Poems of Love and Loss

“In the end it is the haunting sadness of regret and loss which is the pervading emotion that remains with us when we read love poetry. ” We get a feel for many emotions from the poems of love and loss that we have studied. On the one-hand, there are poems such as ‘First Love’ and ‘A Birthday’, which give us a sense of happiness, joy, excitement and awe. They leave you warm and glowing inside. On the other hand, there are the feelings of regret and loss that we gain from poems such as ‘When you are old’, ‘Cynara’ and ‘The Voice’.

This essay shall look at the language, structure and the ‘pervading emotion’ that remains with us once we have read the poems, and in particular ‘loss and regret’. When reading the poems ‘First Love’ and ‘A Birthday’, we are moved by the symbols and the way that they are used to build up a picture in your head. Much of the metaphors are very fruity and naturist. For example, in ‘First love’ John Clare describes the woman’s face as ‘a sweet flower’ and again in ‘A Birthday’ the imagery is packed in line after line: ‘My heart is like an apple tree’… ‘My heart is like a rainbow shell.

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These similes are critical to ‘First Love’. However, when compared with the other poems and their similes and metaphors it does not dominate our opinion of the love poems. For example, the way in which Ernest Dowson talks of the feast ‘Cynara’ it is far more effective and memorable than that of the imagery of ‘A Birthday’, ‘I cried for madder music and for stronger wine, /But when the feast is finish’d and the lamps expire’ [sic]. The way that Dowson balances the positive phrases, such as ‘madder music’ and ‘stronger wine’, with negative words, such as ‘finish’d’ and ‘expire’.

This juxtaposition gives the whole poem a far more powerful feel, and therefore the feeling of loss pervades when compared with the similes and metaphors in ‘First Love’ and ‘A Birthday’. The structure of the poems in ‘First Love’ and ‘A Birthday’ are not too dissimilar to those of ‘Cynara’ and ‘When you are Old’. The layout of both pairs of poems is almost exactly the same; both ‘First Love’ and ‘When you are old’ have three stanzas. However, the way in which the writer of ‘When you are Old’, W. B. Yeats, moves the poem on is far more intriguing.

When reading ‘First Love’, the feeling that John Clare is trying to put across, comes across within the first two lines. This helps to understand the rest of the poem, but once you finish reading it you feel as though it is rather unimaginative, and almost fake. The rest of the poem seems useless and is rather like nonsense. The exact opposite happens when you read ‘When you are Old’. W. B. Yeats reveals the reasons for his directions at the end of the poem, which leaves you wondering what the poem is about throughout the poem itself. This technique is far more powerful than that used by J. Clare, and thus does not penetrate us.

Having read the poems ‘Cynara’ and ‘When you are Old’, there are many different interpretations that you can take from them. For example, in ‘Cynara’ Dowson writes ‘But I was desolate and sick of an old passion’. This could be a description of an old lover, but it could also quite easily be the way that he lives his life now. The personal view that the reader can take from it makes the poem individual to them. By contrast, though the reader can relate to the poems ‘First Love’ and ‘A Birthday’, the poem has a singular meaning, which leaves the reader in situation of either agreeing with the idea or not agreeing with the idea.

Whereas, when reading ‘Cynara’ and ‘When you are old’ there is more chance of aligning your idea with that of one of the many meanings that can be read into the poem. In my opinion it is ‘the haunting sadness of regret and loss’ that are the ‘pervading’ emotions when reading love poetry. Much of this is down to the way that the writers use their metaphors, symbols and similes. There is an obvious difference in the way that they use them; the order and placement of the words are cleverer, and inevitably, far more memorable in the poems such as ‘Cynara’ and ‘When you are old’.

Another decisive factor in the pervasiveness of these poems of ‘loss’ and ‘regret’ is the way in which the writers place their feelings and meanings to the subject. However, the main reason poems of ‘loss’ and ‘regret’ are so pervading is because of the depth of the poem. This is backed up by the fact there are many interpretations in one poem. When compared with the solitary view of poems such as ‘A Birthday’, it evidently gives a lot more to think about and consider. This I think is the main reason that the reader will remember the poems about ‘loss’ and ‘regret’.

This leaves the reader thinking about the poem and considering the different possibilities that it could mean. When reading the poems about happiness and joy, the reader is given the meaning simply. There are no alternatives, and you either agree or disagree. Once you have finished reading the poem you disregard it. It has, along with ‘A Birthday’, a very transient feel to it, whereas, ‘Cynara’ and ‘When you are old’ are deeper. This is because the way that they have been written is a lot more complex and is therefore harder to understand. They make you think harder and wonder more as you read into the poem more.

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