Literary tradition in love poems before and after 1900 is easily identifiable. It is preset in both, pre and post. To help me with my hypothesis, I will use examples from the two pre 1900 poems, ‘To His Coy Mistress’ and ‘Porphyria’s Lover’. I will also use the two post 1900 poems, ‘Howling For Love’ and ‘The Other Woman’. Firstly, I will look at Robert Browning’s pre 1900 poem, Porphyria’s Lover. The scene of the poem is set almost immediately. Images of coldness “she shut out the cold” are there to allow the reader picture the scene in their minds and to imagine what the place is like.
Porphyria enters the poem and we see the lover’s adoration for her, and how her beauty is never ending. We see the forbidden nature of their relationship “from pride, and vainer ties”. Both Porphyria and her lover love each other but they cannot be together because of the difference in class. He even has doubts about if she loves him or not because they are always away from each other. But he then realises that she really does like him “Porphyria worshipped me”. When he realises this, he wishes that the moment could last forever and uses repetition “that moment she was mine, mine, mine”.
He wraps her hair around her neck “her little throat around” in an almost uncontainable way to make the moment last. There is then a shock moment in which he kills her “and strangled her” but reassures himself “quite sure she felt no pain”. He then carries on adoring her beauty “as a shut bud that holds a bee”. He then goes on to tell himself that he has done her a favour in killing her. He has given her a pain free life in which she doesn’t have to worry about not being with him “and I, its love, am gained instead”.
He doesn’t see this as a wrong doing “God has not said a word! . The overall story to the poem is about an obsessive lover who wishes that the moment with his lover could last forever. He psychotically strangles her, which is not a love poetry tradition whereas the idea of pressuring that perfect moment with someone is. The next poem I will look at is Andrew Marvell’s poem ‘To His Coy Mistress’. In the time that this was written, love was talked about very differently than it is today. In this poem, the idea of space and time is used straight away in the opening line, “world enough, and time”.
The he introduces the idea of the distance between him and his lover. This idea is carried out right the way through the first stanza. “Two hundred to adore each breast” he is also using these ideas to flatter her and to tell her how she deserves eternal love. This seems to be a normal love poem the first time you look at it. But if we look closer into the poem, we may find another meaning to it. He uses the idea of distance in the poem to show how far away he is from his mistress and time to show the she should be loved for a time to come.
In the first stanza there is also an introduction to the sexual side to the poem “my vegetable love should grow” meaning he will get an erection. This shows how beautiful she is to him and how she sexually arouses him. We can then find out that he didn’t have sex with her when he says, “then worms will try that long preserved virginity”. This means that when she is dead, the worms will penetrate her, which is something he didn’t get the chance to do. He starts the second stanza by completely dismissing the idea of eternity by saying “time’s winged chariot hurrying near”.
He then describes her death and how her beauty will be gone forever “thy marble vault”. In the second stanza he goes on to talk about how her beauty has not yet gone and she is still young in his mind “while the youthful hue” and she should make the most of it whilst she can “let us sport us while we may”. He then goes to say what the poem is really about and what is has been building up to. He wants them to sleep together “like emorus birds of prey”. The poem looks like a normal traditional love poem the first few times it is read but really it is all about him using his flattery so that he can sleep with her.
His flattery is the main convention but he does it for his own reasons, not for the love of his woman. This is a good example of twists in the poems conventions that are found in very little love poems. The next poem is Liz Lockhead’s ‘The Other Woman’, a post 1900 poem. Quickly into the poem, the theme is introduced. “The other woman” “lies”. Fro this we can tell that it is not a cheerful sort of poem and maybe unconventional. The poem is about her belief that her husband is having an affair and how it is tearing the relationship apart “between us like a bolster”.
She sees the other woman as nothing and doesn’t want to have anything to do with her yet she sees that she has power over her relationship with her husband “sneezing irritant”. She is also referred to as “feathers”. This is also another example of how she is nothing. But then we see the other side to her. The powerful side “hardened words turn machine gun”. These words are harsh and are thrown straight at you. “Against you she’s rock solid” again harsh and powerful words showing the fear of her. A third party is introduced into the poem “they say” this could be reassurance to herself that he isn’t having an affair and this shows obsession.
She is also paranoid “I’d know her anywhere” “I scan every cinema queue”. She doesn’t know her, yet she uses this sentence to accept the fact that she is a figment of her imagination. “I catch her eye casting crazily around for me”. This shows her insecure side. She knows that it her herself making up this imaginary woman “the other side of my very own mirror”. She tries to hide her insecurity but becomes so paranoid that she really does believe that there is another woman. This poem is also not a typical love poem and doesn’t have many conventions to prove it is.
However, the poem has obsession, which is a convention in love poetry. The next poem I will look at is Vernon Canell’s ‘Howling for love’, another post 1900 poem. We can straight away, in the first stanza, see that the poem isn’t going to be a typical love poem displaying traditions and conventions shown before. In the opening line it talks about “his unfriendly bed” which shows the reader of his insecurity which gives the reader an idea of what the poem might be about. Also the name of the poem, ‘Howling for love’ gives us an idea of the sexual nature of the poem.
The words “fathers face” are used and also in the same sentenced “thrashed” and “villain” are used. This could be something to do with the idea of insecurity and instability already present in the poem. The image of a parent is continuously used in the fourth line. “And kissed the woman on her tubs of cream” which shows remembrance of his mothers love in childhood when his mother used to breastfeed him. In the second stanza the word “sunrise” is used but not in a positive way. Words are used such as “derisions” and sniggered” to show the fear of a new day being born.
These images are carried on into the third stanza “clanging challenge”. This also shows the fear of a new day. The rest of this stanza has feminine images, “shawl” and “auburn”, the colour of her hair. “The tinkling walk of women told him love”, these are images of his mother and how he needs to be loved by his mother and proof of the insecurity. It probably has something to do with the fact hat he wasn’t loved when he was a child. The fourth stanza is about the woman he makes love to and the power he feels at this time “beauty at his wish”.
He wishes he could stay in this moment where he feels loved and cared for, but more importantly, secure “prayed that he would hold the dawn at bay”. In the fifth stanza he begins to question this love and security “even as he sank into her cry” and realises that this wont satisfy his needs “betrayal curled on her dark head”. In the third line of this stanza, the theme of the poem is summed up “moaned that he had never wanted this”. This reflects the bad feeling throughout the poem and the feeling of insecurity. He realises that by sleeping with her, He still hasn’t got what he really wanted.
It s not just a poem about love but also about the traumatic problems that people have in alter life after being abused or not treated properly in childhood. It sums up the insecurity and how the person finds it hard to find love. He thought that he could find love by sleeping with a woman but then realises that this isn’t true. I think that these four poems have similar conventions but the pre 1900 poems are different to the post 1900 in that the post 1900 poems are poems about sex and how much they want it in their relationships and the pre 1900 poems are about obsession and how they want to keep their moment of love forever.
This is mainly due to the fact that they are all written at different periods in time. ‘The other woman’ and ‘Porphyria’s lover’ are both about obsession and are written both pre 1900. ‘To his coy mistress’ and ‘howling for love’ are both about sex. So after reading and analysing two pre 1900 poems and two post 1900 poems, I can see that there is obviously a literary tradition in the writing of love poems.