“First Love” and “Shall I compare thee to a Summers day” are two poems written before the 1900’s by John Clare and William Shakespeare. The poems share similar language and imagery mainly about love but vary in structure. The poems allow the reader to see Clare’s experience as he has lost his heart and Shakespeare’s emphasis that his love’s beauty is immortal.
The two poems both comprise of love and physical relationships and are both written in the first person to portray a personal view intended for the reader to see the effects of being in love and how you see a person differently when you are in love. The poem by Clare is a love lyric written in the first person about a woman in contrast to Shakespeare’s which is written also in the first person but addresses his love where she is apostrophised. This creates a more powerful and effective approach to the reader as Shakespeare intelligently conveys his love as exasperating and uncontrollable.
Clare uses the symptoms of love and relates to recognizable or understandable feelings to cleverly interact with the reader’s reactions by describing “blood” and “sight” as blushing and rendered. Combined with the lost sense of time in lines 11 and 12 Clare produces the idea of great sadness and ache to the reader and gains sympathy by doing this.
Shakespeare on the other hand chooses to rely heavily upon the notion of Nature and connects the idea of Summer being too hot sometimes and can be interrupted by winds to the undeclared love of an anonymous person. The two methods of engaging the reader are both effective but I believe Shakespeare delivers a much more suited and successful view due to the mixture of feelings and Nature.
Both poems also contain many rhetorical questions “Shall I compare thee to a summers day” and “Why is love so physically cruel?” these rhetorical questions not only keep the reader thinking but show the writers intent and their own opinions on the forthcoming feelings and actions. The paradoxes in lines 17 and 18 suggest Clare seems to extend the involvement of the reader in that we have to think further beyond the answer of a rhetorical question to the actual correction and analysis of the paradox.
Clare’s poem is longer containing more discursive language and uses simple repetitions such as “pale as deadly pale” to suggest confusion and the idea of death through love causing death-like symptoms. These symptoms are again reinforced in the next line as Clare continues with the idea that the power of love is disabling him “My legs refused”. The romantic imagery used by both poets is intensified in Shakespeare’s as he uses the seasons for his central image to enlighten the reader through the “darling buds of Maie”. This creates a calm and relaxed atmosphere whilst promoting Shakespeare’s comparison of a lady to a day in summer. This comfortable atmosphere of Nature and summer invites the reader to read on and digest the various ideas that are implemented with love.
Shakespeare’s sonnet is written in iambic pentameter containing three quatrains of four lines and a final rhyming couplet. The structure of the sonnet is intelligently constructed with Shakespeare introducing the summer’s advantages and disadvantages in the first quatrain. The second quatrain advances on the idea of summer’s limitations and connects the feeling of disturbance to the inconsistency of being in love with a partner. The last quatrain lengthens the idea of the summer’s day and the love being eternal, “eternal Sommer”. The final couplet at the end of the sonnet tells the reader why Shakespeare admires his love, as well as how her beauty is nurtured by the admiring glances of men.
Clare’s poem is much more varied containing three stanzas written in iambic tetrameter. In comparison to Shakespeare’s sonnet Clare’s lyric poem is much less specific and much more physical. This is demonstrated in the first stanza where Clare describes physical symptoms and shows how the power of love is destructive. The second stanza shows the emotional aspect on being in love and how it can affect the senses and feelings of a person. The third stanza shows the reaction to his love and how he then accepts that he has fallen fully in love.
The two poems share the similar intent about romantic love but use different methods in order to show their view. Shakespeare’s sonnet is effective in captivating the reader and exploring the likeness of his love to a summer’s day whereas Clare manages to be more open and less restricted in his writing and still intrigue the reader. I find Shakespeare’s sonnet to be well-structured and balanced in his descriptions and comparisons which create a more intelligent and favourable sonnet to Clare’s lyric.