“Discuss how any two poems you have studied explore the theme of love paying particular attention to form and structure rhythm and metre, language and any other important poetic devices.”
In this essay it will compare different poetic devices the two poems use to explore love. I have chosen to compare “Porphyria’s Lover” by Robert Browning written between 1812 and 1889 (the Victorian period) with Shakespeare’s “Sonnet XVIII” in 1558-1603 (the Elizabethan period.)
Both poems have the theme of love; however they are different types of love. In Porphyria’s lover the love that is talked about is deranged and twisted: “In one […] and strangled her.” This poem also suggests a possessive obsessive type of love for example “That moment she was mine, mine, fair.” The message of this poem seems to be that ‘the lover’ does not want to lose Porphyria so it’s so twisted he would do anything to keep her there forever. Social content is very important in Porphyria’s lover. As it was written in the Victorian period, social classes were evident. Upper class stayed upper classes; lower class stayed lower class and middle class stayed middle class. The only exception was marriage however it was rare for social classes to mix. It is clear in the poem that Porphryia is from a higher social class than ‘the lover.’ “From pride, and vainer ties dissever.” Although it does not tell us what the ties are, we could assume they are social ties. For example Porphyria is the one going to meet the lover and leaving him at the end suggesting she has another life. Their affair is set in the middle of nowhere in a cottage to obviously to hide the adultery they are committing.
In Sonnet XVIII rather than the mad things love makes you do, love is viewed as something beautiful. “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” Shakespeare’s idealistic view of love, summer is beautiful however she is more than beautiful. Love is not seen as something that is destroyed by death, “Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shad, when in eternal lines.” Instead it is seen as something eternal, “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, So long lives this and this gives life to thee.” This is clearly the message Shakespeare is trying to put across; his love for the woman is eternal for as long as this poem is still read. In comparison to Porphryia’s Lover Sonnet XVIII has very little social content in it. The only social content we can extract is the fact it is a sonnet. In the Elizabethan period poetry was seen as the most pure and accurate way of talking about love. A sonnet was also a very popular way of writing about love.
The form of the poems is just as important to help explore love and also reinforcing the poems theme. In Porphyria’s lover the form is obviously a dramatic monologue which helps us explore love further as dramatic monologues are used to figure out more about the speaker’s character rather than just what they are talking about. It has 60 poetic lines that help the reader travel through the poem getting to grips with the disturbed events that love has driven ‘the lover’ to do. Browning has structured his poem in a very clever way. He starts by foreshadowing the poem. The dark, cruel weather outside, “tore the elm tops down for spite” suggest something else threatening may be to come for Porphyria. Browning then goes to where Porphyria is deemed to be in a safe environment “she shut out the cold and the storm, and kneeled and made the cheerless grate Blaze up, and all the cottage warm” however as you read on it is clear Porphyria is far from safe inside the cottage. The poem is clearly structured to walk us through a sexual affair that perhaps is more to Porphryia’s lover than it is for her. This is revealed to us in the line, “For love of her, and all in vain.” Here the ‘lover’ is thinking about the future and how Porphyria will no longer be with him this motivates him into his disturbed next move.
“In one […] And strangled her.” When Porphyria is dead Browning describes how ‘the lover’ was convincing himself that it didn’t hurt her. “Quite sure she felt no pain.” It is also clear he tries to believe it was Porphyria’s wish to be with him forever, “her darling one wish.” However this is a limited perspective as we don’t know what she wanted, this is a downfall of the dramatic monologue when exploring love, as it is bias. While Porphryia was alive she had made all the romantic moves, “She put my arm around her waist, and made her smooth white shoulder bare.” However after she is strangled, Browning goes on to create ‘the lover’ to express his romance towards her, “And I untightened next the tress/About her neck; her cheek one more/Blushed bright beneath my burning kiss.” The poem ends by putting a final twist to the story. Religion and social class worked together to keep people in the right classes during Queen Victoria’s rein therefore when Browning says “And all night long we have not stirred, And yet God has not said a word” it suggests this would be very shocking for the readers of the poem; as God has not punished the Porphryia or her lover for spending the night together.
In contrast to Browning’s sixty lines, the form of Shakespeare’s sonnet consists of fourteen lines. A pure and popular way of expressing love poetry. Shakespeare structures these fourteen lines into three quatrains and a final rhyming couplet. Each quatrain contributes to the theme of love in different ways. Like ‘Porphyria’s lover’ the first quatrain opens with a reference to weather. However instead of the weather being fierce and threatening, it is calm and complementing. The poem flows well controlled by the poet during the first and second quatrains. The first quatrain talks about is where the first romantic love expression comes across within the first line. Shakespeare quickly discovers that she is better than a summer’s day, “Thou art more lovely and more temperate.” In the second quatrain the poet puts across how life is changeable with ups and downs, “every faire from faire some-time declines.”
This sets up and mood that is completely contrasted when hit quatrain three. Instead of things change, here Shakespeare is saying you will not change; you are immortal. “By thy eternal summer shall not fade.” Contrast plays a big part in the exploration of love for example Shakespeare also contrasts comparing the lover to a ‘summers day’ that thought is soon destroyed by “summers lease hath all too short a date.” It is evident the poet is saying for as long as this poem exists so shall you. You shall never die. “Nor shall death brag thou wand ‘rest in his shade.” In the final couplet it enforces this theme of immortality of the speakers love, “so long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”