Two poems with a completely the opposite views of love are ‘Valentine’ written by Carol Anne Duffy in the 2oth century and ‘How Do I Love Thee’ written by Elizabeth Bareth Browning written in the 19th century.
‘How Do I Love Thee’ is a poem written by a wife describing her love for her husband. She portrays love as a fairy tale, with red roses, hearts, gifts and happiness, passion and devotion, whereas the second poem – ‘Valentine’ portrays a more realistic side of love, where love is a powerful, passionate and wonderful emotion, but it does occasionally come with drawbacks. In relationships, unrealistic expectations help no-one.
In the first two lines of the poem, the poet describes the intensity of her love. She measures the size of her love to the size of the universe – ‘How do I love thee!? let me count the ways’ and ‘I love thee to the depth breadth and height’. The next couple of lines she explains that the love she has is like a basic need of life; such as food and shelter. She feels that she needs to love from the beginning of the day to the end; just the way she needs to possess the basic nededs of life. ‘I love thee to the level of every days most quiet need, by sun and candlelight’. Her love is given freely, it is not forced and she will fight for her right to love. ‘I love thee freely as men strive for right’. Her love for him is pure, she does not need or expect any praise. ‘I love with a passion put to use in my old griefs, and with my childhoods faith’. The phrase old griefs possibly refers to a tragedy that has happened in her past. . ‘And if god choose, I shall but love thee better after death’. Her love will not end with death but will continue through eternity.
There are two main themes of the poem. The main being ‘love’ and the second being ‘pain’. The theme of love is brought out in a very simple manner.The poem is begun with a question. ‘How do I love thee?’. This is an odd way to start a poem, as it makes the reader feel that the poet id doubting the love she feels. On the other hand this line creates a kind of suspense, because the reader begins to wonder what will happen as the poem progresses. The poet goes on to use a metaphor – ‘I love thee to the depth breadth and height’. This proves the readers judgement of the first line wrong. This is because she begins to answer the question that she asks in the first line, by describing her love to a three dimensional object.
The poet does not use a lot of imagery in the poem. This does not affect the quality of the poem, because she expresses a lot of opinions and emotions that are associated with love. The only form of imagery she uses is ‘sun and candle-light’. The sun and candle light show signs of brightness and light in her life. They create the image of a happy love life, but these objects are not definite objects. This makes the reader doubt whether her love life is indeed that happy, as a candle flame can be put out easily and the sun does not always shine.
The writer does not seem to mention the name of the person she loves, or even the relationship she has. As readers we do not know whether the person she is writing about is a lover, boyfriend or husband. She uses the word ‘ thee’. This gives us the impression that she may love the person, but the person does not love her back as there is no indication of the man’s feelings for her. This could also mean that she may want the man to have read the poem and understood her feelings for him.
The second theme is ‘pain’. Most people have painful memories – memories of family members or even heartbreaks. Elizabeth reveals a part of her past ‘griefs’. It seems that she has suffered the loss of many important people in her life. ‘In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.;I love thee with a love I seemed to lose’. These two lines suggest that she has lost people people in her childhood, and has learned to love the way she wished she had been loved as a child. By giving us an insight in to her past and childhood, she has made it very clear that these painful events have affected the way that she loves at present. Even though there is only a small portion of her pain and grief revealed, she gives us quite a realistic picture of herself.
All in all, I feel that even though the poem could be analysed negatively, there are more positive aspects to it. I feel that she is indeed in love and is portraying the emotion in a very significant way. She portrays herself to be happy and shows us that indeed even though she has suffered losses and been lonely in the past, she has overcome it all and learnt to love again.
The second poem ‘Valentine’ is written in a much more modern form. It is an unusual poem and possibly gives a more realistic view of love.
‘Valentine’ begins on a much harsher tone. The title ‘Valentine’ makes the reader imagine that the poem is actually about love, and is related to Valentines day. This is not really the case as it is not related to romantic love, but this poem uses an onion (a symbol of representation of love) to show the hardness of the love, it can make you cry. ‘Not a red rose or a satin heart.’ This is unusual – because most people give these types of things as Valentine’s Day gifts, it is unexpected. Duffy grabs our attention even more, astonishing the reader when she says ‘I give you an onion.’ This is the last gift a person would ever dream of giving as a Valentine’s day gift. Referring to it as a ‘moon wrapped in brown paper’ that ‘promises light,’ Duffy is also saying that lovers promise ‘light’ and hope, painting a positive picture of love. Later on, Duffy presents a more negative view, saying that an onion:
‘…will blind you with tears like a lover.’ Here she pointing out that love has a dark side to it. If it goes wrong, it can bring grief and make a person cry, making their reflection ‘a wobbling photo of grief,’ using imagery to describe the view of a person crying in front of a mirror.
In comparison to the first poem, Valentine’s message is that love does not last forever, and is not perfect—with the poet saying that lovers will ‘blind you with tears’—even though it is a beautiful thing, with Duffy also referring to lovers as ‘possessive and faithful’.
In the fifth stanza, Duffy rejects, as in the first line, a cute card and a kissogram. She rejects this gifts because are typically symbols of Valentine ’s Day and they remind her of a past she is trying to forget. She is also creating the image that true love is not what people think. People have a false view of love. . Duffy clearly points out the good aspects of love when she calls it ‘possessive and faithful,’ like the taste of an onion. However, she admits that this possessiveness only lasts ‘for as long as we are.’ Here she acknowledges that love is not everlasting; for some couples their relationships are much shorter. In comparison the first poem tells us that love lasts forever and that the poet’s love lasts for eternity.
This points out the difference in the view of love of the two time periods – where love was expected to last for eternity and true love only came once in the 19th century, whereas in the 20th century love only lasts as long as we make it last.
Although it does not follow the precise rhyme scheme of an Italian sonnet, the poem’s structure follow the form of an Italian sonnet, consisting of an octet – the first eight lines, and the sestet, the final six lines. There are two main themes of the poem. The main being ‘love’ and the second being ‘pain’. Whereas Valentine has an irregular structure and no rhyme scheme – a more modern, interesting way to organise a poem. its main theme and purpose is to show that love is not a fairytale.
This poem is written in 1st person, it expresses love in a pessimistic way: ‘lethal’, ‘cling to your knife’… She uses an onion to explain love, going from the idea that it’s really romantic. The poem also focus on the thoughts and emotions of the speaker, you could imagine the reactions of the person they’re talking to. The poet also never reveals the sex or identity of either person.
As you can see, there are quite a lot of differences in the two poems. One creates the image of the writer being in love and expresses a passionate emotion. She is crazy about her husband and can not imagine a life without him. She portrays the good side of love, and expresses the joy as well as happiness that love brings. On the other hand the second poem portrays a completely different side of love – a side we do not usually associate with love. She compares love to an onion and describes the pain that love gives a person. The heart breaks, and the figths. There is a strong message behind the second poem, because it tells us how much love can hurt a person.
I think that both poems are useful, because they portray and tell us the truth about love. They show us the happiness and joy that love brings, and the pains and sorrow that a broken heart can bring. All in all I agree with both poets perspectives of love, because they are both quite reliable.