Compare and contrast the work of three different poets and show their varying portrayals of love. You should also refer to the poets’ use of style and language.
Different forms of love are explored in love poetry, some look at the happiness and joy typically associated with love whilst others expose the depressive heartache and vulnerability that people experience when they are in love. In the poems ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, ‘First Love’ and ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ a range of experiences affected by love are exposed. ‘First Love’ explores the physical and emotional affects of unrequited love much like in ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ where the poet examines the overpowering nature of love and lastly an obsessive and more sinister side of love is captured in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’. Each poem focuses upon a different theme of love challenging the stereotypical idea of the effects, actions and emotions associated with love.
In the poem ‘First Love’, Clare explores the overwhelming and devastating effects of unrequited love. The effect of this type of love is distressing with powerful physical and emotional effects which are conveyed in Clare’s actions which leave him vulnerable. Clare was “struck” by the emotional force of love conveying the sudden and unexpected nature of the situation. The use of onomatopoeia in the word “struck” creates a harsh sounding word reflecting the way in which love came over him. The personification of the word “struck” captures the way in which love inflicts pain upon Clare subsequently making him weak and vulnerable. As she “stole my (his) heart away” Clare is left defenceless to the women’s power
and effect on him. Much like the knight from “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” he becomes fascinated by her and loses control of his physical movements and appearance. Clare’s physical reactions are strong as his “face turned pale as deadly pale” as the colour is drained from his face, sinister and deadly imagery is created portraying the unpleasant side of love. “Palely loitering” the Knight from “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” also suffers from similar disturbing physical reactions.
Clare compares his life to “clay” hinting at how his life was once aimless and formless but now after his traumatic experience with love he “can return no more” to how he once was much like a changed form of clay. The idea of clay captures his vulnerability but also the idea that he is easily influenced with no control over his emotions; he allowed his life to be changed and moulded by her love. At the start of the poem the pace is fast and reflects how the feeling of love has “struck” him suddenly. The use of enjambment in the first verse allows the poem to flow so the pace is consequently quick. The use of enjambment in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ captures the fluid movement of him strangling Porphyria.
The fluidity that is captured in consequence of using enjambment is oxymoronic as what should have been a violent and horrific action is portrayed in a calm and peaceful manner. The different uses of enjambment contrast each other. When Clare’s sight is taken away from him he has yet again fallen victim to another physical attack as it “seemed midnight at noonday”. It is as if she is now the brightness in his life and like a world without sun, without her he cannot survive. She has the power of his welfare and happiness much like Porphyria who makes the cottage “blaze up” upon arrival. Both women have a great deal of power over their admirers leaving the men weak against their actions.
The poem has a natural iambic rhythm that conveys the poet’s speaking voice making the poem flow with ease. The iambic metre breaks down in the third verse which slows down the overall pace of the verse. As the pace deteriorates so does Clare’s experience and view to love. The slower pace allows Clare to address the reader in an engaging manner asking “Is love’s bed always snow?” Clare’s experience of love is one of unrequited heartbreak, he feels rejected and isolated from his loved one. The poem challenges the stereotypical view of a warm, passionate and caring love as for Clare it was a cold, harsh and unloving experience.
In the poem ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ Keats explores the power of love and its effects upon its victim. Keats takes form of the narrator in the first three verses who discovers the heartbroken “knight-at-arms”. The mood is gloomy with depressing undertones as the “sedge wither’d from the lake” we get an overall sense of lack of life or purpose. Winter is associated with death and emptiness much like the Knight’s aimless actions. The environment reflects the unhappiness of the “haggard and so woebegone” knight. Pathetic fallacy is used to match the weather with the knight’s mood which is portrayed as being depressing and dismal. ”. Keats discovers the knight “alone and palely loitering” and tries to understand his situation. It is as if death is reflecting off of his face with “a lily on thy (his) brow”. Lilies are typically associated with death exposing the depressing mood of the poem.
When the knight first meets the “faery women” the atmosphere of poem lightens and becomes a great deal happier in mood. Her “hair was long, her foot was light” capturing the feminine and seductive nature of the “faery lady” to which the knight is highly attracted to. This attraction and seduction is also found in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ in where Porphyria acts in provocative manner when removing her damp clothes. Porphyria “made her white shoulder bare” also allowing her “damp hair fall”; this action is typically very feminine and attracts his passion. The “faery lady” enchants the knight which is captured when he “made a garland for her head” showing how much he adores her. The knight believes that the “faery lady” is “beautiful” and is clearly trapped by her love. The ballad form is entirely suitable for this poem.
An iambic tetrameter beat is used throughout the poem with exception to the fourth line in each quatrain. The last line is shorter with less syllables and beats creating an incomplete feel. This effect draws the reader’s focus to the last lines conveying the incomplete love of which the knight feels for the faery lady. The poem is written as a dialogue, a technique that makes the poem striking and effective in engaging with the reader. Keats uses natural imagery to convey the beauty and magical nature of his experience much like Clare in ‘First Love’. Clare metaphorically suggests that the woman he adores is as beautiful as a “flower” which are typically associated with love and beauty.
The repetition of the word “wild” emphases the faery lady’s supernatural persona, her mysterious “language strange” makes the knight assume that she loves him much like how Porphyria’s lover assumes that Porphyria “worshipped” him and wanted nothing more than to stay with him all of the time. These misconceptions lead to bad consequences which are once again found in both ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ and ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’. The faery lady victimises “pale kings and princes” because she has the power to captivate powerful men. No matter how significant they are, the men she chooses cannot escape her enchantment, it is as if they are in a state of eternal unhappiness. The “pale warriors” attempt to warn the knight in a dream which is ironic because he has already fallen in love with her and it is too late.
In the poem, ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, Browning explores the harmful effects of a more possessive, jealous and dangerous love. Browning uses vivid imagery to set the scene and mood of the poem. As the “sullen wind” “tore the elm-tops” and “vex (es) the lake” the personification of the wind is portrayed as being destructive and disturbing perhaps foreseeing the later murder of Porphyria. The angry and unsettled weather reflects the anxious and depressed man with a “heart fit to break”. The man is clearly in a worried and depressive state whilst waiting for his lover, Porphyria, to arrive. Pathetic fallacy is used to reflect the intensity of Porphyria’s lover’s anxieties. The effects of Porphyria’s arrival set in immediately as “she shut the cold out and the storm”; she has the power to relieve him of his anxieties and fear.
The use of enjambment creates fluidity and allows the mood of the poem to become softer and calmer. Her presence is so overwhelming that it he forgets about the raging storm outside. Porphyria causes the fire to “blaze up” making her seem powerful and more beautiful to her lover. Like fire, Porphyria gives the man warmth and security, it also conveys their passionate love however this comparison is oxymoronic because fire is also dangerous. Much like Porphyria, the “faery lady” in “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” holds a great deal of power of the knight. A knight’s “steed” represents strength and gives the knight power, when he places “her on my (his) pacing steed” she takes that power and strength away from him giving her authority. He is transfixed by the faery lady who disempowers him and emasculates him.
She has complete control over the knight. Ironically despite his powerful status and strong armour the knight allows the faery lady to captivate him. This no longer conforms to the usual perception of knight. “Passions sometimes would prevail” implies that they share a secret love due to Porphyria’s “vainer ties. Her pride will not allow her to “dissever” her status making their illicit love a huge anxiety for her lover. Overwhelmed by love and lack of power he acts in an impulsive manner and “strangled her” so that she could never leave his side. I found this shocking and disturbing to think that he would murder Porphyria in such a horrific way, Browning really grabs the reader’s attention at this pivotal moment in the poem.
The enjambment used in the key lines of the poem captures the fluid movements of his actions reflecting his impulsive actions. Porphyria’s lover has a distorted perception of how the corpse of Porphyria reacts to him, after kissing her on the cheek she “blushed bright beneath my (his) burning kiss”. He believes that although Porphyria is dead she is responding in a loving and passionate way. After the death of Porphyria there is a clear reversal of power, he has taken back the power which Porphyria once held as his “shoulder bore her head”. This poem explores the dangerous obsessive love and how jealous can affect love.
A main theme held in all three poems is the idea that women are unattainable. Women are idolised and portrayed as powerful and beautiful with the ability to make their admirers suffer physically and mentally. In ‘First Love’ and ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ the victims of love feel the effects of love physically as they both turn pale, the experience of love for them both was one of unrequited love resulting in unhappiness. For ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ the jealousy of his lover’s “Vainer ties” proved to be too overwhelming resulting in a shocking murder and deluded perception of what Porphyria wanted. In conclusion all three poems do not conform to the stereotypical view of love; they explore the unhappiness, torment and jealousy that are not typically associated with the experience of love.