In this essay I will attempt to compare and contrast different forms of poetry. A ballad (La Balle Dame Sans Merci), a Sonnet (My Mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun, no. 129), and a free verse (A woman to her lover). With these poems I will also compare how poets portray women, how the poets stereotype what a “beautiful” woman looks like, what is expected from her as a partner in love, and the meaning of love itself that is reflected in each of the 3 poems. “How do I love thee? “, “A birthday”, “First Love”, and “My Last Duchess” will be touched upon and used as reference in this essay.
Le Belle Dame Sans Merci”, the beautiful woman with no mercy, is a ballad, a poem with a rhyme, a beat, a steady flow, shown by the rhyming scheme of A-B-C-B. It has 12 quartrains each having 4 lines for each stanza. As any other ballad this one tells a story, a story of misconception, love and death, shown when how the ” full beautiful” with “wild, wild eyes”, that smells of “fragrant zone”, having a light foot and long hair is actually a woman who enslaves, seduces her lovers, just like the “pale kings and princes too”.
This could be similar to the theme in “My Last Duchess”, the difference being that in that poem it is the man that enslaves the woman, not the other way around. Even though the woman sang “a faery’s song” in “language strange”, he still believes that she “loves thee true”. This shows how love can alter the way a person hears things, especially when they are love stricken, as if paralysing the senses, distort a persons’ flow of thinking, easily compared with the poem “First Love”: “seemed midnight at noon day”.
The repetition of “And no bird sing” on the first and last stanza emphasise that it’s winter, which is associated with cold, also death. In the dream where he was “on the cold hill side”, seeing “pale kings”, both the words “pale” and “cold” suggests a body of someone who is dead. Even though the man is not dead yet, the dream he just had was a sign, a warning that his time might be near or that he is dying. “Starved lips in the gloam” sets the setting as foggy, misty, gives out an image of uncertainty, unclear, darkness or maybe even a cemetery, filled with the dead.
This poem is a personal poem to John Keats whereby he knew he was going to die (his brother dying first as if it was a warning to Keats), that he himself will die because of tuberculosis as well. The theme “death” is also present in “My Last Duchess” where the Duke “gave commands”, ordering to kill his own wife. The term “faery’s child” suggests something magical, something supernatural. This is closely connected with spirituality, religion. In “A Woman to Her Lover”: “the very heart of God”, also in “How Do I Love Thee? “If God choose I shall but love thee better after death”. When the woman is described having “wild” eyes, I think it is contrary to the stereotype of a beautiful woman, exactly the theme in “My Mistress’ Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun”.
In the ballad the poet uses archaic language, consisting of archaic spelling, vocabulary, which are set in the medieval setting. In the poem it is reinforced that the poem is a ballad when the woman “sing a faery’s song”, also when she “lulled me asleep”, because usually a ballad is made into a song. A woman to her lover” is written in free verse. The number of lines for each stanza varies, there is no rhyming scheme. Though the poem can be seen divided into 2 parts. The first part, having 3 stanzas, is the demand of how a woman wants to be treated, expressed in an aggressive tone to show seriousness, to show that woman aren’t weak but strong. This lets the poet express with more freedom, no restrictions, no fixed form or rhytm and rhyme.
It gives off more effect as well because the poem itself talks of freedom in women who are becoming more active, less passive in relationships, women who are “no doll to dress”, no “bondslave”, using alliteration as they are “wakened woman of our time”. The second part is the last stanza where it talks of the kind of lover women wants. Here the tone softens. The tons is more “co-equal”, that both man and woman are equals shown when women are described as the lovers’ “comrade, friend, and mate”.
In this stanza the man is described as “o husband” instead of “conqueror”, or “fool” as in the other stanzas. In this poem it is also described that women does not like a lover who is only seen just their physical side, how the man only like women for their “skin soft for your fond caresses”, or “body supple only for your sense delight”. Women feels like they are portrayed as a “creature” who have less value than man; a “servant” whoe “bear you children” and does hard tedious cork, only lives to “gratify your clamourous desire; a “wingless angel” who is perfect and could have no wrong.
A similar theme can be seen in “Last Duchess” where in the eys of the Duke the Duchess is described more as an object “painted on the wall”, a dead and animate object “as if she was alive”; how in the end the Duke moves on to “Neptune, a rarity cast in bronze”. This suggests that the painting of his duchess is just another object of possesion. “My Mistress’ Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun” is a sonnet with a rhyming scheme of A-B-A-B. He tries to go against the sterotype of what a beautiful woman posses physically and mentally.
He’s being a little modest describing his mistress; “eyes nothing like the sun”, “breasts are dun”, “breath that from my mistress reeks”. The last two lines sums up the whole sonnet explaining how his love to a woman who is not perfect is something of a rarity and is more realistic and sincere compared with other poets who have gross exaggerations, hyperboles praising their mistress. This poem also has reference to religion, like the words “heaven” and “goddess”. Here love is defined as a state of mind surpassing what can be seen by the eye, smelt, or felt.