How do the poets compare the theme of Love?
In the poems “Sonnet 116” and “Sonnet 130” written by William Shakespeare, “La Belle Dams sans Merci: A Ballad” by John Keats, “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning, “A Mother in a Refugee Camp” written by Chinua Achebe and “Valentine by Carol Ann Duffy, all have one main feature in common, they are about love. Albeit these poems are about love, they were written in different time periods, ranging from 1609 to 1993. I have decided to analyse these poem because of the fact that these poems all have a similar theme, the theme of love but were all written in the writers’ own style.
The poem “My Last Duchess” was written in 1842 and was included in his Dramatic Lyrics collection of poems, which was the third volume in a self-published series entitled ‘Bells and Pomegranates’, written by Robert Browning. This poem is about material love – it isn’t real. I have come to this conclusion because the protagonist in this poem is portrayed as someone who does not feel sorrow or pity.
Additionally, this was written as a monologue as this poem is set as him talking in dialogue and receiving no reply. “My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing Like The Sun” (Sonnet 130) was written in 1609, the year Shakespeare’s sonnets were first published in London. This poem is about unconditional, romantic love towards his lover.
I think the purpose of this was to make the audience feel the way the writer was feeling as the tone set in Sonnet 130 seems very personal and impacts the readers greatly. This is because he is talking about his love, in a way that seems very realistic. Despite the fact that “A Mother in a Refugee Camp” is also showing unconditional love, this is different to Sonnet 130 because the love portrayed in Achebe’s poem is motherly love towards her child, which is also reciprocal love. Finally, the last poem I will analyse is “La Belle Dame sans Merci”, this poem was written in 1819 by John Keats. The love shown in this poem is unrequited love and lust. I think the love shown in this poem is unrequited because when the knight is speaking of the “lady in the meads”, his voice is full of desire and need, which did not seem to be returned. I will explain this further in the essay following.
Shakespeare, Browning and Keats’ poems all have one thing in common. They are all written in the first person, whereas Achebe’s poem, “A Mother in a Refugee Camp” is written in the third person. I think Shakespeare, Browning and Keats wrote in this mode to express the poems on a more personal level. This is because by writing, “I love to hear her speak”, it engages the readers and makes them feel more connected to the poem rather than if Browning would have written, “He loves to hear her speak”.
This is because when the narrator is the one going through with these actions, it is what he is feeling at the time, not from someone else’s point-of-view. The writer is trying to construct the same experience the protagonists encountered and witnessed in the poems for the audience. Similarly, in “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” when Keats wrote, “I met a lady in the meads,” it makes the poem more special because it is about what he did, rather than what he saw someone else do. “Sonnet 116” and ”Valentine” were also written in first person.
Moreover, I think using this mode is not as powerful as what Achebe did, although it is still emotive. By writing in the third person, Achebe makes us, the readers, feel sorrow, pity and pain for the family he is talking about. For example, when he wrote “rubbed him down with bare palms”, Achebe wants the readers to realise how little some people have and to appreciate every little thing you have in life. In this example, the mother did not even have a proper washcloth to clean her son, but it also radiates how much the mother loved her son, seeing as not having any cleaning supplies didn’t even affect her, and she enjoyed doing this simple task.
I think she enjoyed doing this as this quote reminds us that the mother “rubbed him down”, this shows the readers that she cared a lot for her son. I think it expresses how much the mother cared because in my opinion, rubbing is a very intimate act. Using the third person mode in this situation is better than first person because if it was written in first person, it would not have affected the readers as much because, when a person witnesses something, it seems to have a greater affect as it is someone else’s opinion on the event. Also, because it is someone else’s opinion, they see everything with a fresh set of eyes, rather than what the mother sees everyday, as it is what the mother believes is “normal”.
Despite the fact that I have stated using first person is more emotive, in this case however, it isn’t. I think the third person narrative is more effective to show the love between a mother and her child because someone else is witnessing the maternal relationship, which in my opinion is the strongest type of love one can feel. Moreover, the purpose of this poem is directly related to the narrative mode used, because by using third person narrative, the writer is trying to make us relate to what others witnessed. It make the readers be in awe at how the mother and child living in the refugee camp had nothing but were still surviving as they had each other to lean on.
In the poem written by Keats, he uses the setting of the scene to create a sad, lonely atmosphere in order to voice to the readers the love felt. I think he set it in the cold, bleak winter night because it makes the reader feel more sorrow and loneliness for the knight who is going through this heartbreak of unrequited love. When Keats described the area where he “awoke and found me here” as a “cold hill’s side”, he was trying to make the readers feel distress for the knight as he just lost “the lady in the meads” whom he thought was “the one” for him. He is conveying these emotions by using connotations associated with melancholy and isolation.
Also, he repeated “cold hill side” twice, in stanzas nine and eleven as their last lines. As this line is repeated in the last lines, it expresses the emotions that the knight felt as those are the words that stick to your mind after reading the stanzas. By doing so, Keats is trying to show how in love the knight thought he was in. This is because when the words hit you the second time around, you realise just how “cold” the area around him was when he awoke, creating the feeling of loss and gloom that was felt by the knight himself. Repetition is also in the first and last stanza of the poem. I think Keats used “And no birds sing” in the opening and closing stanzas because he wants to emphasise the destiny of the knight and to enclose the poem by sandwiching the main body with the repeated line, bringing readers back to the beginning of the poem; thus completing the cycle.
Also, I think Keats used repetition because by the last line of the eleventh stanza, readers finally understand the reason he placed the word “cold” there twice, to show the knight’s one-sided love for the girl who “made sweet moan” because of him. “Cold” also makes the readers think the setting is quite mysterious and scary as connotations of cold are usually related to sinister feelings and thoughts. Following on from my previous point about the love expressed in this poem, I think the love the knight felt is actually lust. For example, this is exhibited in stanza 4 when the knight describes the lady as “Full beautiful – a faery’s child”, this proves my point because people don’t use that style of language to describe just any girl. This proves that the knight must have really felt something for the “lady in the meads”.
On the contrary, in “My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing Like The Sun”, Shakespeare uses comparisons to show the love between the main character and his mistress. He compares his mistress with nature; when he says, “If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head,” it is as if he is saying that it is a bad thing, but in reality, it is a good because every comparison he makes, he is stating that even though she is not a goddess, she is perfect for him and he loves her for being herself. Also, by comparing his mistress with nature, he in some ways is criticising other authors for writing identical, cliché poems which always compare their lovers with connotations to do with love such as hearts, the moon and chocolate, whereas Shakespeare is trying to be original and thinking creatively to relate his mistress to things that people do not normally acquaint with love and being in love.
Additionally, whist comparing his mistress with nature, he is also incorporating the natural senses into the poem. Smell is the scent of perfume, sight is the “hairs be wires”, hearing is the “music [that] hath a far more pleasing sound”, and touch is the “black wires [that] grow on her head”. In my opinion, he involved the senses because senses are also a part of the natural world, which links in with the comparisons to nature. Using the senses also brings out his sensitive side, this is because the connotations used in this poem of smell, sight, sound and touch are all about love.
The technique of using the senses is also used in “A Mother in a Refugee Camp”. I think Achebe used this technique as well, because specifically in this poem, it brings out the sensitivity and love parents feel for their children, for example “The tenderness for her son” conveys the sense of touch. By adding this line here, the readers can almost feel the love being radiated from her to her son. I think Achebe made this the second line following “No Madonna and Child could touch” because they are both associated with touch. This quote is related to the pictorial representations of Virgin Mary, who is the mother of Jesus, and her infant son, Jesus. I think this quote was incorporated in the poem because Achebe was trying to engage readers, as this is the opening line. Achebe is hoping to engage the readers by informing them that this poem is also going to be about a mother and a son, but the love is more powerful than Madonna and her son as “No Madonna and Child could touch”.
Also, as this poem was set during a civil war, the population was dying of starvation and thus declining. This is associated to the mother holding her child in the refugee camp because Achebe is trying to show the image of the mother with her son, who look like the real life depiction of paintings of “Madonna and Child”. The writer is also showing the vast passion in both images. This poem starts with the feel of touch in the first two lines, then goes to smell in lines four to five where “The air was heavy with odors of diarrhea,/Of unwashed children”, after this line, it goes on to the sight of “washed-out ribs,/And dried up bottoms”. I think the author used images of malnourished children covered in dirt with tousled hair, living in an environment, which smells foul because in modern, developed areas where most readers are reading this, their homes are probably nothing like the circumstances the mother and her child are living in — poverty and starvation.
The writer is also trying to show the atrociousness of their ‘home’. Achebe is also stressing the fact that the air smelt bad by using the word “heavy”. The images described in this poem are also very impacting, as it is uncommon for babies to have “dried up bottoms”, this is due to the fact that babies should be chubby, if not, they are most commonly malnourished and dying. By placing this quote, Achebe is trying to provoke the readers to do something to help children living in these conditions. This is expressed through the tone used in this line. By exposing the readers to what the mother and her son do and live in everyday, Achebe is making the readers feel sorrow for families living in these ghastly conditions all over the world, and to make the readers sympathise and feel horrified for them.
This also shows parental, unconditional love. The sense of sound was presented in this poem by the “humming in her eyes”. In this line, Achebe is using the synaesthesia. This technique is relevant because the author is using senses relating to a part of the body, as he is using senses, Achebe is emphasising the fact that he included a lot about senses in this poem and that it is one of the main techniques used in this poem. Also, by ordering this poem by the senses he fused, it is more methodical, making it easier for the readers to follow. This technique is good because it shows the readers that Achebe was thinking about the structure and how he was going to present the sight he was viewing in order to stress how life in the setting he was in was like, how it was making him feel and what everyone around him living there was feeling. He was stressing these facts in order to make readers feel shocked and alarmed about the state of living, in hopes of readers informing others, who would help find a solution.
In “My Last Duchess”, Browning is lightly basing his poem on Alfonso, the Duke of Ferrara. In this poem, the Duke is the narrator of the poem, and he is informing the readers about his antics before his second marriage after his late wife passed away due to suspected poisoning. As the Duke is telling the readers this story, this poem is set as a monologue since he is talking in dialogue, but receiving no reply. I think the love for his first wife, whom he is talking about in this poem, is material love because it is clear that he didn’t feel sorrow or pity when his “last Duchess” passed away. Readers can tell he didn’t care about his late wife, as the tone set was quite cheery and happy. For example, throughout his poem, Browning, not once wrote about sadness.
Instead, he focused on making the Duke an arrogant person. This is clear when the Duke implies that his “last duchess” should have been happy that “she ranked [his] gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name” and that his late wife should have appreciated it and considered being married to him as a gift. In “My Last Duchess”, Browning uses a few rhetorical questions to force the listeners to agree with his points, which ultimately suggests the fact that she was indeed “too easily impressed”.
Browning also wrote this poem using pentameter lines, which also use enjambment. I think Browning used this technique to make this monologue seem more like a story than a poem. This technique helps the readers feel more engaged because the sentences don’t conclude at the end of every line; instead, they follow on, creating the illusion that this ‘love’ story could be real and not complete fiction. The first three line specifically inform the readers that this poem will be one on romance, “That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,/ Looking as if she were alive. I call/ That piece a wonder”. In this line readers will immediately know that the Duke is quite possessive as the use of the word “my”, implies that his late wife his – he owned her. Also, the word “last” suggests that he has had multiple wives prior to his late wife.
This also backs up my point of this poem being about material love because it shows what the Duke’s lifestyle was like and that having many wives didn’t affect him or his image. This backs up my point of thinking that this poem is about material love, as he is possessive. His possessiveness is displayed in various parts of the poem, for example he repeats the metaphor “spot of joy” a twice. “spot of joy” in this situation means blushing, I have come to this conclusion because as you read “Her husband’s presence one, called that spot/ Of joy” readers will be able to piece the puzzle of this metaphor together, concluding that this means blushing, or something else that happens, which she can’t control due to the pleasure she feels – either as an effect of her husband, or when the staff would compliment her. Another way Browning portrays the Dukes’ possessiveness is when he personified the “Paint/ [, which] Must never hope to reproduce the faint/ Half-flush”. This personifies the paint as flirting, which paint obviously cannot do.
This shows he is possessive because he is jealous of a painting , which depicts his late wife with a “spot of joy”. Similarly, Browning addresses the painter as “Frà Pandolf’s hands” instead of “Frà Pandolf”, this is because it is as if the Duke is dehumanising the painter, who caused his late wife to act like that, into an intimate object instead of a human being; he was also jealous of the painter as he could cause that reaction with his wife. I think Browning used this technique because he was trying to show the readers how dominant and envious the Duke was when it came down to women in general.
Near the end of the poem, Browning continues to flaunt the Duke’s dominance by saying “Notice Neptune, though,/… thought a rarity,/ Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!”. I think Browning included this final sentence because he wants to inform the readers that the artist specially made this piece of art for him, as he emphasises the last word, “me”, with an exclamation mark. Also, he wanted to tell the readers that there was in fact another piece of art inthis room, apart from the painting of his “last Duchess”. By doing so, Browning is telling the readers that even though his late wife was important to the Duke, she was not important enough to have a room dedicated just for her, creating the sense of material love yet again. Fundamentally, the writer also uses a synecdoche in line 46, “Then all smiles stop together.” The alternate meaning behind this line is that the Duke is planning on executing his now late wife.
Love is the underlined theme of all these poems, but each author used their own styles and techniques to express their version of love. Keats and Achebe conveyed their versions of love through the senses, whereas Shakespeare uses comparisons and nature. Browning on the other hand, presents his poem in monologue form. By using senses, Keats and Achebe show how in love their characters were in; senses also bring out the compassion and understanding between the two lovers. When Shakespeare uses nature and compares it to things not normally associated with love, compassion is also shown, but in a different way. I think he used these techniques instead of the senses like the previous two authors because it shows he is thinking more about his lover, than Achebe and Keats. Finally, Browning’s use of monologue shows how nonchalant his protagonist was about his late wife, which is not a romantic type of love.
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