There are endless ways in which love can be portrayed and occur. There are numerous types of love, whether it physical, emotional or romantic love. I intend to expand upon and highlight the various ways in which love an loss is portrayed in 5 selected poems: John Clare’s ‘First Love’, John Keats ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’, Robert Browning ‘My Last Duchess’ and Christina Rossetti’s two poems ‘Birthday’ and ‘Remember’. All of the poets portray love the concept of love or loss or both in relation to some; they all attempt to capture and express the presence of love and loss in the closest way possible.Order now
In ‘First Love’, the poet (John Clare) situates his poem as if telling a story. The story of a young boy who sees a beautiful young girl and falls in love with her the first time he sets eyes on her.
The poet sets the scene and mood for his poem in the first few lines; an over whelming emotion of love which has overcome the young boy (John Clare as a child) as his eyes wander over to the beautiful young farmers daughter; whose complexion is like nothing he has seen before.
“I ne’er was struck before that hour
With love so sudden and so sweet.”
The poet continues to complement this princess like figure whom he adores and loves compassionately;
“Her face it bloomed like a sweet flower
And stole my heart away complete.”
It is made clear to the reader that the poet has fallen deeply in love with this young girl with out even getting to know her; totally dumbfound by her beauty. The young girl whom the poet falls instantaneously in love with is probably unaware of how compassionate this young boy feels towards her; thoughtlessly she waves away his physical state and walks away. Regardless of the fact that the young girl did not even acknowledging his presence the poet persists in complementing her beauty despite the fact that she did not even acknowledge his presence. Since the moment the poet-to-be set eyes on this fairy tail princess like figure; Clare is paralysed due to the over load of emotion which has overcome him and of such a level experienced for the first time, almost as if he is under a spell:
“My legs refused to walk away.”
The poet carries on to say “Words from my eyes did start;” as if due to the overload of emotion running through his body paralyzing him and making him dumbfound, the young boy desperately wants the girls heavenly eyes to meet with his, as if a sign to recognize him and his feelings towards her. Oblivious to the fact that the young girl still does not recognise his feelings towards here or his existence as a matter of fact; Clare carries on acknowledging his loss, and simultaneously emphasizes his undying love towards her and continuers to secretly admire her.
The poet expresses his loss in such a way that the reader feels sympathetic towards him; secretly admiring and long a woman who does not even know he exists let alone his feelings towards her.
“Are flowers the winters choice?”
“Is love’s bed always snow?”
these two lines express his feelings of undying love towards his first true love and how he feels he should have told her how he felt; but alas it is to late, so he puts his feelings in writing in the form of a poem. The first line expresses his feelings of admiration and love towards her, where as the second line reflects nature to his love: the pale pureness of snow in reference to the beautiful princess life figure and the coldness reflects his feelings on how he should have acted to maker her recognise him.
The second poem I have chosen to analyse; which also involves the concept of love at first sight ending in misery is John Keats ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’. In ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ the opening few lines set the scene; a cold autumns morning as a unknown pedestrian walks past lake finding a knight whom presumably spent the night beside the lake. As the pedestrian speaks to the knight, there is an eerie sense that a considerable time has passed since the knight decided to stay by the lake and when he was awaken; the poet decides to portray this by putting a lot of emphasis on the fact hat the season is drawing to an end:
“The sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.”
The poet puts emphasis on the fact that the mere action of the knight was not common (sleeping rough by the lake on the opening of the autumn season) by having the pedestrian ask the same question twice in each of the first two stanza;
“O, what can ail thee, knight at arms”.
The knight’s only excuse is that of an affair with a woman so mysterious and yet beautiful whom he fell in love with the moment he laid eyes upon her ‘faery’ like face;
“I met a lady in the meads, full beautiful – a faery’s child.”
The lateral translation of the poems title ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ can be translated as: The Beautiful Lady without Thank-you. The poet describes this ‘Beautiful Lady’ as to have ‘long hair’ and ‘wild eyes’. Although Keats uses emotive language to express the theme of love in his poem, the reader does not feel that the true essence of love is captured at all, although Keats comes very close,
“And there I shut her wild eyes
With kisses four.”
In the nineteenth century poems about the physical love were abolished; so Keats uses a less direct approach, as he describes the knights ‘wild’ night of passion, and describes there thrill as the knight;
“…set her on…’his’… pacing steed”
The character in the Keats poem has taken the essence of unrequited love to another level.
In ‘First Love’ only had a memory of his true love and treasures that memory; where as in ‘La Belle Dam Sans Merci’ the character seemed to have also experienced physical.
The two poems ‘First Love’ and ‘La Belle Dam Sans Merci’ differ in many of their physical attributes; first love is separated into 3 stanzas which each consist of eight lines, in contrast to of ‘La Belle Dam Sans Merci’ which takes the form of a ballad. The origin of Ballads date back to the medieval times, which matches the time ‘La Belle Dam Sans Merci’ was set in (knights and fairy like maidens. One of the possible reasons why Keats sets his poem in the past is to forget about Fanny Brawne; Fanny Brawne is Keats version of the girl in ‘First Love’.
Like Clare, Keats was subjected to rejection and were both had shy personalities; and similarly both poets reflected something about their own past into their poem e.g. the young boy in ‘First Love’ is John Clare himself. Due to the fact that John Clare was superior education wise; it gave him the advantage in producing a stronger impact and a more effective poem in rank of love theme than
‘La Belle Dam Sans Merci’:
“And this is why I sojourn here
Alone and palely loitering
Though the sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing”
As Keats takes the poem to another lever by carrying on the story which is situated within the poet; Keats travels further than Clare due to one main factor, the fact that Clare is telling a story of his experience of rejection as a child where as Keats hides his rejection behind the story of the knight. Furthermore Keats also elaborates more than Clare in the opening, setting the introduction in the form of the knight’s dream.
At this point of the poem thoughts of women ‘bewitching’ the men, and placing a spell on them to abuse mans weakness of love comes to mind. This can be seen in both poems; firstly in ‘First Love’ when the young man sets eyes upon the beautiful girl he is dumbfound and paralyzed to the spot as if cast a spell upon:
“My legs refused to walk away.”
And the fantasy dream of the knight in ‘La Belle Dam Sans Merci’:
“They cried – La Belle Dam Sans Merci
Hath thee in thrall!”
Both poets close their poems in a similar style; by repeating the opening few lines of their poems. The venerable men who were struck by love in the poems face the worst penalty of falling in love…loss, as do the poets. The poets believe that the period of loss will pass and they will be re-united with their true loves; in reality this is very unlikely as both the poets loved ones move on with their lives as the poets stay trapped in the enchantment of love.
Both poems reflect he lives of the poets who penned them. John Clare’s poem ‘First Love’ is in fact a story of which he was the young man whom was struck by love, and the young girl is Mary Joyce (his first true love). The level of love Clare had towards Mary had reached such a climax that he had finally conjured the courage to confront Mary with his feelings; on his arrival Clare was informed of her some years before. Although Clare had married another woman and had children, whom he loved deeply, but not with such affection in comparison to Mary Joyce.
In contrast to the way Keats poem reflects to his experience of rejection; as a result of when Keats sends his letter to his true love Fanny Brawne, where he said:
“I have been astonished that men could die martyrs
for religion – I have shuddered at it. I shudder no more-
I could be martyred for my religion. Love is my
religion – I could die for that. I could die for you.”
Keats soon Dies from tuberculosis and a broken heart in February 1821at the young age of twenty six; and is still recognised as one of the greatest poets in English literature.
Not all poets are as companionate towards love and loss as Keats and Clare; Robert Browning’s ‘My Last Duchess’ – and the Duke of Ferrara (role character in Browning’s poem). In ‘My Last Duchess’ Browning’s expresses a different type of love which is not hinted at in any of the other poems; nor is it romantic or unrequited love, it is the love of money and art using love as a fanatical investment to profit his desire of wealth and arts. The poet chooses to open the poem and set the scene by starting the poem with the duke explaining to the emissary of his father-in-law to be about the portrait on the wall of his late wife. As the poem progresses it is made clear to the reader that the emissary is here on behalf of his master to arrange the marriage between the duke and his rich master’s daughter.
The way in which the poet portrays the dukes last wife in the opening passages is in a loving, compassionate way; creating an image of an affectionate relationship between the two in the way their relationship is described by the duke,
“…But to myself they turned
(since none puts by the curtain I have drawn for you, but I)”
At this point he reader gets the impression that the duke’s last wife is still special to him. However as the reader progresses through the poem there are things the reader finds out which the duke has been trying to hide and has been doing so for a long time;
A heart – how shall I say? – too soon made glad.”
As the duke carries on some of his bitterness and jealousy start to surface; as much as he tries to hide it; emphasising on how she smiled freely with every one of all statuses, the duke almost describes it as flirting.
“Too easily impressed;
she liked whate’er She looked on,
and her looks went everywhere.”
The poet continues to hint at the duke’s jealousy as the poem progresses;
“She thanked men, – good! But thanked
Somehow – I know not how – as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift.”
Regardless of the dukes efforts; his last duchess did not realise the duke’s attempts to impress her. At this instant the reader fells almost sympathetic towards the duke. Despite the dukes ill relationship between himself and his last wife he still took the liberty of placing (or leaving) a picture of her on his wall; this maybe out of care and affection or in a controlling possessive aspect; ‘he’ chose to place a picture of ‘her’ on ‘his’ wall, remembering her by the respectable elegance which the painter managed to capture and magnify.
“The depth and passion of its earnest glance.”
At this point the reader may think that they have an insight of the Duke’s character, taking into consideration his care and affection for his late wife; where as the poet has other ideas in mind adding more and more of the dukes characteristics which the duke has tried to hide in this story like poem.
The duke explains that he is not skilled or talented in the art of speech; even though the poem which is a discussion between the duke and the emissary of his father in law to be proves (taking into consideration the vocabulary used) that the duke is lying and feels free to do so.
“Even had you skill
In speech – (which I have not) – to make your will
Quite clear to such and one…”
As the topic of the discussion turns in the direction of the duke’s late wife, the duke uses his supposed lack of speech (confidence to confront) as an excuse preventing him from confronting and discussing his feelings of unease with her tendency to smile more than the ordinary. What’s more the duke uses his pride not just as an excuse from confronting his wife about her problem, but he also uses it to boast to the emissary;
“Even then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile?”
It is made clear that the duke was to proud/arrogant to tell his wife to stop smiling at others; retorting to spying on her (referred to as ‘stooping’, as she gave away the same smiles that she gave to him. The duke feels almost degraded to the same social status as those common people who received his wife’s smiles. Jealousy eventually begins to brew inside the duke; soon festering and spreading like a cancer throughout the duke, making him fell cheated and angry. The poet carries on explaining how the dukes ‘last duchess’ became nothing more than a painting on a wall:
“…This grew; I gave commands. There she stands
As if alive.”
Realising what he has just admitted to the duke tries to hurry the emissary along hoping to erase his last words from the emissaries mind, worrying it might affect his preparation to marry the emissaries masters daughter,
“Will’t please you rise please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The count your master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object, Nay we’ll go
Together down sir.”
The duke carries on talking about the dowry, insisting that he would not want it. At this late point in the poem it is made clear to the reader why he is re-marrying. From what the reader has lent the duke is a good liar and his passion for wealth and arts; therefore we can say that the reason the duke is marrying is for money.
The way the poet has structured the poem reflects the dukes personality; controlling and possessive, as he is the only one seeking throughout the duration of the poem, this emphasises the dukes view of social status, he is superior to the emissary therefore the emissary must listen to the dukes babbling on about his life. In contrast to Keats poem ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ both characters the knight and the pedestrian partake in their conversation; unlike the duke and the emissary. Whereas Keats ballad consists of emotive views on the romantic side of love and loss, in contrast to Browning’s use of emotive language which emphasizes the aspect of love towards materialistic possessions; wealth, fine arts, etc. (the duke liked to think that he possessed his wife).
The way the two poets; John Keats and Robert Browning structured their poems, a considerable difference appears. The love struck knight who would fight his way through a whole army of enemies and slay all the dragons he could find just for another glimpse of his fair maiden. Whereas the duke of Ferrara seems also unaffected when the topic of discussion turns in the direction of his late wife, the reader comes to the conclusion that the duke must have passed his period of mourning, doubting if it ever took place.
The last two poems I have chose to analyse have been penned by the same poet; ‘Christina Rossetti’, ‘A Birthday’ and ‘Remember’.
The first of Rossetti’s poems I have chosen to analyse is ‘A Birthday’. In the poem ‘A Birthday’ Rossetti conveys the aspect of love as an art; but not in the same way Robert Browning portrays the art of love in ‘My Last Duchess’. Moreover Rossetti portrays it as a feeling and a celebration of feeling such emotion;
“My heart is like a singing bird.”
Throughout the first half of the poem Rossetti expresses the joy of love, or the anniversary of love almost like a second birthday described in the most extravagant, natural and imaginative ways;
“My heart is like a rainbow shell’
All the ways Rossetti chose to describe love is in a fragile sense which can easily be broken like a loving heart; e.g. ‘a shell’ can drop and smash into a million pieces’ a rainbow only comes if the conditions are perfect and goes ads quickly as it comes, an apple tree loses its beauty in the autumn and winter as it stands bare with no fruit or leaves; catching every one by surprise when it blossoms in the spring. Therefore the reader gets the idea that Rossetti has suffered loss in her life as if it was just too good to be true she lost he love as soon as she found it.
Whereas in the second part of the poem the poet changes her view of love to more dramatic affecting aspects of love; the once fragile view of love transforms to that of a more lasting image possibly referring to the first true loss of love being the most devastating and damaging.
“Raise me a dais of silk and down;
hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
And peacocks with a hundred eyes;”
The poet ‘Rossetti’ chooses to use the aspect of nature as a reference toward love; this may be because of Rossetti’s first two heart aches due to love; she moved to the country to devote more time towards the things she feels passionate about and enjoys: poetry and the fine art of painting.
In Rossetti’s poem ‘A Birthday’ she used many of the themes, ethics and words which can be associated with a Pre-Raphaelite group which took form as the industrial revolution was at its peak. The Pre-Raphaelites were painters or writers belonging to or influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a society founded in England in 1848 to advance the style and spirit of Italian painting before Raphael.
Rossetti’s second poem under consideration is ‘Remember’. In contrast to Rossetti’s last poem ‘A Birthday’, ‘Remember’ rather than celebrate the emotion of love it expresses it. ‘Remember differs from all the other poems I have decided to analyse; it takes into consideration loss of love and the commemoration of it. This can be reflected to Rossetti’s own life when she lost a partner but remembers them dearly.
In the opening lines the poet sets the scene buy going to a place where she cannot be followed by anyone especially her lover;
“Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;”
In the second line here are parts of it which hint at the fact that the relationship may have ended as a consequence of the death of the male lover, thus the words “Gone far away into the silent land” with emphasis on the words “into”.
The poet carries on to say:
“You tell me of our future that you planned:”
hinting at the fact that her lover made a major decision with out consulting her; therefore she says “you planned” putting her in the spotlight as a poor defenceless victim widowed by a decision he never chose to share with her; while she was dreaming of their future together which is shattered. On the other hand this poem could be the second part to Rossetti’s earlier poem ‘A Birthday’ showing the reality of a relationship which can end as soon as it begins; like the changing of seasons, the summer comes and goes as if only a couple of days, opening up to a cold autumn breeze.
The character in the poem (who is most probably the poet herself) is telling her lover not worry about her as id to rest in piece as she is near dearth herself; and she doesn’t want him to remember her grieving; and to get on with his life. This last part is almost in reference to herself whom mourned her lover’s absence or had got over him and moved on in her life. In contrast to the earlier poets ideas who all felt victimised with their loss; whereas Rossetti has come to live with her loss even though she may feel a little saddened by it.
Both poems could be intertwined talking into consideration the theme they were written; ‘A Birthday’ may be the beginning of a doubtful relationship and ‘Remember’ a considerably time has passed since the relationship has ended. This can only be an assumption as we have no real insight on the poet’s private life style. Furthermore the moods in the poems differ considerably; in ‘A Birthday’ the atmosphere is joyful and ecstatic whereas in ‘Remember’ is sad and dull.
In conclusion; all four poets express their unique ideas towards love at the time their poem is set. In ‘First Love’ the young boy whom is known to be a younger John Clare; fells the incredible sensation of love for the first time in his life, in reference to the poems title ‘First Love’. Whereas in John Keats’ ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ the role character a knight who was left love struck by woman whom could be in relation to the lady of the lake as the bank of a lake and the final male poet Robert Browning whose poem ‘My last duchess’ emphasises on the love for control, wealth, arts and pride. The final two poems both penned by Christina Rossetti ‘A Birthday’ and ‘Remember’, each poem apposes the other, ‘A Birthday’ resembling the joy of love and ‘Remember’ signifying the loss of not just love but life as well.