‘Epithalamium’ by Lochhead and ‘Warming Her Pearls’ by Duffy both deal with the theme of love. An epithalamium is a form of poetry written for a bride on her wedding day; this poem explores the joys of marriage and the effect of the love the bride and groom have for each other. ‘Warming Her Pearls’ is a dramatic monologue narrated by a servant as she reveals the unrequited love she has for her mistress.
‘Epithalamium’ is written in a sonnet form; the sonnet was the form of choice for lyric poets, particularly lyric poets seeking to engage with traditional themes of love and romance. This structure therefore is fitting as its contents speak of love and the joy of romance. ‘Warming Her Pearls’ is structured into six, quatrain stanzas. This careful organisation reflects the strict instruction the maid is under, and how she is expected to carry out her instructions accurately and precisely. It also reflects the strict, formal, professional relationship which is to be expected between her and her mistress. However, the use of enjambment throughout breaks the perfect structure showing how the maid is breaking these boundaries with her love, and also how she allows her fantasies about her mistress to run on, ‘the way/ she always does’.
Love in ‘Epithalamium’ is open and infectious; it is a shared emotion as, ‘your quotidian friends/ Put on, with gladrag finery today, your joy’. This metaphore demonstrates how guests attending the wedding dress up with delight and happiness and experience the joy the bride and groom are feeling. It also allows the guests to, ‘Renew in themselves the right true ends/ They won’t let old griefs, old lives destroy’. This demonstrates how the joy of love can encourage lovers to silently renew their own faith in love. In contrast, the love in ‘Warming Her Pearls’ remains secret and is unrequited. The love felt by the maid is so passionate, she wishes she could tell her mistress about it, ‘my red lips part as though I want to speak’ but she refrains and continues the love affair via her fantasies only, ‘I dream about her/ in my attic bed; picture her dancing/ with tall men.’
The maid cannot express her love for her mistress for many reasons; one of which being the separation in social class between the two women. The consequence of this separation is represented through the pearl necklace which the mistress bid her maid wear to warm for her. The necklace is described metaphorically, ‘Slack on my neck, her rope.’ The image of rope shows the power the mistress has over her maid. However, it may also have sexual connotations as rope may be associated with bondage. In ‘Epithalamium’, there is no division between the two lovers; they ‘complement’ each other, bringing out the best in one another. Unlike, ‘Warming Her Pearls’, there is no secrecy in love in ‘Epithalamium’ as, ‘When at your lover’s feet our opened selves we’ve laid’; the couple have opened themselves up and in doing so, ‘We find ourselves, and all the world, remade.’ The repetition of, ‘our’, ‘we’, and the phrase, ‘hand- in- hand we go’ symbolises the unity and togetherness of the bride and groom and the equality between them.
Despite the loving, romantic tone of the poem, ‘Epithalamium’ is not a fairy tale like story as it has realistic language, ‘still dangerous days’, this implies that as the newlywed couple begin their married life together, they do not know everything about each other yet and this could cause friction between them. However, the power of love is still strong between the couple; this is shown through the personification of ‘Love’ to emphasis its significance. In comparison, ‘Warming Her Pearls’ contains language which is reminiscent to that of a fairy tale, ‘Full moon. Her carriage brings her home.’ Love is making the maid somewhat delusional, believing that men are, ‘puzzled by my faint, persistent scent’ and that it is her scent that is putting men off her mistress and is the reason she comes home alone. This unrealistic theory comforts the maid and gives her hope that someday her mistress will turn to her for love.
In ‘Epithalamium’, love is described as being ‘like when sunlight flings/ A sudden shaft that lights up glamorous the rain/ Across a Glasgow street’. This simile shows that love causes special moments that light up lives like a beautiful, unexpected scene in nature. The theme of love in this poem is represented romantically stating that, ‘For Marriage, love and love alone’s the argument’ showing that it is the pure focus of marriage. However, love in Duffy’s poem is exploited in a more sexual light; this is shown through the sensual language and the use of sibilance, ‘watch the soft blush seep through her skin/ like an indolent sigh’. These soft, quite sounds are sexual as are the maid’s fantasies, ‘I see/ every movement in my head… Undressing… slipping naked into bed.’ The juxtaposition at the end of the poem, ‘knowing the pearls are cooling… and I burn’ shows the maid’s yearning and longing to be close and intimate with her mistress.
Both poets display love in a positive light, demonstrating how it can affect not only a person, or a couple, but the entire world suggesting that the theme of love is so universal, it affects everybody.