This essay is going to explore how three poems portray love in different ways. The first poem is “First Love” and it was written by John Clare. He had a poor background and therefore had no hope of marrying the daughter of a rich man. He tries to convey this situation in this poem and so, love comes across as being a very frustrating and almost unpleasant emotion. “First Love” has a regular rhyme scheme of four rhyming couplets in each of its three stanzas.
“Shall I compare thee…?” is the second poem to be studied and it is one of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. It portrays a very positive side of love, with an overall theme of it being eternal. Shakespeare wrote many sonnets like this, all containing fourteen lines with ten syllables in each.
The third poem is “Ballad”. There is a large contrast between this poem and the previous two mentioned, in the sense that it puts across a very negative view of love. It shows that rushing into a relationship that will not work can eventually drive a person towards suicide. “Ballad” does not have a soul author, as it is a poem that has been passed on by word of mouth, from one generation to the next, being subtly changed as time progresses. It is much longer than “First Love” and “Shall I compare thee…?”, as it has eleven stanzas, each containing two rhyming couplets.
The first two lines in “First Love” set the scene for the whole poem where it says,
“I ne’er was struck before that hour
With love so sudden and so sweet…”
The speaker is obviously stunned in amazement of the beauty of the woman he has just seen, so the emotions that he is feeling are very intense. He goes on to describe her face with the simile of her face blooming “like a sweet flower.”
Further on, his heart is said to have been stolen away, which would imply that all of the love and feelings he could ever have towards someone have been directed towards her. At that point in time, nothing else matters and this woman is his soul concern. Further evidence of the speaker being affected in such a dramatic manner is shown where it says that his “legs refused to walk away,” and his “face turned pale as deadly pale.” This shows that there was a strong physical effect due to seeing this woman, as well as an emotional effect.
The speaker now asks himself a rhetorical question out of pure frustration. “When she looked, what could I ail?” When she looked at him, he was unable to do anything. This might, again, imply that he was overcome with her beauty and he could not do anything
but look at her, but on the other hand, it could be referring back to the point that he comes from a poor background. It would be unheard of for a lowly man to marry a girl from a rich family. Due to this, he is not able to act upon his feelings, and if he can not do that, what can he do?
After a seemingly positive start to the poem, the theme of frustration and even despair are beginning to creep in. The second stanza in this poem goes on to describe even more physical strains that the speaker is undergoing. He is blinded by the woman. This could perhaps be both a physical and emotional effect. The world around the speaker also seems to be in a spin and everything is reversed. He says that it “Seemed midnight at noonday” and also that he “could not see a single thing.” I think that the author has used vivid imagery extremely well in this middle stanza, because it really puts across the intense and almost unbearable side of love. He shows that love is not something that you can control, especially if you are as innocent and vulnerable as the speaker in this poem is put across to be.
The third and final stanza consists of the speaker’s overall reaction to love. He compares love with nature, asking the question, “Is love’s bed always snow?” or in other words, is love always cold, and full of rejection? In the penultimate line of the poem, the word, “heart” is used again and it has a similar meaning to when it was used in the first stanza. The speaker almost personifies his heart, saying that it “has left its dwelling-place,” as though of its own accord. The last line, though, emphasizes how strongly he has been affected, where it says that his heart “can return no more.” This was his first love and it has changed his life. Things can never be the same again.
“Shall I Compare thee…?” has an overall theme of love being eternal, which contrasts with “First Love” because, as the title suggests, there is a first love for everybody, but there will always be others later on in life. The original passion for someone fades over time.
Shakespeare often refers to nature in this poem as well. The woman is compared to a “Summers Day.” She is even said to be “more lovely and more temperate” than a summers day, which really stresses how beautiful she must be. This is similar to “First Love” when it refers to a “sweet flower.” The beauty of the natural world is used to show just how beautiful these women were. I think that this is a very effective way to describe someone, as we can all see the natural world around us today, and we can compare it to these women. We have never seen a picture of them but we can imagine them quite easily.
Further on, a different meaning of “Sommer” is used. The speaker talks of summer belonging to the woman. He is saying that she is so radiant that she, and everything around her, seems to be in a permanent state of summer time. He also talks about an “eternall Sommer,” and that it, “shall not fade.” Again, he is pointing towards her beauty, and his love for her, being eternal.
The theme of love having a kind of immortality is continued where the speaker says that, “nor shall death brag thou wandr’st in his shade.” Even when she dies, if she has not done so already, his love for her will never fade. The personification of Death makes death seem even more ominous and powerful, but as love can still prevail over it, the strength of the feelings the speaker has for this woman are magnified.
Next, the speaker says that, “in eternall lines to time thou grow’st.” This is yet another reference to the woman’s beauty lasting forever. The “lines” mentioned in the quote could be the lines of the poem, which keep the woman alive. The last two lines of the poem follow on from this idea and they really sum up the whole theme of the poem:
“So long as men can breath or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”
It is saying that that as long as people can read this poem, the woman will live on indefinitely. Shakespeare has made her eternal through this sonnet.
“Ballad” portrays love in a completely different light though. The poem sets a negative tone right from the beginning in the first stanza. The young naive girl was taken advantage of by a “faithless shepherd.” She became pregnant and so it could be said that her freedom or “liberty” was stolen away from her by the man like a thief. The similar idea of stealing is used in “First Love” when the speaker’s heart was stolen away.
This poem most definitely shows love as not being eternal. Compared to “Shall I compare thee…?”, where it says that love is immortal, “Ballad” shows that love can be a trap, and after that love fades, there can be many negative consequences of rushing into that relationship.
The second and third stanzas show how uncaring this lover was. The author uses comparisons to show what he would do in different situations. Before he got the girl pregnant he would always be around her, but when her apron “puckered up with shame… he never came.” Again, when times were easy, or “when summer brought no fears to fright,” he would always be there, but when she needed him the most, he would abandon her. This really shows this shepherd up to be a fair-weather lover.
The next two stanzas go on to show the girl’s immense regret for getting herself into a situation. She uses the phrase, “I wish” five times in eight lines which really emphasises her sorrow. She also asks herself, “O when will green grass cover me?” implying that she wants to die. The consequences of her actions have therefore become too heavy for her to bear. Unlike the happiness showed in “Shall I compare thee…?”, deep sorrow and anguish are conveyed in “Ballad”.
The girl now goes on to describe the man that has taken advantage of her in more detail. He promised her wonderful things, only to go against his word later on. “He promised beds as fine as silk” but he left her wanting “a bed of clay.” The contrast between silk and clay are clearly evident which makes the comparison very effective. This is also another referral to death, which shows just how far the girl has been driven into depression.
She talks about her lover having a heart that “seemed soft but it was steel.” This metaphor of it being as hard as metal shows how uncaring he was, and that he did not really love her. He had the soul purpose of seducing her without any intentions of staying with her.
Again, the use of the heart is seen in next stanza where it says that the shepherd has two hearts. This obviously points towards him stealing hers. The girl now starts to really contemplate suicide. She shudders to think of what sort of father the shepherd will be for her baby.
The girl compares her heart to brass, as she did her lover’s heart to steel earlier on. “My heart would break – but it is brass.” Her heart has been hardened and she has been hurt so much that nothing can affect her any more. At this point she starts to think about taking both the baby’s and her own life. She has been driven to the depths of despair and the only way out for her is death. Throughout the whole poem, tension has been building, and in this final stanza, the poem reaches its climax. Earlier she had said, “My soul with God, my body clay,” but now, in the last line of the poem, she says, “Our souls with God, our bodies clay.” Rushing into a relationship with someone she did not really love has left her contemplating suicide for both herself and her baby.
So in conclusion, it can be seen that these three poems do portray love in different ways. There are many poetic devices and words that the authors have used in their description of love. Some describe love as being eternal, while others show that it fades over time. Overall then, a large variety of perceptions of love are shown in these poems, which together give a vivid picture of love itself and the feelings of those involved.