The four poems I am going to use are; ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, by Robert Browning, 1812-1889; ‘The Highwayman’, by Alfred Noyes, 1880-1958; ‘The Eve of St. Agnes’, by John Keats, 1795-1821; and ‘The Lady of Shalott’, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1809-1892. I chose these four poems as they all deal with love which ultimately leads to death, except in The Eve of St. Agnes.
‘The Eve of St. Agnes’ was first published in ‘Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and other poems’ in 1820. The theme had been suggested to Keats by his friend Isabella Jones in January 1819. She reminded him that the 20th was St. Angel’s Eve, when maidens were supposed to dream of their husbands; and Keats, who was already in a romantic medieval mood, took up the idea. But although the inspiration was Isabella’s, the physical background for the poem and the fat that the lover was no vision but a flesh-and-blood young man came (as Robert Gittings point out) from a book Keats had recently been reading, the ninth volume of the ‘Bibliotheque Universelle des Dames’, and especially the third of the three stories, ‘Pierre de Provence et La Belle Maguelone’.
‘The Lady of Shalott’, published in 1832, was the first of Tennyson’s excursions into the realm of King Arthur, although he admitted he had the story from an Italian novella, ‘Donna di Scalotta’. ‘Shalott and Astolat are the same words. The Lady of Shalott is evidently the Elaine of the Morte d’Arthe, but I do not think that I had ever heard of the latter when I wrote the former. Shalott was a softer than “Scalott”. Stalott would have been nearer Astolat’. It is to be noted that in this Italian story Camelot is by the sea. Tennyson, who was only twenty-three when ‘The Lady of Shalott’ was published, returned to the theme in ‘Lancelot and Elaine’ (Idylls of the King, 1859).
‘The Highwayman’, which is wholly imaginary, was written on the edge of a desolate stretch of land in West Surrey known as Bagshot Heath, where Noyes, then aged twenty-four, had taken rooms in a cottage. ‘”The Highwayman” suggested itself to me one blustery night when the sound of the wind in the pines gave me the first line.’ The poem was published in ‘Blackwood’s Magazine’, August 1906, and soon found a place in anthologies and reciters, both in England and America, possibly due to its reputation as ‘the best narrative poem in existence for oral delivery’. Noyes included ‘The Highwayman’ in his ‘Forty Singing Seamen, and Other Poems’, 1907.
The four poems are similar as they contain stories of love between a male and female. For different reasons during their relationship death is featured in all four cases. In ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, the male seems to be in love with the chase whilst Porphyria is in love with the male, but when she finally tells him he kills her. In ‘The Highwayman’, both the male and female are in love with each other, but because he is a highwayman their relationship is difficult and she ends up killing herself because of the difficulties. In ‘The Lady of Shalott’ she falls in love with the handsome knight, leaves her tower to see him, but because she believes there is a curse on her she dies. It’s not until she has died that he sees her and says that she is pretty. And finally in ‘The Eve of St. Agnes’ she sees him when she is dreaming, wakes up and he is there she leaves her home to go and live with him, risking everything; if anyone finds out they would both be killed.
Although love is one of the main themes in the four poems, they have all been conveyed in very different ways. ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ is a story of questionable love. It is questionable because, if he killed her, how could it be love? If you actually truly do love someone, you would not kill them. He did not know what to do; now that he has won her, and it seems like he does not actually love her, as much as he has made out. This is proven by this quote:
“Be sure I looked up at her eyes
Happy and proud; at last I knew
Porphyria worshipped me; surprise
Made my heart swell, and still it grew
While I debated what to do.”
In this quote it proves the questionable love as, once he had found out she’s in love with him, he does not know what to do. He was glad she loved him and it surprised him but instead of accepting the fact she loves him and he loves her, he has to think about what he wants to do.
However in ‘The Highwayman’, it was true love without an agenda. Bess and the highywayman loved each other, but because of the circumstances it does not work out to the best it could have been. It is a bit like a poem version of Romeo and Juliet; they loved each other but could not because of the classes and prejudice. This is shown by the quotes:
“‘One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize tonight,
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;”
And “I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the war.'”
These quotes show that no matter what the Highwayman wants to go back and see Bess as she is his true-love. The language Noyes uses is really appropriate as it’s in old English and seems really romantic and the reader becomes more involved in the poem.
In ‘The Lady of Shalott’, the love is unrequited; she loves him, but he has never seen her and does not know she exists. He only sees her after she is dead and he finds her attractive. This is proven in this quote:
“But Lancelot mused a little space;
He said ‘She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott.'”
This quote shows that when Lancelot finally sees the Lady of Shallot, he realises she is beautiful and hopes that she is given grace from God. ‘The Lady of Shallot’ is a literally ballad, whilst it is still written in stanzas and poetic terms; it tells a story.
Finally ‘The Eve of St. Agnes’ is a story of fated love. It is fated love as whilst Madeline is dreaming she sees Porphyro and when she wakes up he is there and they fall in love because of fate. They run away with each other as they think that is the best thing to do. If anyone finds out that they are in love and have run away with each other then they would be killed.
“‘My Madeline! sweet dreamer! lovely bride!
Say, may I be for aye thy vassal blest?
Thy beauty’s shrine, heart-shaped and vermeil dyed?
Ah, silver shrine, here will I take my rest
After so many hours of toil and quest.”
The language used by Keats is, old fashioned English, by using this it helps to set the scene and the reader gets a clearer image of what is going on in the story. Although some of the words are difficult to understand, when you read the whole stanza or even line the meaning becomes more apparent.
They are all in comparison which each other as they all contain love and death, but they facts of death are all completely different to each other. So whilst they are in comparison, they are also different to each other.
In Porphyria’s Lover he kills her, as he had won the chase and he has got her so does not know what to do with her know he had won. This is shown in this quote:
“In one long yellow string I wound
Three times her little throat around,
And strangled her. No pain felt she;
I am quite sure she felt no pain.”
This quote shows how he kills her, by strangling her, with her long blonde hair. He wants control of her, now that he has her, no-one else is allowed to have her. He seems to almost be greedy and selfish, as he has only jut been able to have her that’s it no-one else is ever going to have the chance of having her.
In relation to ‘The Highwayman’ where the deaths are both suicides, Beth kills herself to help save the highwayman’s life, her true love; this is shown in this stanza of the poem:
“The tip of one finger touched it. She strove no more for the rest.
Up, she stood to attention, with the muzzle beneath her breast.
She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again;
For the road lay bare in the moonlight;
Blank and bare in the moonlight;
And the blood of her veins, in the moonlight, throbbed to the love’s refrain.”
Then when the highwayman finds out what has happened he killed himself, he rides straight into the red-coat troop’s shoots and dies.
“Back, he spurred like a madman, shouting a curse to the sky,
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high.
Blood-red were his spurs in the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat;
When they shot him down on the highway,
Down like a dog on the highway,
Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.”
These two quotes prove that they were truly in love with each other, and the highwayman knowing that Bess had sacrificed herself to save him; was full of guilt and could not imagine living without her. Knowing what she had done for him, helped him decide how he was going to end his life.
‘The Lady of Shalott’ is a really different death, she is in a curse and she was not allowed to leave her tower or look out of the window directly at Camelot. But when she left her tower to go down to Camelot to find Sir Lancelot, she died. She basically committed suicide as she knew what she can or can not do, and she did the opposite and looked out at Camelot and died. The quote supporting this is:
“She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces thro’ the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She looked down on Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror cracked form side to side;
‘The curse is come upon me’ cried
The Lady of Shalott”.
Unlike in ‘The Eve of St. Agnes’ no-one actually dies in the poem, but there is the sense of death at the end of the poem. This is shown in these two lines:
“They glide, like phantoms, into the wide hall;
Like phantoms, to the iron porch they glide,”.
The four poems all have the same two ideas in common, love and death or could cause death if found out. In three of the poems death is caused because of love and the difficult situations caused by love. But in one of them, it does not cause death but could if found out. The language in all four of the poems is used to full extent, and easily understandable. The settings are described really well. It was really easy to understand what is going on and what the author is trying to get across.
It is straightforward to see where each of them are coming from, as they use the appropriate language and to explain things to the exact perfection that is needed without giving everything away, so the readers can still guess what is going on. This gives the poems more depth and makes the readers feel more involved in the poem. I believe the poets are all trying to say that love is not an easy thing, you have to find the right person and want to actually be there for them and know what you are willing to sacrifice, even if it is your own life. Then if love goes wrong, death is closely linked to it, as three out of the four poems end up with the people dying because of love.