Love has always been written about since man could write. Through songs, poetry and stories there has always been more about love than other subjects. Love is easy to write about for those who have felt it, and can be written about in so many ways. More modern poems and songs about love are crude and more often than not about lust not love but poems pre-1900 were more romantic. Not all were as there were some ironic ‘love’ poems, and poems about unfaithful and untrustworthiness.
They give other poets, and lovers, things to aspire to. Love is a strange but a wonderful and powerful emotion. There are many different types of love, such as the love between parent and child, close friends, and the love between husband and wife. Throughout history, love has been expressed in many different ways. The primary
way that it has been recorded is through the expression of poetry. For centuries, many people have used love poetry and have been reliant on them. Love poetry will never cease as love is a constant feeling.
In this essay, I am going to select three pre19th century poems and comment on the comparisons between them. How they express their view on love and relationships. The three poems I am going to compare are “A Woman to Her Lover” by Christina Walsh, “When We Two Parted” by Lord Byron and “First Love” by John Clare. I will be comparing how these three poets express their views on love through structure, tone, language and imagery in their poems.
In the nineteenth century it was un-usual for women in conventional society to express ones love for men as women were usually possessions of the man. Females were considered to be second class citizens who were expected to refrain in conveying their natural feelings and emotions. Women were also socially neglected, as they were expected to remain at home whilst their respective husbands ensured the upkeep of the family by managing the family finances. The male population at this point in time ignorantly viewed women as reserved, innocent characters, seemingly unaware that women had the same feelings and emotions as themselves.
However, the poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning breaks the stereotypical view of the women in her famous poem “How do I love thee?” which probes a woman who shares her passion for her lover which is deflected from conventional Religious belief to love this man. Lord Byron was a man whose passion for life seemed unequalled by any of the other Romantic figures. Lord Byron’s most notable contribution to literature, the Byronic Hero, possessed many qualities which Lord Byron himself displayed in day to day life. The most notable is his affair with his own half-sister. This brought much grief to Byron as it caused many of his friends and supporters to abandon him. This led to the feeling of alienation which Byron shared with his Byronic Hero.
The first poem I am going to talk about is “A Woman to Her Lover” by Christina Walsh. This poem is about the poet’s four different views of love, which are slavery, idolisation, desire, and her view of love itself. All four distinct views of love are set out in separate stanzas and the first three of which are negative.
In the first stanza Walsh writes about slavery, which she starts of by saying “Do you come to me to bend me to your will” by which she means, are you with me because you really care about me or to just use me? She says this because she wants to be in a relationship in which her lover loves and cares for her rather than just to use her to do as he says. She also gives examples of how her lover could use her by saying, “To make of me a bondslave, To bear you children, wearing out my life” by this she means, to make me a slave and to have your children, wearing myself out. Her saying this we can see that she obviously wants to be treated equally and not just be the one to do work because she is a woman and the same with looking after the children. Walsh also makes her point clear by saying “No servant will I be” strongly which tells you that she would be quite independent in her relationship. At the end of this stanza she also says “If that be what you ask, O lover I refuse you!” to illustrate, if this is how you are going to treat me then I don’t want to be with you. She seems very upright when it comes to saying how she feels and if she wants something.
In the second stanza she talks about idolisation, which she starts of by saying “Or if you think to wed with one from heaven sent” with her saying this means you can tell that she isn’t very big headed about herself. She is basically saying that she wouldn’t call herself perfect. At one point she says, “Go! – I am no doll to dress and sit for feeble worship” in which she means that she does not want to be worshiped. This again says that she wants to be treated equally and not as a god, which is how other women would like to be treated, she is different. At the end of this stanza she also says “I refuse you!” which is repeated from the end of the first stanza. This tells us that if her lover doesn’t treat her right she isn’t afraid of loosing him.
In the third stanza she talks about desire and she begins by saying “Or if you think in me to find me” by this she is asking her lover if he would search for her as that is what someone who really cared about her would do. She also says “A creature who will have no greater joy” this tells you that she doesn’t want their relationship to just be about sex. She wants it to be about him being able to love and care for her in the right ways and also pleasing her not just in a sexual way. Once again she mentions caring in her relationship by saying “My skin soft only for your sense delight” this tells us she obviously wants her lover to care for her very much. Walsh ends this stanza by saying “Not for you the hand of any wakened woman of our time”. The last bit “woman of our time” tells us that women have changed over time and now they have equal rights which are given to men.
The forth stanza is where Walsh describes and tells us about the way she would like to experience love and the ways she would wants her relationship to be. She begins this stanza of by saying “But love, if you ask of me, That I shall be your comrade, friend and mate.” Her saying this tells us that she wants to be close to her lover, and be friends with his as well as lovers. In this stanza Walsh also puts in a lot of description of what she would want her relationship with her lover to be like. You can see this by when she says “To live and work, to love and die with you, That so together we may know the purity and height” this tells us, she wants to live, work, love and die with her husband and if that is what he wants too then they can grow old together. She once again gives another description of what she would want in her relationship by saying “Of passion, and of joy and sorrow, Then O husband, I am yours forever”. Walsh wishes to share passion, joy and sorrow with her lover. Once more she says if that is what you want to her husband, then I am yours forever. Walsh made it very clear that she wants an equal relationship with her lover. You can see this by when she said, “And our co-equal love will make the stars to laugh with joy” She ends the poem by saying “And to its circling fugue pass, hand holding hand, Until we reach the very heart of God.” By this you can see that she wants her and her lover to grow old together and also be together after death. In this final stanza she also refers to her lover as her husband, this tells us that if he treats her right then she may consider marrying him to.
The language Christina Walsh used was very strong and full of confidence. The way the poem was written was in a way were you can tell that the writer is an independent person and is full of self-esteem. Like when she said, “No servant will I be” and Fool, I refuse you”. By reading this poem I saw that Walsh’s view of love was quiet strong. She wanted it to end with her and her lover to grow old and die together. Although then again she would want an equal relationship rather then either her or her lover to be in charge. She also didn’t want her lover to treat her like a God, which is what women of this time would like. Other than that she has described her view of love and what she would want her relationship to be like with her lover, which is quite a romantic bond. This poem also tells us quite a bit about the attitudes towards men and women and marriage at that time. It tells us that the view of love and marriage was a complete opposite of what Walsh wanted out of her relationship. Marriage at that time was probably controlled by the men in the relationship and the women may have had to do what there lover told them to do. This poem is quiet effective at expressing the poet’s attitude towards love as it tells us what she would like her relationship to be like with her lover and she said she would like it basically to be like ‘typical love’, that most women would wish for.
The second poem I am going to looked at is “When We Two Parted” by Lord Byron. Lord Byron is a very famous English poet and was also known for taking drugs and sleeping with a number of women. This poem is about Lord Byron’s feelings after he broke up with Lady Francis Webster. Lord Byron and Lady Francis Webster’s relationship wasn’t an open one, as Lady Francis Webster was a married woman. Their affair must have been quite a serious one as Lord Byron found the break up very difficult. Another reason why he found the break up hard was because he couldn’t express his feeling to anyone, as no one knew about the affair.
Lord Byron started of the poem with a repetition of the title, which is “When we two parted” he then says “In silence and tears” which tells you straight away that it was a sad experience for him and that it was also not open. Then he tells us that it was her that grew to stop loving him. That she didn’t have the same love and feeling for him as she had from when they first started seeing each other by saying “Pale grew thy cheek and cold, Colder thy kiss.” Lady Francis Webster didn’t tell Lord Byron that she didn’t love him any more, Lord Byron told us this in the poem by saying, “Truly that hour foretold, Sorrow to this.” Lord Byron was also angry that she had broken promises she had made to him while they was together you can tell this by the tone of, “Thy vows are all broken”. He then wrote “I hear thy name spoken, And share in its shame” by this he means he hears people talking about Lady Francis Webster and he himself is ashamed.
He then said, “They name thee before me, A knell to mine ear” to illustrate this, it means that the public named Lady Francis Webster after Lord Byron and when he heard of this it brought funeral bells to his ears which are feeling of death, sadness, being upset and being buried. Him saying this is also comparing the end of the relationship to experiencing the death of a loved one, which highlights his negative view of love. He didn’t like the fact that others named her after him. Lord Byron asked himself “Why wert thou so dear?” by this he means why did I care about you? In a bitter way. Him asking himself this tells us that he really hates the fact that he cared for her so much and she betrays him by leaving him. Another thing it tells us is that he cared and loved her very much. He also says that he regrets being with her and being apart of this affair very much and he will do for a long time. You can see this by when he said, “Long, long shall I rue thee, too deeply to tell”.
At the end of the poem he then reveals that their relationship was an affair by saying “In secret we met” he also tells us that it wasn’t open and that he couldn’t talk about his feeling to others when he says “In silence I grieve”. Lord Byron is also bitter about everything as would others if they were in his position you can tell this by when he says “That thy heart could forget, Thy spirit deceive”. Lastly right at the end of the poem Lord Byron asks him self “If I should meet thee after long years, how should I greet thee?” he then answers it by saying “with silence and tears.” This tells us that he feels he will never stop loving her, as he would grieve if he were to see her again. Also that he wouldn’t talk to her again. This is also a repetition, which repeats the idea that the end of this relationship will hurt for a number of years and that it will never be discussed.
Lord Byron also uses two rhetorical questions one which is in stanza three “Why wert thou so dear?” and the other which is in the last stanza “How should I greet thee?” these two rhetorical questions suggest to us that Byron is questioning himself or Lady Webster about the relationship and how he should act now. “When We Two Parted” also has a ab, ab, cd, cd rhyme scheme of each stanza for e.g. parted which ends the first line of stanza one rhymes with hearted which ends line three, which is ab. For cd, cold which ends line five rhymes with foretold of line seven.
By reading this poem I saw that Lord Byron’s view of love was in a negative way as he had a very bad experience of a break up with his secret lover. His experience of this break up made him feel very angry and upset about love. The negativity of Lord Byron’s view of love was expressed very well in the poem, as it was clearly said to us.
Lastly the third poem I am going to look at is “First Love” by John Clare. In this poem, the poet John Clare who was a poor farmer’s son, talks about his “First Love”, who is the daughter of a rich man whom he could never marry. He talks about the state of physical and mental shock he is left with. The poet also uses rhetorical questions to show the reader that he is confused thought about love at first sight where at the start of the final stanza he asks the rhetorical questions, “Are flowers the winter’s choice? Is love’s bed always snow?” The poet wants the reader to realise just how he felt when he saw his “First Love” and also how he felt when he knew that he couldn’t have her.
John Clare felt something he had never felt before when he saw this woman. He had never felt this way about a woman either. It was his first time experiencing love. He pointed this out to us right at the start of the poem by saying “I ne’er was struck before that hour”. The way he said “With love so sudden and so sweet” you can tell that it was quick and it instantly hit him. He then said “And stole my heart away complete” which is a bit theatrical for someone he just saw but then this tells us that he really likes this woman. Some of the physical responses of John Clair seeing his love for the first time were that he froze and he couldn’t move, “My legs refused to walk away”. He also stared to blush, “And then my blood rushed to my face” and that she took his sight away. He couldn’t see anything around him but her, “And took my sight away”. The way Clair was communicating with his love was by his eyes “Words from my eyes did start” the eyes are a very striking part of the body and many people see that as a way of attracting the opposite sex. There is also a saying that “eyes are the key to a soul” which is also linked to love.
John Clare also used musical imagery, when saying, “They spoke as chords do from the strings” music is also often linked to love and romance which is probably why Clair would have mentioned music I the poem. Both the rhetorical questions, “Are flowers the winter’s choice?” and “Is love’s bed always snow” tell you that John Clare is confused about love, as both the questions them selves don’t make sense. As flowers and winter are total opposites and so are love’s bed and snow. Clare then finishes the poem by saying “My heart has left its dwelling place and can return no more” this tells us that he has given his heart away to her and it will not return as he isn’t going to love or marry anyone else but her. As well as “When We Two Parted”, this poem also has an ab, ab, cd, cd rhyme scheme of each stanza.
John Clare’s view of love was positive. By reading the poem you could see that very easily as the tone of language had all got to do with love and romance. Although he pointed out to us that he was slightly confused with the rhetorical questions. My view on this poem is that Clare kind of exaggerated a bit about love, as my opinion about love is that you can’t love some one until you know them. And what he is telling us is all about his love at first sight, which means he doesn’t know her.
Love has been conveyed in numerous ways throughout pre 1914 poetry. It
has always been a popular subject to write about as it is such a fundamental human emotion, and one of the strongest and long-lasting. To conclude all three poets used language, time era, structure and imagery to illustrate their view on love. All the poets have shown a negative and positive view on love. I feel that the most effective one at expressing the poet’s view of love was “A Woman to Her Lover” as she didn’t have any signs of confusion in the poem and mainly because she expressed the way she wanted her relationship to be like with her lover in the poem. The other two poems “When We Two Parted” and “First Love” both have rhetorical questions used in them, which show that the poet is confused about love.