The poems ‘A Woman To Her Lover’, by Christina Walsh, and ‘When We Two Parted’, by Lord Byron, both deal with the subject of love. However each poem portrays a completely different view of love, confronting and challenging the issues raised. Both poets endeavour to leave a lasting impression on the reader and a particular person who is, or was, close to their heart. Therefore, the construction of the poem is vital.
The meaning of AWTL is powerfully conveyed through the poem’s structure. Walsh has assembled a potent argument, trying to persuade her lover to see her in a certain light. The first three stansas use negative imagery to of a slave, an angel around the house and an object of sexual desire, all of which are unpleasant stereotypes of women. The final stansa reveals her terms for a happy future. This construction allows the argument to be built up until the climax after the turning point of the poem. Giving the bad news first means that in contrast the good news seems even better.
WWTP is similarly four stansas long, although it was originally five because the stansa removed was seen as inappropriate because it named an ex-lover. Byron is not trying to construct an argument, instead he is either trying to convey his grief and confusion of losing a loved one or make his ex-lover feel guilty. The first stansa is in the past tense and describes what actually happened where as the second stansa reveals how he feels now, in the present. In the third stansa Byron predicts what might happen in the future, and finalises the poem by recovering important points. He questions ‘If I should meet thee/…/How should I greet thee?’ Would it mirror how they parted? – ‘With silence and tears’. Byron repeats the second line of the poem at the end to emphasise his sadness and felling of betrayal.
The rhyme scheme and meter are very effective in revealing how, as a man, Byron is trying to conceal his emotions. Rhyming couplets are used in a formal, regular scheme, giving the poem an odd coherency when read as well as giving the impression of Byron “putting on a brave face”. The accentual meter allows important words to be stressed, for example in the first line, ‘When we two parted’, ‘When’ and ‘parted’ are emphasised. More importantly the focus is placed on ‘parted’ at the end of the line taking into account early on that they have split up.
AWTHL has no rhyme scheme or meter, possibly to make the argument more realistic and less harsh because she is trying to encourage her lover to take the view that they should treat each other as equals. The absence of meter allows for the poem to be read with appropriate feeling. Enjambment and commas are used to accentuate words and instruct the reader. ‘But Lover, if you ask of me / That I shall be your comrade, friend, and mate,’ focus is placed on the equality required in a happy future. Commas after ‘comrade’, ‘friend’ and ‘mate’ instruct pauses placing the focus on these words. ‘Lover’ is also emphasised to reiterate the purpose of the poem – to persuade her lover.
In this poem imagery used is separated by theme in each stansa. In the first stansa images come to mind of an unequal relationship between master and slave. Walsh, whom we presume is the woman, clearly does not want to be a ‘bondslave’ or ‘servant’ to her lover. She does not feel that marriage should be hard work carried out ‘In drugery and silence’, expressing feminist views against this perception of women as a man’s personal slave.
Walsh then moves to another extreme in the second stansa, again rebuking sexism and negative stereotypes of married women, at the end remarking ‘If that be what you ask, fool, I refuse you’. She shows her free spirit once again while confirming that she is not a ‘wingless angel’ who desires to be sat upon a pedestal and worshipped. God-like imagery, such as ‘heaven sent’, ‘golden’ and ‘worship’, is used to reinforce this idea.
Finally, Walsh states that she does not want to become her lover’s object for sex. She uses vaguely sexual imagery such as ‘clamourous desire’ and her body being supple for his ‘sense delight’. Women are not made for men’s physical pleasure; if this is the opinion of her lover he will never become her husband and deserves no woman – ‘Not for you the hand of any wakened woman of our time’
The imagery of the final stansa is in the same semantic field. It portrays equality through comradeship, living and working, loving and dying together. If this is what her lover wants their ‘co-equal love will make the stars laugh with joy’ and ‘Hand holding hand’ they will reach the ‘heart of God’. Imagery involving God and stars makes this equal love seem more attractive than the “love” in the other stansas and shows the happiness they could have. It completes a very persuasive argument.
The merits of quality following the turning point are accentuated by pronoun use. ‘Me’, ‘you’ and ‘your’ in the first three stansas highlight the idea of two separate, more distant people. ‘Our’ and ‘we’ reinforce the idea of equality and togetherness, being as one – ‘together we may know…’
The pronouns in WWTP also show the change in relationship. In the areas of the poem in the past tense ‘ we’ is used to show they were together and are no longer, and ‘I’ ‘thee’, ‘thou’ and ‘thy’ are used to express their detachment.
In Byron’s poem, he accuses the woman of cruelty in their relationship. ‘Thy vows are all broken’, suggests that they were very committed and that it was she who broke up the relationship. Byron feels it is unfair that that he has to go through the break up alone. It appears that it was a secret affair because ‘They know not I knew thee’, and so his friends do not know they need to consider his emotions when they talk about her infront of him. Bitterly he asks himself ‘Why wert thou so dear?’ He is confused and I expect angry, as to why he remains so upset.
The imagery of this poem is vaguely thematic giving the reader a sense of loss throughout. Byron uses the words ‘broken’ and ‘sever’ several times to enhance the feel of a break up. ‘Pale grew thy cheek and cold, / Colder thy kiss’ is melancholy sounding imagery which in a different context could portray someone dying. By using this, Byron suggests to us, as readers, that she has turned her back on him and is bidding a cold-hearted farewell. In reality, to him, she is dying, as they are no longer lovers.
I think WWTP is an effective poem. While reading it I certainly pitied Byron in having to suffer alone. It must be difficult to regret what happened and yet feel so upset that he believes that if they meet again, it might be in the same way that they parted. This poem could be seen by some as a comfort, that other people have done and do suffer in similar ways. Knowing Byron’s “Bohemian” lifestyle, and how he presumably recuperated from his loss, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
I find Byron’s account of love depressing, as it suggests no love is forever and one has to get over loss. Therefore, I prefer AWTHL. I like the imagery Walsh used and its importance to the construction of her argument. I was impressed that a woman of that period was standing up for her views and stating what she wanted from life and her man. She expresses these views effectively in her responses to the stereotypes of the first three stansas. Dealing with the subject of love in a positive light and asking for equality to ensure a happy marriage makes her argument appear extremely reasonable. I like the way that the meter in WWTP allows the poem to be read easily, but overall I find Walsh’s poem is much more encouraging and necessary as it can give men an insight into how women feel!