How do poets writing before the 20th Century Write about Love

The poem ‘My Last Duchess’ by Browning shows a possessive and clingy love, and I think the poet writes about love in less attached and less emotion filled way than what we would expect of a love poem. Browning uses relatively short sentences and broken speech throughout the poem and this gives the whole poem less emotion.

The male position in this poem is narrative and is told by the Duke, he feels that he needs to be the centre of the Duchess’ affections, ‘My favour at her breast, The dropping of the daylight in the west,’ This shows that he is bitter about the fact that she loves him as an everyday thing. Browning may be suggesting routine in love, he writes about it in a way that we can relate to, with pauses for atmosphere and feeling to be created. There is passion, and anger behind this phrase, that the Duke wants to command her actions, as she is not behaving in a way that pleases him.

There is also sexism in this poem from the fact that the Duke wants control over the Duchess. Sensing that he cannot do this by controlling her affections, or having the control over her affections that he desires, he decides to gain control by killing her, as he is frustrated and angered by the fact that he cannot have her whole love. This is told by the quote; ‘She liked whate’er she looked on;’ He thinks that she would flirt with anyone, and because he can’t condense her affections strictly to him, her death is the result.

Browning writes in a sexist manner, putting the Duke at the top, and the woman as the flirt, or as the one who will not follow order, as Browning suggests in the line ‘Sir, ’twas not Her husbands presence only, called that spot Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek:’ This is showing that she doesn’t meet the Duke’s standards, and I think all the way throughout this poem, Browning writes in quite a bitter and twisted way because the Duke takes pleasure in the fact he has finally triumphed. This sexist manner is also evident in The Flea, because it is a male narrator again, and he is trying to gain control in a more sexual manner.

Her death is talked about in quite a harsh manner for love; ‘This grew; I gave commands; Then all smiles stopped together. ‘ This is a cold and emotionless statement about her death, and I think this shows that the Duke wanted her as a trophy for his pride. I think the way Browning writes this is important, he is very monosyllabic and this means that very little emotion is shown, and it sounds forced and cold, like he couldn’t wait to show his victory over her in the last phrase. There is an element of victory implied in the last phrase ‘Then all smiles stopped together. ‘ This shows that he feels he has at last conquered her.

He has demonstrated his power by immortalising her in the portrait, possibly for him to gloat over. Browning writes about duty in love, the Duke feels it is the Duchess’ duty to love him and give her affect only to him, ‘Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt, Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without much the same smile? ‘ He wants her affections selfishly; he takes things out of perspective and over exaggerates her, perhaps, innocent friendliness. The love is needy as well in this poem, the Duke want her attention solely focused on him, and there is not room for anyone else in this commitment.

I think we also see a needy type of love in the other two poems, in ‘The Flea’ because he needs the sexual side of love, ‘our two bloods mingled be;’ and the need we can plainly see in the irrelevance of the argument. Also, the need is evident in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ because he feels he need to keep the moment, ‘… give herself to me for ever. ‘ He needs to know that he can keep the love eternal. They all write about need in love. The love in this poem is very egotistical and much significance is placed in reference to the Duke’s ego.

Browning could be suggesting something about the way society treats love, that love is seen as the ideal possession. I think that in this poem, a vital part about the way that Browning writes about love is pride. This poem is a very proud one, and I think that Browning writes this monologue in a way that the audience can see the Duke is trying to keep his pride. This is reflected through the way that the Duke talks about his name; lines 32-34, ‘as if she ranked My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name with anybody’s gift. ‘ He’s implying, rather covetously, that she should have appreciated this ‘great’ thing that he is giving her.

This statement also shows that this love Browning writes about is all on the surface – it is a love to satisfy the Duke, and his pride. The Duke has to sustain his pride by killing her – because she ruins his integrity or authority over her by flirting and not being the perfect, attentive and loyal wife to him. We see that she is not meeting his standards ‘and made excuse, – E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose Never to stoop. ‘ The Duke says he is not prepared to give her a chance because she should have appreciated him in the first place. This shows that the love that is written about is plainly for show.

Another of Browning’s poems I have chosen is ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ where the love is clearly possessive and needy, like the love in ‘My Last Duchess’. We can see, in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, that possessiveness in line 36, ‘That moment she was mine, mine, fair… ‘ The repeated words make it seem slightly aggressive and manic, and this phrasing gives us the feeling of being on edge, a victorious moment for the lover. I think this phrase has a slight tone of desperation, how he wants to capture her and keep her. He has this feeling of victory because he has her, and he is in possession of her.

This is a bit like the feeling of having to conquer love in ‘My Last Duchess’. Perhaps Browning is trying to suggest he feels love has to be conquered, and in order for love to be true or to have happiness in one part, then someone has to feel they have conquered the love or the person. This suggests that selfish and self-absorbed love like in ‘My Last Duchess’, in the way that the Duke always has to hold all the love for himself, and feel like he is the only person in the Duchess’ life. This is a similarity in the way that love is portrayed.

In this poem, Porphyria’s Lover, the love is also earnest and intense, and Browning uses thick imagery to depict love and personification at the beginning of the poem ‘It tore to elmtops down for spite,’ This use of language helps the reader to identify with the emotion, and helps us see every detail of the scene. It creates a scary view and controlling view of love. I think the way that Porphyria’s lover does not saying anything when she calls, ‘When no voice replied,’ is quite eerie, because we feel that he is sitting waiting for her, and almost measuring what she says or does or perhaps he is contemplating her sitting in his chair.

This, to me, seems like a wild streak in love, how love has taken him over, he is consumed by watching and listening to her, like an obsession. Browning uses very descriptive language, ‘her smoother white shoulder bare And all her yellow hair displaced’ and adjectives to give us the feeling he is analysing every part of Porphyria. This shows a scary love. In this poem he feels he has to preserve the love by killing her, showing how much control he has taken of the situation, very like the way the male presence in ‘My Last Duchess’ feels he has to take control.

In ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, he feels he is fighting to keep her love for him. ‘To set its struggling passion free from pride, and vainer ties dissever,’ He feels that he has to preserve the love that is shown now, because she will never truly give herself to him because of class. Browning writes about different classes of love in both of these poems, in the first, the Duke feels he is above his Duchess, and in the second, Porphyria’s lover knows that he is below Porphyria. This separation of class in the poems is important because that is mainly the reason why the lovers are drawn apart.

Browning might be suggesting that love can never run smoothly between two people different in class because their lives tear them apart. The third poem I have chosen to look at is ‘The Flea’ by John Donne. There are significant similarities between this and Browning’s poems. First is the subject of power, in the previous two poems, the narrators want power in their relationships and they strive to the point of death in both, to gain a certain amount of control over their love, and their lovers.

This poem, The Flea, reflects this theme because the narrator uses persuasive writing to convince her to give herself to him through sex. ‘How little that which thou deny’st me is;’ He suggests the act of sex is of very little importance, and that she should give herself to him. This is to gain power, and what he wants out of her, so ultimately we can say that he wants control over his lover, by using this argument. There are a lot of double meanings in this poem, or double entendre, because Donne uses the metaphor of the flea to describe the act of sex.

These double meanings help the narrator to push the argument forward and they give the narrator meaning behind his argument. There is lots of sexual connotation throughout the poem to illustrate my point such as ‘swells with one blood… ‘ and ‘It suck’d me first, and now sucks thee,’ to suggest the act of sex, yet also he is talking about the blood within the flea. This, he thinks, apparently strengthens the argument and it gives the audience the feeling that the language used in this poem is rather satirical, because it is such a weak argument, and he seems to be making fun of the fact that she won’t sleep with him.

I think all of these poems show a one-sided love, the first, the Duke can’t contain the Duchess’ love, so he loves her, but she doesn’t love him in the same way. In the second poem, ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ there is one-sided love in the fact that he wants to keep the love sacred to him, and he loves her in such a devoted manner, that she will never really give everything to him like he feels for her. And then in the last poem, we see one-sided love because he is trying to persuade her to do something that she doesn’t really want to do. But we can see in the last poem, this is more a one-sided lust more than love.

I think also, all of these poems show a male dominance because they are all narrated by men, and all show men trying to take control of women. This could possible suggest that they are sexist, because each poem has an element of sexism in it. Also, all the poems are written in monologues, this style of writing makes it easier to have insight into the narrator’s feelings and helps us identify with the narrator better. However, I think this also helps us to see how the man is trying to take control of the situation, and we also see that they are all pretty selfish in the poems, because they think of their own interests before their lovers.

In ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, for example he says that killing her is ‘fair… ‘ and ‘yet God has not said a word! ‘ This shows that he thinks he deserves to have her, and that no one has interrupted, so he is in the right. ‘And I, its love, am gained instead! ‘ We see the narrator’s selfishness; he doesn’t spare her feelings. The narrators can only think of what they want. The poets write about conduct in relationships, they show love through this conduct. The Duke showed his love by jealousy, ‘Sir, ’twas not Her husband’s presence only, called that spot Of joy into the Duchess’.

Porphyria’s lover showed his love through death, ‘Three times her little throat around, And strangled her. ‘ In the Flea, love is shown through sexual persuasion, and how much he wants her. ‘Just so much honour, when thou yield’st to me,’ These all show some form of love, even if it isn’t the traditional true love that we first assume would be concealed in these poems. The love shown in these poems isn’t the usual type of ‘true’ love, and they have chosen strange situations and people to represent love.

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