I am studying three poems from the Romantic Movement anthology ‘Love and Loss’. They are ‘A Birthday’ and ‘Remember’ by Christina Rossetti, and ‘My last Duchess’ by Robert Browning. The Romantic Movement was the start of a creative revolution. Romanticism is the term used to describe a movement in European literature, art and music. In England the movement was led poets such as Keats,
Byron and Wordsworth. The principal theme of the movement was that reason and logic could not explain every thing. The Romantics listened to the individual conscience rather than the demands of society. They reacted against the intellectuals of the Classic period and against the ‘rigidity’ of the social structures.
Common themes found in the Romantic include Nature. You can find reference to nature in almost all Romantic poems. Some writers use it as a refuge; as a way to escape modern life and the social demands that are associated with it. Others involve nature in their poetry because they believed nature had healing powers, whilst some believed that nature was just a divine work of art from God. Another common theme of the Romantic Movement is the growing importance and interest in imagination. Romantics considered imagination as the ultimate tool for creating art. It was also another way of escaping reality.Order now
One poet who uses both themes in her work is Christina Rossetti. There are many references to nature, especially in her poem ‘A birthday’ For example, there is a lexical field of fruit surrounding this poem ‘apple-tree’, ‘pomegranates’ and ‘grapes’. Fruit is a very natural product, being wholesome and lifegiving. It suggests you can be reborn through the recycling of a life and Rossetti uses this because it is almost as if she will be reborn when her lover returns. Apples, pomegranates and grapes are all circular fruits, implying that their love is never ending and she will always love him.
One of the poetic techniques used by Rossetti is her use figurative and literal images. Figurative images can be found in the mentioning the apple. Apples are often red (implying lust) and have a rough heart shape to them. This implies that she wants you to think of the heart. However, she also includes a literal image of the heart on every other, line in the first octet, ‘My heart is like a singing bird’.
Another poetic technique used in this poem is word painting. The use of many vivid nouns which depict colour put a clear image into your head. Lexis like ‘rainbow’ , ‘purple dyes’, ‘gold’ and ‘silver’ illustrate the poem. She uses phrases such as ‘work it in gold and silver grapes, in leaves and silver fleur-de-lys’. Not only do these words and phrases paint a clear and imaginative picture in your mind’s eye, but they also appeal to our senses.
The Romantics were very sensuous and enjoyed using descriptive expressions. A birthday has many adjectives that describe sight, smell, touch, taste and the sound of her imagination. To appeal to our touch she uses words such as ‘silk’ and ‘down’. These two materials have very different textures. The Romantics liked to touch and feel things because the Romantic Movement was based on sensing and experiencing.
Words like ‘singing bird’ gives us a sense of what kind of noise she is hearing. You generally sing when you are happy so it gives the poem a euphoric feel. The theme of fruit appeals to our taste buds, ‘grapes’, and ‘apples’.
She mentions birds elsewhere in the poem, ‘doves’ and ‘peacocks’. These repeated references to birds could imply tht she wants to be free and fly away from the inner turmoil that has been her mind since her lover went away. Doves and Peacocks juxtapose each other in relation to their symbolic meanings. Doves are generally thought of as a symbol for peace and love but Peacocks are showoffs and are thought to be a lot more exotic. This poem implies she is throwing a party and the fact she mentions the peacocks’ ‘hundred eyes’ could mean that this relationship is very public and she will be in the spotlight with all eyes on her.
Another technique Romantic poets often used, was including archaic words and phrases into their poetry. This can be seen in Christina Walsh’s poem ‘A woman to her lover’. She uses words such as ‘vanquished’, ‘bondslave’ and ‘drudgery’ all in her first stanza. The Romantics were also some of the first to write poems where women have the power. This can also be seen in ‘A woman to her lover’ because for the first time it is the woman who is dictating their relationship.
A birthday also uses archaic words. Such as ‘halcyon’, ‘dais’ and ‘vair’. Romantics used to create a medieval feel. This is the period where Romantics got most of their inspiration from.
Rossetti also mentions ‘fleur-de-lys’. These are very unusual flowers. The archaic words, the glamorous birds and the foreign fruit give the poem an exotic flavour. The Romantics strongly valued exotic locations and the imagery used is so idyllic it is almost as if the this poem is describing the Garden of Eden. She, being Eve waiting for the return of Adam. Christina Rossetti was a devout Christian. She fell in love twice but both relationships ended because they were not the same religion as her. These break-ups had a devastating affect on her, this is reflected in her work. Another of her poems, remember is a total contrast to A birthday. A birthday has a main theme of happiness, rebirth and nature whereas Remember is about death and grief.
One of the techniques she uses to emphasise these key points and themes in her poem is alliteration. There are a lot of hard sounding phonetics that are repeated in this poem. For example, ‘who’s boughs are bent’ and ‘dais of silk and down’. The repetitions of the ‘b’ and ‘d’ sounds almost drill it into your head. She also used rpetition. This helped emphasise the point that her lover is coming back ‘my lover is come to me’. The repetition of ‘my heart’ suggests she wants the audience to know that she cares about this man so much that she has let him into her heart. These repetitions are then compared to an image of nature. This shows her use of similes, ‘my heart is like an apple tree’ and are used to tell us how happy she is.
The lexis used in ‘A birthday’ show that Christina Rossetti is an idealist. She is presents the perfect characteristics of love and shows that love takes you on a beautiful journey. This ideology juxtaposes the themes of some of her other poems. For example ‘Remember’, , which has the main theme of loss and misery.
Rossetti fills her poem full of negative words like “darkness”, ” corruption” and ” vestige”, to add to the mood and tone of the poem and to make it dark and morbid. She uses the word ” grieve” to inform the reader that the subject is dying. and would be typical of Rosetti’s later work. As she grew older she became sick more often and developed cancer. This gave her low self-esteem. There was always tension inside of her, between what she was and what she thought she should be. This exhausted her and she longed for respite from the pain (death). She didn’t enjoy life because she thought she was ugly. She wanted to die so she could be reborn and have a better life. However these attractions were spoilt by her fear of dying. Her idea of love turned from something beautiful to a sickness and it could be that the sick person in this poem is symbolic of the sickness she has for love
Love as an illness can be found in other examples of romantic poetry. For example in ‘My Last Duchess’ by Robert Browning we dicover that the protagonist has killed his wife. I think Browning is trying to show love can cause different emotions, in this case jealousy has caused death.
In the two Rossetti poems we can see some similarities in the structure of the poem. Both are sonnets, however, Remember is fourteen lines and a birthday is sixteen lines. The structure of ‘A Birthday’ is a lot more complicated than that of ‘Remember’ – ‘A Birthday’s’ structure being ABCB, which is almost like a song. B is the chorus, ‘my love is come to me’ and A and C, the verses. They are very contrasting, A Birthday is full of similes telling us how happy she is by comparing herself to nature, ‘my heart is like a singing bird’. She structures it so we don’t know why her heart is ‘gladder’ than the most beautiful parts of nature, until the chorus (B). This intensifies the readers’ curiosity. The second ‘verse’ (C), is full of imperatives and verbs, like ‘raise me’, hang it’, ‘carve it’ and ‘work it’, rather than similes. This makes it seem as though she is talking directly to the audience. It also gives the work an immediacy.
Remember has a structure of ABC. The B section is four lines long. This is when the speaker starts to change their mind and contradict them selves. We know this by the use of the verb ‘forget’ which is a total juxtaposition to the verb she has used previously three times, ‘remember’. It’s as if she is having an argument in her head. By the last two lines of the poem she has come to the conclusion that its better to ‘forget and smile’ than ‘remember and be sad’. The poem is called “remember” not ” Remember me”. I think this is because at the beginning she wanted them to just remember her. We can tell this through her use of personal pronouns. ” Remember me when I am gone away”, but by the end of the poem she telling him to remember the love they shared together. (Note: Amy, is this ‘them’ or ‘him?’ Perhaps it’s better to use the same each time I’ve underlined – either ‘him’ or ‘them’, but not both of them?)
In the poem Remember, ‘Remember me’ is repeated three times – being imperatives, she is telling her lover to remember her because she doestnt want to be forgotten. This has an impact on the reader because it is something we can all relate to. By the end, Rossetti has come to the conclusion that it is ‘better by far that you should forget and smile than that you should remember and be sad’. I think she included this because it gives the reader a sense of respect for her. The Romantics wanted you to gain something from reading their poems.
Another poem with a surprising ending is ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ by John Keats. One of Keats’ techniques is to create a ‘bubble’ in his poems. He often tries to portray a dreamlike quality with his use of fictional words and characters such as ‘faery’ and ‘elfin grot’. He then bursts the bubble often (move to …… ‘He then often bursts the bubble’ ….) by telling the audience it was a vision or hallucination, ‘I awoke and found myself here’. This results in the audience not obtaining the sense of satisfaction and therefore not enjoying the ending. The beginning is so idealistic ‘full beautiful’ that Keats maybe thought anything so unspoiled would never be able to last. He wants to take the reader out of reality to a happy place and then the shock of reality will be even more forceful.
In this poem, as before in Christina Walsh’s poem, the woman is dominant over the man. At that time, women were tied down with chores but here the girl is liberated. At the time it was written, this would have caused a sense of unease in the reader, especially as the woman wasn’t human, but a ‘faery’.