In this piece of coursework Im going to be comparing the two poems, ‘My Last Duchess’ by Robert Browning, with ‘Salome’ by Carol Ann Duffy.
Both poems are centred on heterosexual relationships which explore the links between sex, love, and death, yet show the concept of women’s rights in comparison to the men. Both poems are written in the first person, almost as monologues. Both reflect similar sentiments with regards their view and emotions to their relationships. Robert Browning writes from the perspective of a duke whose wife, the duchess, has in his view flirted or exploited her sexuality, ‘she liked what’er she looked on, and her looks went everywhere’. He presents as jealous and resentful that his wife was able to attract the attention of other men, he makes references of gifts they bought her, ‘the bough of cherries some officious fool broke in the orchard for her’, and that she responded to their attention, ‘all and each would draw from her alike the approving speech, or blush at least’.
This implies that she had the capacity to attract attention and that the duke was jealous and resented her attentions to other men. Whereas in Salome Carol Ann Duffy reflects similar sentiments in a modern context. The poem is re-laid from a female perspective in an age where women are easier able to be more explicit with regards their sexuality and behaviour. In Salome the narrator implies that one night stands are common place, ‘woke up with a head on the pillow beside me, whose?’ Both poems move towards wishing their partners dead.
The story in My Last Duchess talks on the Duke of Ferrara. This was Alfonso II d’Este, November 22, 1533 – October 27, 1597. He was Duke of Ferrara from 1559 to his death in 1597. He married three times:
* His first wife, Lucrezia di Cosimo de’ Medici, was married to him in 1558. She died two years afterwards, and poising is suspected
* 1565, he married again to second wife, Barbara of Austria.
* And his third wife married in year 1579, Margherita Gonzaga, who was an elder sister of his second wife Barbara.
The poem, My Last Duchess written in 1845, is written about 200 years after the death of the Duke. The poem appears to be written in period between the death of his first wife and before the marrying of his second. As throughout the poem the Duke talks on the way his ex wife stands on the wall as a painting and has the story to tell of the life she had and the death she had. This story is being told to a servant of a Count who wishes his daughter marry the Duke, ‘the Count your master’s’ and on lines 52, ‘through his fair daughter’s self’. This is saying the Servant is there on a mission to marry the Counts daughter to the Duke.
But the story on the Duke’s first wife is what he hears first. The Duke starts with what seems a problem in the servants mission, ‘that’s my last Duchess painted on the wall, looking as if she were alive’, this is a problem already as it talks in past tense, and now the servant possibly wants to know what happened. He goes on to talk as if she were still alive and there, talking in the present, ‘and there she stands.’ Still the Duke has not mentioned as to why she were a painting, as if he wanted her to be a painting and nothing more possibly. ‘the curtain I have drawn for you,’ this is saying that he keeps her behind a curtain and to himself, but could also be saying from the use of language that the drawing of a curtain is the curtain over a life which could suggest he killed as it comes from first person, the Duke himself.
‘Sir, t’was not just her husband’s presence only, called the spot of joy into the Duchess’ cheek.’ The Duke now involving the presence of the servant from the notification of sir, but to then tell him a secret as if it were that he, as the Duchess’s was merely no more than just one of the other men she attracted. This line really only has that as a meaning. But then we get the sense of paranoia coming from the Duke, ‘perhaps’, the Duke has no evidence to what it is he’s trying to say, maybe from what he sees, his wife is more than friendly with other men, but as a jealous man we now see maybe she was just a friendly women. We can’t tell this from the poem. But with the idea of jealousy it backs up the idea of him covering her with the curtain keeping her to him. I get the impression throughout the poem from reading that the Duke continues to judge the Duchess from no evidence or witnessing anything. ‘She liked what’er she looked on, and her looks went everywhere.’
This is suggesting maybe she did like a lot of things, but as a person she should be allowed but then it’s as a women maybe it shouldn’t from this period of time. As I said it’s linking to women’s rights and the view of the superior gender being male. As a male the Duke is showing his power as a man. But also from this quote, he again is affectively judging her as I get the impression he doesn’t spend anytime but just money on her, ‘My favour at her breast’, a necklace or some sort of jewellery. The part of this poem that stands out to me is the way he talks about the Duchess as a possession whether dead or alive, as he stays calm throughout all of this, until lines 31 and 32. ‘She thanked men,-good! But thanked-‘. We clearly get the image of a calm self obsessed dominant Duke beginning to loose control of his emotive state. He again shows his jealousy as the lack of control goes to show him not liking the idea of this. Early I suggest a self obsessed man, I get the impression from, keeping his wife as a painting to show her off as yet another possession of his like the rare sea-horse cast in bronze, ‘notice Neptune, though, taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me.’
To show off your possessions can only suggest self obsession. As well from that quote I think that for him to get people to have things done for him, shows again his superior character. As a male with power he’s near enough unstoppable and with the women’s rights barely visible, I sense it were the Duke to kill off his wife, with the three quotes I can pick out, one I already picked up on, ‘the curtain I have drawn for you,’ this as I mentioned the Duke talking to the painting as if she were there that he drew the curtain on her life as he draws the curtain over her as she stands as a painting.
‘Dies along the throat;’ suggesting he knew how she was to die but it wasn’t age as you can see. It was something down her throat maybe with facts saying suggested poisoning backs my idea up. But the final quote I can pick shows the Dukes power to have a life taken and shows that the jealousy has stopped now he feels what he didn’t like has been pulled to a halt. ‘I gave commands; then all smiles stopped together. There she stands’, this saying to give commands he has the power and for the smiles to stop he feels slightly relieved maybe, but to end by saying there she stands, I get the impression he is proud with what he has done. And for the servant to be sat there on his mission, I get the impression the Duke is saying this is what has happened before so do as you please on your mission. Not a bothered man as he has his power and possessions, which complete him.
The poem Salome is a modern take on a biblical story as the real story behind this poem is found in the New Testament books of Matthew (Chapter 14.6-11) and Mark (6.22-28), and took place about AD 30. The historical Salome was a daughter of Herodias and Philip. She danced before the ruler, Herod Antipas, who promised to grant any request she might make. John the Baptist had condemned Herodias because of her affair with Herod, who had put him in prison. Prompted by her mother, Salome asked for the head of John and at once he was executed. The name of Salome is not used in the gospels but is known from the Jewish historian Josephus. Oscar Wilde wrote a play about Salome, in which she is presented as in love with John the Baptist; the play ends with her being executed on Herod’s orders.
The poem of Salome shows some minor similarities to My Last Duchess as to the behaviour of the character. She seems slightly unbothered by the surroundings and actions of others as long as she is pleased, ‘what did it matter?’ Another similarity is shown, from the way the Duchess behaves maybe if she was going around with all the men or not but the character in Salome is portrayed as going around the men, ‘woke up with a head on the pillow beside me-whose? -‘, but the only difference here is that there isn’t any significant character to stop her from behaving like this. But as we head on through the poem, its clear the behaviour is stopped, but not by a named character, but just by a person. ‘Never again! I needed to clean up my act,’ she had begun to think it was time to change her actions unlike the Duchess who had hers chosen by the Duke. ‘Who’d come like a lamb to slaughter to Salome’s bed.’ This suggesting either it was her being similar in character to the Duke who turned to be a murderer or whether she is similar to the duchess who turned out to be the victim and to die.
The quotation linking the poem to the biblical story, is right at the end of the poem which also mentions the murder dilemma, ‘I flung back the sticky red sheets, and there, like I said-and ain’t life a bitch-was his head on a platter.’
By looking at My Last Duchess the language is very formal which isn’t surprising from the date it was written. It’s definitely of its time period. Browning uses a variety of punctuation throughout the poem, which can give us a better impression of the Duke. One part that stands out for me, ‘-Good! But thanked-‘. This is where, as I mentioned before, we get the impression of the Duke beginning to loose control of his emotions, from the use of the punctuation. The use of question marks is repeated a few times. This to me suggests the idea of a powerful man asking rhetorical questions. This only shows him to be more powerful than he actually is. Whereas in Salome the punctuation is limited in comparison. Also with the limited punctuation it’s helping to convey and informal style of writing. The language is of its time, with informal words such as, ‘booze and the fags and the sex.’ Displaying no meanings particularly behind the lines, unlike My Last Duchess, which to me has a story behind each line. Duffy uses symbolism to relate a modern style of poem to a biblical story ‘was his head on a platter.’ When it comes to adjectives, My Last Duchess lacks in them, I think this is because the story is there and being told, whereas Salome uses more to tell a story but relating to something else (in this case the biblical story).
The shape of the poem Salome, says something about the speaker. It’s written with each stanza a different length but within in that the sentences types vary, such as there are shorter sentences like, ‘how to flatter…’ and the longer ones being three times longer in cases. To me it shows she doesn’t have much to say or maybe its saying from what the story talks about maybe it has to do with what’s going on in her head as the lines are more or less all over the page.
There isn’t much of a flow to this poem from its shape, which I think is suggesting that anything could happen next, in this case, death. And as for My Last Duchess, the poem seems to be compact with the lines. I noticed that the end stops of each line don’t always appear to be at the end of lines but just before, this suggesting a characteristic of the Duke. I feel it’s saying that the Duke is powerful man, which isn’t surprising of the time it is set. The idea of the end stops being in different places maybe to where you’d expect them is possibly saying the Duke has more to say, and from that he’s not allowing anyone else to speak. But he does speak to the listener, the servant of the count. He speaks with questions but they seem rhetorical. ‘Much the same smile?’ they seem rhetorical as there isn’t time for the listener to answer as the Duke is still talking. From that it shows a strong idea of the Duke being a self obsessed sort of man.
The structures to these poems are used differently in each. My Last Duchess doesn’t have much on the structure to mention as its pretty much straight forward, at appears on the page with the rhymes on every other line, which is simply because this is what was accepted for poetry in its time. Where as Salome has a different approach to it. The structure isn’t particularly the standard poetry you would expect. I see it as laid out as thoughts, the speaker speaking to themselves. This seems appropriate to this poem helping the ideas it tries to convey. Such as the character waking up to a different man everyday, saying there is no relationships, therefore being nobody for her to talk to other than herself.
In conclusion I feel both poems have strong ideas or themes as it were to convey. Thus being, from My Last Duchess, that in the 1500’s men were seen as more dominant over women, and the poem being written in 1845, I think that Browning is suggesting the question as to whether this has changed or not, are men still more powerful than women? And from Salome, I feel that maybe it’s suggesting that the way the character of poem is behaving, the women sleeping around not knowing who she wakes up with, suggests that women might not help themselves as much as they may think. Or another idea I can pull from the poem, is the link to the biblical story. And this could be saying that have things changed over time? So from both poems I feel rather than conveying a specific idea, I get the impression its conveying a question which the reader then answers themselves. Therefore I feel is the reader that creates their own idea of the poem.