Choose three poems from the selection we have studied and compare how the poets present the theme of love
We only studied a small selection of poems, but they each present a variety of different types of love. ‘Let me not’ by William Shakespeare is one his love sonnets for which he is particularly famous. It is sonnet 116, showing how many sonnets Shakespeare wrote, all reflecting on the nature of love. Throughout the poem, Shakespeare describes a very romantic and ideal love. ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, by Robert Browning explains an obsessive kind of love. Love poems often express the wish that time would stand still so that a particular moment of intense love will last forever.
This poem also features this desire, but the characters’ way of ensuring this is very unusual. It leaves you doubting the love Porphyria’s lover feels for her. The last poem I studied, again shows a very different type of love. ‘To His Coy Mistress’ by Andrew Marvel is more a poem of lust rather than of love. In it, the poet attempts, through argument, to win over his coy lady. ‘Let me not’ was written in the 16th century as one of Shakespeare’s love sonnets. In it he adopts a persona, imagining himself to be someone else, but still giving the impression that it has been written by a narrator, an expert on love.
It is not until the last line, that we know that the poem is written from a man’s point of view; ‘I never writ, nor no man ever loved’ The title, ‘Let me not’ is a very effective statement. The word ‘not’ makes it seem negative. It emphasises the tone of the whole sonnet, in which he doesn’t say what love is, he in fact says what love is not. The title also gives the impression of being very forceful, almost like an order. It shows us that the poet has very strong views on what he thinks love is. In the opening line, the writer talks about not causing problems for a ‘marriage of true mindes’.
He thinks that if two people are really in love, nothing should get in their way. By using the word ‘marriage’, the poet makes us think of lasting love. You only get married if you are certain that your love will last for the rest of your life. In fact, as part of a wedding ceremony the couple say, “to death us do part”, showing that their love will last forever. As well as lasting for the rest of your life, Shakespeare goes on to stress that the love will not change or alter throughout that time. He emphasises this by repeating certain words, such as, ‘alter’, ‘alteration’, ‘remover’, and ‘remove’.
As well as saying that love will last forever and never change, Shakespeare also says that love will not ‘bend’. You can’t make demands; ‘I’ll love you if you do this’, you either love someone or you don’t. After the first 4 lines of the sonnet, called a quatrain, describing what his idea of true love is, the poet goes on to give us examples of how strong ever-lasting love is. In line 5, the poet again emphasises how permanent love is by describing it as ‘an ever fixed marke’ that can ‘look on’ or withstand tempests without being ‘shaken’. According to Shakespeare love is stronger than a storm and more stationary.
By saying that love is a ‘fixed marke’, Shakespeare is using a metaphor, which a sailor could trust his life to. Another example the poet uses is the stars. Keeping with the ‘sailor’ theme, line 7 tells us how you navigate a ship through the sea by the stars and love navigates you through life. By likening love to a star, we are automatically presented with a picture of a guiding star keeping you safe and away from harm. Although both a star and love are used to navigate by, love is greater because you can measure the height of a star and there is no way of measuring love: although his heigth be taken. ‘
The power of a star can be measured by its height. As you can’t measure love, it has infinite power. The third and last quatrain talks about the effects of time on love. The poet says that ‘Lov’s not Times foole’, it cannot be fooled by time to alter or loose its beauty, despite the fact that physical beauty such as ‘rosie lips and cheeks’ come under the power of time. This clearly shows that Shakespeare does not believe that love is affected by time or based on physical attraction because time erodes such beauty, yet love does not fade.
In the sonnet, time is personified. Shakespeare talks about ‘his bending sickles’ and in line 9; ‘Times foole’ begins with a capital letter in the middle of a line, showing us that it is the ‘name’ of someone. Line 11 clearly states that: ‘Love alters not with his breefe houres and weekes,’ Clearly showing that love will not alter over short periods of time such as hours or weeks, if ever but it will continue on until the end of time or ‘doome’. The last two lines form a rhyming couplet. These lines sums up the sonnet and says that what the poet has said about love is all true.
Shakespeare tells us, through these lines, to argue with what he has said only if we dare because he is certain he is right. In this couplet, the poet comes out of his persona and says that if you can prove that he is wrong then he has never written, ‘I never writ’ and that ‘no man ever loved’. Both of these are obviously impossible. This therefore shows us how confident he is that this sonnet tells of true love. This poem is a sonnet because it consists of 14 lines each with approximately 10 syllables; lines 6 and 8 are the exceptions.
The lines all have a rhythm called iambic pentameter. The poem is made up of three quatrains, a verse with four lines in it, and a rhyming couplet at the end. In each of the quatrains, the first line rhymes with the third and the second line rhymes with the fourth. This pattern of lines 1,3 and 2,4 in each of the 3 quatrains rhyming and the last two lines forming a rhyming couplet is called a Shakespearean Rhyme Scheme because it is in this pattern that Shakespeare wrote most of his sonnets. Shakespeare exaggerates a lot in the poem about love and what it isn’t.
This is called a hyperbole. It gives the poem a very majestic feel and his persuasive language tempts you to agree with him. If you judge the lovers and marriage partners around you, using the characteristics outlined in this poem, I can easily see why so many marriages do not last. The love they think they feel isn’t love because it has changed with time and according to Shakespeare, “Lov’s not Times foole”. Because ‘Let me not’ is a sonnet, it is a very short poem containing only 14 lines. ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ in contrast is a poetic fantasy and contains 60 lines and no stanzas.
The style and tone of the poems are also different because ‘Let me not’ is a very serious poem, musing over the characteristics of love, whereas in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, the tone is less hyperbole and the style is narrative. ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ tells of a very different kind of love to that we have seen so far in the poems. The lover, on realising that Porphyria really does love him, kills her so that she can never be anyone else’s. This is a kind of obsessive love quite unlike the regal and classical love described in ‘Let me not’.
To modern-day readers, Browning’s poem sounds gives the impression that the Lover is a psychopath, but to Victorian readers around the time the poem was written, the story it tells would be a poetic fantasy instead. This poem is very descriptive, minutely describing the weather outside at the beginning of the poem. These lines are used to set the scene and create an atmosphere. The poet describes in great detail how horrible and wet, stormy, windy the weather is. It is also personified by describing the wind as ‘sullen’, a term usually applied to people.
By telling us how stormy it is outside, when Porphyria enters the cottage from outside and begins removing her wet clothes, we already are presented with a picture of devotion from this girl who has ‘come through wind and rain’ just to be with her lover. The weather outside also provides a contrast to the warm and cosy cottage. The way Browning describes Porphyria taking off her wet outer garments is very seductive. She first takes off her ‘dripping cloak and shawl’, then her ‘soiled gloves’ and lastly her ‘hat’ that ‘let the damp hair fall’.
By describing each of these item coming off one at a time, we get the impression that she is taking off more clothes than she really is. In the description of her clothes, we again get a description of the weather; her cloak is ‘dripping’ and her gloves are ‘soiled’. The fact that she is prepared to ruin her gloves to be with her lover is another sign of devotion to him, but he does not see it. When Porphyria comes in she lights a fire, before even taking off her wet clothes. She then goes and sits next to he lover and puts his arms around her waist and his cheek on her bare shoulder.
From these actions and the way they are described by Browning, we can see that she is trying to show her lover how much she loves him. She even tells him so: “Murmuring how she loved me’ Despite this, the lover cannot help doubting that she is sincere and that he isn’t her only lover. Even when she says she would ‘give herself to [him] forever’, he doubts her: ‘Nor could to-night’s gay feast restrain A sudden thought’ Throughout the entire poem, the lover is sitting in a chair. It is Porphyria that goes to him and makes the fire.
This gives the impression that she was eager to please and he expected this sort of treatment. Despite this, the lover says that he was ‘one so pale for love of her’. The poem is written in the first person so we are there with Porphyria and her lover, being told what is happening. Browning doesn’t even give the lover a name, in the title he is simply referred to as ‘Porphyria’s Lover’. This matches with the theme of the poem because all the way through it describes Porphyria and very little is said about her lover. Porphyria is the central character in the poem and the title reflects this.
The effect of the sentence ‘And strangled her’ in line 41, is very final. The line is enjambment from 40 and stops abruptly in the middle of line 41. This gives the idea that Porphyria’s life also ended this way. It is not expected and disrupts the rhythm of the line, making more of an impression. The final three line of the poem tells us that the lover feels that he has done wrong. The last line, ‘And yet God has not said a word! ‘ give the impression that he is expecting some punishment from God for the murder he has committed, but then, he thinks, it is what she wanted so God would not mind.
The fact that he can sit with her dead head on his shoulder ‘all night long’ shows us that he isn’t feeling remorse for what he has done. From line 41 on, the lover tries to justify what he has done by saying: ‘No pain felt she; I am quite sure she felt no pain. ‘ And that the ‘smiling rosy little head’ is ‘So glad it had its utmost will’. He says that she felt no pain. Then he puts ideas into the head by saying that it is ‘glad’ that he has fulfilled ‘its utmost will’, he really feels that Porphyria would be glad that he has killed her because she felt no pain and she wanted to be with him forever.
By killing her he has achieved this. The last poem that I studied is ‘To His Coy Mistress’ by Andrew Marvel. This poem is written in a very different style to both Shakespeare’s sonnet and ‘Porphyria’s Lover’. In it, the poet tries to persuade his lady not to be coy. The subject matter of the poem is expressed in the first two lines: “Had we but world enough, and time, This coyness, Lady, were no crime,’ The poem is written in two stanzas and each of these has its own purpose. In the first stanza, the poet flatters his lady and tries to persuade her that he will always love her and to show her what she is missing.
Towards the end of the first stanza, you get the impression that all this is too good to be true and that there is a ‘But’ coming. It is this that the last stanza deals with. It contains his actual argument and constantly emphasis that time is against them, that life is too short for her to resist. Because it is an essential part of the poet’s argument, time is the main theme of the poem. He says that his love will last forever: “I would Love you ten years before the Flood’ This is similar to Shakespeare’s opinion in ‘Let me not’ that ‘Lov’s not Times foole’
Before the poet commence onto his main argument, he flatters and praises his lady. He compliments her using images like the ‘Ganges’ in India. He uses this metaphor because the river is exotic and mysterious. Around the time that this poem was written, very little would have been known about the Ganges and similar aspects of countries such as India. He calls himself humble or ‘Humber’. This suggests that he more ordinary and she is superior to him. This another aspect of his flattery. It is also clear from the way the poet expresses himself that he is only faltering his lady in order to get his own way.
Throughout the poem, the poet uses lots of imagery. A great deal of this has Biblical references. He links the river imagery of the Ganges with his comments on the ‘Flood’. It also provides another allusion to time. The Biblical metaphors in lines 8 to 10 are gently satirical. This is the first sign that this is a very clever poem. Like ‘Let me not’ it has plenty of hyperbole, but not about love. He uses it as a method of persuasion and to add weight to his arguments As well as emphasising that his love will last, the poet constantly stresses how genuine love is.
Here is appears that he would agree with Shakespeare on what true love is. Despite this, because of the arguments he uses and his motive in doing so, we are left doubting that he really feels true love for his lady. The double entendre in the middle of the first stanza shows us that he isn’t frightened to use any argument. After this, the next six lines are a list of compliments and sexual suggestiveness. He is trying to show his lady what she is missing. As I said earlier, at the end of the first stanza, we get the impression that there is going to be a ‘but… ‘.
It is his change of tone as and he addresses the lady directly that gives us this impression: ‘For lady, you deserve this state, Nor would I love at lower rate. ‘ It is the ‘but’ that follows that divides the poem into two stanzas. As the first two lines of the first stanza told us of the subject matter of the poem, the first two line of the second stanza brings us back to the theme of the poem: ‘But at my back I always hear Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;’ Time is moving fast and we may miss our chance and later regret it. He says that it isn’t his fault that time keeps moving. He would wait if he could, but they can’t.
The poet then goes on to use the image of a worm in the lady’s vault. This is not a romantic idea but it gives us an idea of how much he wants to win this argument. This is another example similar to the double entendre lines in the first stanza. Lines 21-33 are all devoted to a very practical point of view that if she is not careful, she will wait too long and die and she will have missed her chance. Lines 31 and 32 sum up this practical side to the poet’s argument: ‘The grave’s a fine and private place, But none, I think, do there embrace. ‘ The last stanza is persistent, especially after this couplet.
The poet reverts to original flattery and praise, but this time to emphasise that they should seize the chance they have now, while they are young. The poet uses the argument they should be like ‘amorous birds’ to show that it is very natural. He even tells his lady that they would be stronger and happier together as one: ‘Let us roll all our strength and all Our sweetness up into one ball,’ He wants them to go on together ‘Through the iron gates of life’. The last rhyming couplet in the poem sums up his whole opinion of time, that they can’t stop time but they can govern it: Thus, through we cannot make our sun Stand still, yet we will make him run. ‘ The poem begins in the present tense as he addresses his lady directly. It then shifts into the conditional tense. The second stanza is more varied, starting in the present tense and then moving into the future. The poet then finishes the poem by bringing our thoughts back to the present. Out of the three poems we have studied, I prefer ‘Let me not’ by William Shakespeare. I am not sure whether it paints an accurate picture of true love, but it certainly entices you to wish for love.
He describes it as being so sacred and strong that it can overcome all obstacles and will keep you safe. This poem is very romantic and the Shakespearean and the iambic pentameter in which the sonnet is written, provides the words with a rhythm of their own. I also think the fact that it is short is also an endearing factor. In ‘To His Coy Mistress’, the poet is very persuasive, but rather repetitive in his arguments. I do not think that either Andrew Marvel’s poem or that of Robert Browning describes true love. Marvel’s is based on lust and seduction, whereas Browning makes his characters perform extraordinary deeds because of their ‘love’.