’t want to be a sexual plaything, all that Marvell writes about is wanting to have sex. Yet again there is the mention of ‘Heart’ like in ‘First Love’, which shows this may not be a typical love poem but it is a type of love poem. As a metaphysical poem, Marvell uses his writing as a tool for sexism ‘Worms shall try that long preserv’d virginity’; beneath the surface the poem exists to be manipulated by a society domineered by testosterone for the fulfilment of male pleasure ‘Now let us sport us while we may’.
While studying these love poems, my views have changed about love poetry. I always thought that they were all soppy and boring, but some are completely unromantic and some are even funny. I really enjoyed doing the love poems because I wouldn’t normally read love poems. I think my view has changed because I’ve had a chance to fully understand the poems and their content. My favourite poem that I have studied is ‘A Woman to Her Lover’ because I agree with Christina Walsh, that women should be able to do what they want and not be puppets on a string. They should have ‘co-equal love’ with their partner and not be a possession for a man’s pleasure.