I have been analysing several poems recently they are: ‘When We Two Parted’ by Lord Byron, ‘First Love’ by John Clare, ‘Villegiature’ by Edith Nesbitt, ‘Remember’ – Christina Rossetti and ‘How Do I Love Thee’ by Elizabeth Barratt Browning. In this essay I intend to go into detail about how these poets explore the theme of love and the different elements of this emotion. The poets write from both the female and male perspective and write about their own accounts of love. Whilst some write about the utter joy love brings, a number of others tell us of the dark depressing feelings at the end of a relationship.
The first poem I am going to write about is When We Two Parted, Lord Byron. Byron was infamous for his controversial relationships, once involving his own cousin. The poem is a personal account of grief resulting from the end of a secret, passionate relationship.
Byron uses images of sadness to demonstrate the heart-rending emotions.
‘In silence and tears,
These lines emphasise his feeling of grief. Why silence? It could be because it is a forbidden love and that is the reason why they have to cry in silence. The word “tears” clarify it was a painful loss. Also he uses the phrase ‘Half broken-hearted’ because his heart was broken but her heart wasn’t.
The poet uses emotive language to communicate the feeling of loss.
‘To sever for years’
He uses the word ‘sever’ to highlight that this was not a passive separation but a reluctant one. Also it gives the impression that there isn’t a good chance of this relationship being rekindled.
The woman’s character is negative.
‘Colder thy kiss’
This is evidence that her feelings towards him grew cold and she loved him no more, breaking the poet’s heart and therefore the poet describes her in a negative way.
The promises she makes are broken
“Thy vows are all broken’
She was married, broken vows refer to broken promises. When you marry somebody you must be faithful, and she broke her promise having an affair. But he might also refer to the vows she made to himself: she promised him love but now she changed her mind and decided to abandon him and be faithful to her husband, which, of course, is the right thing to do for her, but breaks the man’s heart.
She is lucky to be able to return to her husband.
‘And light is thy fame’
This indicates she is lucky because her husband does not know and now she can continue with her marriage as if nothing had happened, whereas Byron, the poet, is left with nothing. It is also written in a formal archaic prayer like fashion which might mean Byron is comparing love to religion.
The poet is shameful about what happened.
‘I hear thy name spoken,
And share in its shame.’
His tone is shameful; he feels the pain of their sin when he hears her name. Every time he hears her name, he remembers they had an illicit relationship and feels shameful about it.
When people speak of the woman the lover finds this traumatising.
‘They name thee before me,
A knell to mine ear;’
Her name feels like a knell, a slow sad bell at a funeral. Again, Byron speaks of this woman as if she was dead, because that’s how he feels about their relationship.
The man is regretful of meeting the woman.
‘Long, long shall I rue thee
Too deeply to tell.’
This canto signifies that he is regretful for having met her, and too sad to express it. His feeling of regret is so intense that he can’t express it with words (too deeply to tell)
Lord Byron becomes reminiscent about his and her short intense meetings, but looks back in sadness as she forgot these all too soon.
‘In secret we met
In silence I grieve
That thy heart could forget,
Thy spirit deceive.’
He remembers their hidden love encounters and he feels depressed because her heart forgot their short but intense love. He can’t say anything about it, so he suffers in silence, he can’t talk about it. He suffers because she forgot their love and her spirit deceived him maybe by making him think she would love him forever. Also the poet uses short, staccato lines to intensify his feelings.
He then goes onto talk about what should happen if they were to meet again. He says he would be bitter. He uses irony to get the picture across of his grief.
‘If I should meet thee
After long years,
How should I greet thee
With silence and tears.’
He would pretend not to know her, as they always did but he would silently cry in sorrow. This may be because he can’t let people know he knows her, or because he thinks he can’t talk to her anymore. Ironic lines are used as they are the same as the opening lines but for completely different reasons.
First Love by John Clare is the second poem I shall analyse. In the poem Clare describes the first moment when love strikes. Love at first sight. A completely unfamiliar experience for him, but one that he will never forget.
‘I ne’er was struck before that hour
With love so sudden and so sweet’
These two lines show Clare’s mental shock as he describes how he has never been made immovable by looking at a woman, he was transfixed by her. Also it demonstrates how powerful the feeling of love is.
In the poem the John Clare uses natural imagery to express his passion towards his first love
‘Her face it bloomed like a sweet flower
And stole my heart away complete’
This canto uses positive similes to portray a natural image of the poet’s emotions. He also tries to use the similes to paint a picture of a pure, sweet girl in the reader’s mind.
John Clare’s use of natural images might be down to his rural upbringing in Northamptonshire.
The feeling for him was foreign but yet so extraordinary and spontaneous that he was physically taken aback.
‘My face turned pale as deadly pale.
My legs refused to walk away’
These lines show that falling in love has affected him physically as he tells us how he goes pale and becomes rooted to the spot. This illustrates how pure and strong his feeling of love is, if it has overcome him and caused these side effects.
The poet uses archaic language and rhetorical questions to intensify the feeling of love.
‘And when she looked, what could I ail?’
This line signifies the true volume of feelings felt by Clare. He says how can he worry about anything in the world when she looks at him? He just discards all his anxieties at the sight of her, she is so perfect to him.
Also the poet uses metaphors to try and demonstrate how special the moment was for him.
‘My life and all seemed turned to clay.’
This metaphor means that at this moment in time he felt as if time stood still and the moment was captured for him, to remember forever.
John Clare’s simplicity suggests the purity of emotion.
‘And then my blood rushed to my face’
This line uses the basic sensation of the blood rushing to his face to imply how untainted and innocent his emotions are towards the girl.
John Clare insinuates that the feeling of love is uncontrollable.
‘And took my eyesight quite away’
These verb patterns show that the emotion is irrepressible as he says how love took his eyesight away, showing how he clearly didn’t intend for this to happen but he had no say in what occurred.
Clare was completely overwhelmed by his love.
‘The trees and bushes round the place
Seemed midnight at noonday’
This canto shows how his sight is centred towards his love, almost like tunnel vision. As he tells us how everything around her seems dark and might as well be non existent because his mind only wants to focus on one thing.
No words pass between the two but they seem to understand each other.
‘Words from my eyes did start
They spoke as chords do from the string’
This shows how deep and true their feelings are for each other if he feels they are on the same wave length whilst being speechless.
A change of mood happens in this stanza and is expressed by rhetorical questions.
‘Are flowers the winter’s choice?
Is love’s bed always snow?’
These rhetorical questions suggest that the man is surprised that he has fallen in love and didn’t expect it all, as he says it is like flowers in winter, unexpected to say the least. This also adds to the purity of the emotion.
In this poem the woman is constantly referred to as sweet.
‘I never saw so sweet a face’
The poet uses adjectives such as sweet, suggesting purity and innocence. Which in turn describes the two’s emotions for each other.
A metaphor is used to show his heart has been lost and will never feel the same way again.
‘My heart has left its dwelling-place
And can return no more’
This powerful imagery of the heart is used is at the end of the poem where he suggests things can never be the same again. This signifies that in Clare’s everyday life, he will have lost the will to love anybody else, because this particular woman took his heart, she will have his heart forever; he therefore cannot be healed. He will be scarred for life.
The structure of ‘First Love’ consists of a simple verse structure and rhyme which indicates the simplicity of the two lover’s emotions for one another.
When comparing ‘When We Two Parted’ and ‘First Love’ there is an obvious difference as John Clare tells us of the start of a relationship whilst Lord Byron goes into detail about the end of a secret relationship. Also when describing their lovers, the woman in ‘First Love’ is described as sweet to portray her purity and innocence. However in ‘When We Two Parted’ the woman is described as cold and deceiving. This is because their accounts are under very different circumstances. The lover in John Clare’s poem is not only affected mentally by love, but affected physically as well. Unlike the lover in ‘When We Two Parted’, John Clare uses the present tense to show his feelings but Lord Byron has the lover think and brood over the affair, as it is over now. Both sets of lovers are silent towards each other. However the man and woman in First Love seem to understand each other. On the other hand in Byron’s poem they don’t know what each other are thinking and I don’t think they would want to know as their thoughts are the opposite of the couple in the other poem. Both poets tell their accounts in first person and use archaic language. Both of which add to the emotion and tension in each poem.
The third poem I shall look at is ‘Villegiature’ by Edith Nesbitt which is a romantic vision of love which contrasts to reality. As the woman is trapped in a relationship with a man who does not love her enough.
The poet tries to build the atmosphere.
‘My window, framed in pear-tree bloom’
This quote builds the romantic atmosphere and paints a romantic picture in the readers mind.
She has a dream where her lover arrived uninvited.
‘Your ghost last night climbed uninvited.’
When the poet uses the word ‘ghost’ she does not mean as dead but in her own fantasy. Also ‘uninvited’ suggests she does not want him to be there, which implies that their relationship in the real world might be under strain.
Edith Nesbit then goes onto write a verse about the real lover, in which she describes him negatively.
‘Your solid self, long leagues away,
Deep in dull books, had hardly missed me’
Alliteration is used around the letter ‘D’. D is a heavy, boring sound and she is associating this with her lover. Also the man seems not to care about their lover, a one way relationship.
The poet builds the atmosphere by describing the dream and how he complimented her. Gives the reader the thought that he might not be so bad after all.
‘Od, dear! what pretty things you said’
He complimented her and declared his love to her in the dream but then she goes on to say ‘What pearls of song you threaded for me!’ which is sarcastic so the reader then understands what the woman thinks of the man.
Nesbit shocks the audience with a drastic change to the poem’s content.
‘I did not-till your ghost had fled-
Remember how you always bore me!’
This ending gives a surprise when read by the reader. The last line is an example of a ‘Bathos’ which is when the language changes from a high complexity down to a basic level. It adds a dramatic feel towards the woman’s feelings for the man.
Remember by Christina Rossetti is the fourth poem I shall examine. The poem is a loving, yet sad, request. How Rossetti resolves the conflict she presents in the poem reflects the way she handled similar dilemmas in her own life.
The opening line of Rossetti’s sonnet introduces the idea of separation, but we do not know if the speaker’s departure is because she has chosen to leave her lover or because she is dying – it is not immediately clear. But when the second line is read, the reader understands what is happening.
‘Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land’
The opening line also portrays the speaker’s desire to be remembered, and she requests her lover to do just that. As the canto unfolds, the reader understands that death will divide the couple, and the initial hint of that is the phrase “silent land” to describe the place the speaker is going.
During the first half of the poem the poet uses imperative words to give orders to the dying person’s lover.
‘Remember me when no more day by day’
This line shows how the dying lover believes that as they are dying then the other person is morally obliged to obey the orders.
Christina Rossetti uses euphemisms for death to make the reading more bearable for the lover who this sonnet is addressed to.
‘silent land’ and ‘And afterwards remember’
These quotes show that they still care for their lover, as they use euphemisms which tell you they care about their lovers’ feelings.
There is a change in the poem where the ailing lover becomes less certain.
‘Yet if you should forget me for a while’
This line contains verbs which are qualified by if and should, which shows uncertainty in what they think is going to happen.
The tone of the poem changes in the last couple of lines.
‘Better by far you should forget and smile
Than remember and be sad’
The tone becomes lighter and softer because of the guilt of hurting the beloved who shall be left behind. It signifies how much they care about their lover if they are telling them they would rather have them discard their memory of them and be happy. Rather than remember them and grieve.
The poem is a sonnet split into an eight line section and then a six. The first half of argument is about the regret of a lost future together while the second half is guilt for making those left behind sad.
The fifth and final poem I shall study is ‘How Do I Love Thee?’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. A poem which seems as if it is an answer to a question from a lover. The lover seems to have questioned her love for them.
The poet uses comparisons to express the quantity of the love.
‘I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight’
These comparisons mean the size of live is infinity, Love cannot be measured. They are trying to convince her lover that they are loved more than anyone else and anyone before.
Elizabeth Barratt Browning continuously repeats the phrase ‘I love thee’. This repetition builds intensity.
The poet compares her feelings to words associated with religion.
‘For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.’
The fact that her emotions are being compared to religion shows how powerful her love must be, seeing as religion was taken a lot more seriously during those times.
The poet also shows that the persons love does not fade during the day, it is strong always.
‘I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light’
These lines demonstrate the strength of the love, the poet is saying that it doesn’t matter if it is day or night, the feelings shall not change.
The poet goes to the extreme of saying that if either of the two lovers die, the person whose feelings have been questioned shall remain constant.
‘I shall but love thee better after death.’
This line ends the poem and makes the reader think that the person who questioned must be satisfied with the response from their lover, as it demonstrates the integrity of their love.
In conclusion, I believe that after analysing all the poems, I have reached the verdict that the poets deal with the theme of love in many different ways. John Clare uses description and emotion to express the beauty of love at first sight. Elizabeth Barratt Browning gives a list of explanations answering the question in the title How Do I Love Thee. Christina Rossetti uses a sonnet to explore both love and loss. Edith Nesbit expresses the theme of love and the intensity of the emotion after time. Lord Byron describes the feelings at the end of a relationship and uses cold images to describe sadness and gloom. From these poems I have learnt that love is an extremely powerful emotion and that it can be felt in many different ways, for example passion, sadness, bitterness and frustration.