Victorian poems show love to be very strong and overpowering. This is expressed in many different ways, they include negative imagery and, on the other hand, positive imagery. In Victorian times, there was a much suppressed attitude. This was because Queen Victoria was in mourning from the death of her husband, Albert, due to typhoid. The country became very solemn from this so people started to express their feelings through poetry. The country had strong morals on issues such as family values, polite manners and religion. The characteristics of Victorian values included thrift, hard work and morals, with a love of home and its comforts. Romance and realism, sentiment and common sense were a Victorians view of the family.
The studied poems are “First Love” by John Clare, “How Do I Love Thee?” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “A Birthday” by Christina Rossetti, “A Woman to her Lover” by Christina Walsh and “When We Two Parted” by Lord Byron. John Clare describes his first ever experience of romantic love, Elizabeth Barrett Browning describes all the different ways in which she loves someone, Christina Rossetti describes romantic love, Christina Walsh describes how love has made her miserable and what her lover can do to make it better and, unlike Christina Rossetti, Lord Byron describes love very negatively.
Different events in the poet’s lives might have influenced the way in which they write about love. In John Clare’s early adult years, whilst working as a pot-boy in a public house, he fell in love with a local farmer’s daughter, Mary Joyce. Her father forbade her from ever meeting him and this could have influenced the way he wrote about love as he describes these first feelings in “First Love”. He could have written other poems about the fact that he was not allowed to meet her and questioned the reasons that they were not allowed to meet. When Elizabeth Barrett met Robert Browning, their courtship and marriage was carried out secretly, as was the composition of her poems.
This may have influenced the way she wrote about love because of her personal experiences. Christina Rossetti had a very sad life; her family had financial difficulties when born due to her father’s deteriorating mental and physical health and she suffered a nervous breakdown at 14 followed by bouts of depression. During this time her, her mother and sister were intrigued by the Anglo-Catholic movement, this played a large part in her life as in her late teens she became engaged to James Collinson and later Charles Cayley, these relationships both ended due to religious reasons and she lived with her mother all her life. This could have contributed to the influence and the way she wrote about love because of her close family and traumatic past.
While at Burgage Manor with his mother, Byron cultivated several important friendships with Elizabeth Pigot and her brother, John. Then, at College, he fell deeply in love with a fifteen year old choirboy, John Edleston; he later died and in his memory composed a series of elegies, Thyrza. He had many affairs after college: with Nicolï¿½ Giraud, a boy who taught him Italian, Lady Caroline Lamb, with whom he broke off the relationship, his half-sister, Augusta Leigh and Lady Caroline’s cousin, Anna Isabella Milbanke to name a few. These facts could all have influenced his way to write about love, because of his extravagant ways and scandalous affairs.
Attitudes towards love and relationships were very different from today. Victorian society was very respectful and etiquette was important. It was necessary for a single woman to know who she could and couldn’t speak to; a proper introduction was usual and it was not polite to dance with a complete stranger. Young ladies were constantly chaperoned. To be seen in public alone with a man who was not family would most certainly ruin her reputation. Gentlemen had to decide whether or not they could smoke or have a glass of sherry in front of a lady. Also whether or not to bow or who to tip your hat at could cause problems if the wrong decision was made. Victorians did not recognise there was a lower class: chimneysweeps, rat catchers or factory workers had no place. Laws for protection of the poor were put into place; however, this resulted in workhouses being opened, which had very bad conditions. The romantic era showed the expressions of passion and personal feelings, much of the poetry stemmed around romance and the Victorian changing society. There was an increased interest in nature, a growing interest in scenery, on religion and the poetry of this time expressed these traits.
All of the poems are Victorian love yet each expresses different moods and tones. In “First Love”, the overall tone is intimately emotional changing to realisation of the event which had occurred. The intimately emotional tone is set by using words which suggest intensity, suddenness and surprise. “I ne’er was struck…With love so sudden…” The verb ‘struck’ shows the impact of the experience and the adjective ‘sudden’ shows how instantaneous it was. In “How Do I Love Thee?” the overall tone is dignified and intimate. Browning creates this tone by stating all the positive ways in which she loves someone. “I love thee…freely…purely…with the passion put to use…” Freely, purely and passion are all positives in a relationship, so she is using them to display the positivity to her love. The overall tone of ‘A Birthday’ is very happy and jovial. This tone is created by comparing the beauty of being in love to natural elements. “My heart is like a singing bird…paddles in a halcyon sea” The “singing bird” and the “halcyon sea” are perfect, beautiful, natural elements so she is personifying these elements to show the greatness and happiness in her love. Although “First Love” is has a very similar tone to “A Birthday” they are not the same.
A feature that they both share is that they both are quite positive and happy. However, something that the poems do not have in common is that Clare’s is extremely emotional and personal; about him and his experience. On the other hand Browning’s could be compared to anyone’s experience and the beauty of being in love. The overall tone of “A Woman to Her Lover” is fairly heavy until the last stanza when she lightens the mood; although she is solemn throughout. She creates this mood by using a rhetorical question, answering it with what she would not like. “Do you come to me to bend me to your will…to make of me a bond slave…to bear you children…in drudgery and silence no servant will I be.” This shows that she clearly states to her lover how she expects him to treat her, putting her point across and wanting equality in this relationship; this equality in a relationship points to the equality she wants in the patriarchal society as it was then.
In “When We Two Parted” the tone is quite cold and gloomy. This is created by the hate and coldness he portrays. “When we two parted in silence and tears…dew of the morning sunk chill on my…it felt like a warning of what I feel now…long, long shall I rue thee too deeply too tell.” By starting the poem with “silence and tears”, he is already creating a very down atmosphere by using negative actions, the gloominess of saying how he feels but not what he is feeling is a clever technique he has used to mystify the poem and put on edge on what had happened thus carrying on to say how deeply he now hates her for what she did bringing about the cold mood surrounding the poem.
There is a lot of different imagery in the poems as well as different language used by the poets and in different ways. In “First Love”, John Clare uses words that show that love can cause pain as well as pleasure. “Struck…blood…burnt” Clare has used these painful words to describe his feelings from love to show that the assumption that love is all pleasure is proved wrong and is shown that there can be pain. The poet suggests that love has taken over his life and left him completely helpless. He does this by using metaphors to suggest that his bodily functions have been affected. “My legs refused to walk away…my life and all seemed turned to clay…took my sight away…I could not see a single thing…” He shows that he is fixated and cannot do anything stop it. John Clare used traditional imagery of love poetry in the poem. This is where he writes, “her face it bloomed like a sweet flower.” This shows that he is using a simile to compare the lady to something very sweet and beautiful, therefore creating a very powerful image in your mind.
There is a contrast between his feelings and the lady he loves, she does not reciprocate his feelings for her and he is left disappointed. “She seemed to hear my silent voice, and loves appeal to know.” This explains that she knows what he is feeling yet does not return the love to him. The questions in the final stanza, “Are flowers the winter’s choice? Is love’s bed always snow,” shows that he is in a heart-broken state of mind. “I ne’er was struck…with love so sudden and so sweet…” are an example of sibilance in the poem, the effect this has is that it emphasises the words “struck” and “sudden” to make the most impact and show that he was struck by love and that the experience was so sudden. In “How Do I Love Thee”, Elizabeth Barrett Browning suggests that there are many ways she loves him by stating there are many and listing them. “Let me count the ways…
I love thee to the…I love thee to the…I love thee freely…I love thee purely…I love thee with the… I love thee with a…” By starting with “ways” plural she is already suggesting there are multiples, she then carries on to list the ways in detail. She tries to explain the size of her love by comparison in “depth and breadth and height” in everywhere her “soul can reach” indicating her emotions are too great to measure. She suggests that she will always love him. “I shall but love thee better after death.” Here, she is explaining that there is no end to her perfect love, that it is eternal and that not even death can stop it. By referring to religious language such as “grace…praise…faith…saints…God…”
Elizabeth is making love sound like a religious experience. Browning uses much more religious, non-physical language to describe the lifelong love she has for her lover in comparison to Clare’s short, first love experience including language about the physical, clear and direct side. This may have been because Clare’s direct language could have been used to aim the simplicity and immediacy of the feelings and physical effects to the reader. Browning’s language, however, is much more about the depth of her feeling and religious aspects rather than the physical side of it. The significance of the title of “A Birthday” by Christina Rossetti is that the poem is about celebrating love and a birthday is a celebratory time so it is a comparison of two very happy times.
She uses images from nature to compare natural perfection with the perfect fulfilment of love… “My heart is like an apple-tree, whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit.” She is comparing her heart to an apple-tree. She may have used the apple tree instead of just a normal tree because an apple-tree is much better than a normal tree and is special as it is producing fruit. This therefore shows that she is trying to put the message across that her love is special. Rossetti has very ambiguous and extravagant feeling in the poem and she uses imagery to create this setting.
This setting is created by her wanting of a “dais of silk and down” that can act as a celebratory monument of the love that she wants to decorate “with vair and purple dyes… carve it with doves and pomegranates…” to name a few of the list of decorations she describes. Rossetti uses elaborate language that helps depict a fairy tale image, whereas Browning’s language gives a religious feeling to her poem contrasting to the simpler expression of love Clare displays. Christina Walsh uses military imagery in “A Woman to her Lover” to suggest the power men have over women. She does this by establishing control through a question and answer that are implied and given.
“Do you come to me to bend me to your will? As conqueror to the vanquished…” She uses “your will” to suggest control over her that she predicts he wants therefore showing the men have power over women and she doesn’t like it. The repetition of the phrase “I refuse you” gives a very stern tone that does not sound like the stereotypical Victorian woman; who should not rebel and set the terms of the relationship as she does. In stanzas one and two, Walsh uses images that suggest the loss of freedom Victorian women could suffer in marriage such as: “bend me to your will”, “bond slave”, “bear you children, wearing out my life”, “no servant will I be” and “sit for feeble worship.”
In the phrase “wakened women of our time” Walsh is suggesting that modern women demand equality and that no modern woman is the one for him if that is what he wants, the alliteration shows up “wakened woman” to make them stick out so they linger in your mind optimises the heavy tone. In the final stanza she uses universal imagery to get the image of her ideal marriage partnership across to him. This therefore suggests that true love between equals is much more happy and positive with no downsides for either half. Lord Byron writes in “When We Two Parted”, “A shudder comes o’er me, why wert thou so dear?” He writes these words to suggest his feeling of regret.
This is shown by the questioning of what he could have possibly ever seen in her, carrying on to the vow to never have feelings for her if they were to ever meet again. Byron’s imagery of cold in “pale grew thy cheek and cold, colder thy kiss” is suggesting a loss of passion by the lack of life in coldness comparing it to the lack of intimacy he has, for example “thy kiss.” John Clare also uses imagery to suggest coldness as a loss of passion by stating “Are flowers the winter’s choice? Is love’s bed always snow?” Flowers do not grow in winter, so it is again, lifeless, hence “love’s bed” of snow.
First Love has a regular rhyme structure which reflects the purity of the emotion from the simplicity of the poem. “How do I Love Thee” takes the form of a sonnet, this is appropriate as the poem is like a monologue as she seems to answer a question so a flowing speech suits the 14 line poem. Browning makes use of repetition with the ‘t’ and the ‘th’ sound. The phrases which are repeated are used to emphasise the meaning o the poem. Browning makes use of repetition with “my heart”, that is like a hypnotic chant drawing us in. The effect of having no rhyme scheme in “A Woman to Her Lover” is that the poem can be taken much more seriously to match the heavy tone.
The final stanza of “A Woman to Her Lover” is longer than the previous three because the first three are her refusing to be what he wants her to be whereas the last stanza is how the relationship can be equal and what she would consider to be in a married life. The short lines in “When We Two Parted” are to add to the effect of the cold, bitter mood. He achieves cohesion in the poem by returning to the opening stanza in the final lines of the last thus creating a join to make it a united whole.
Love is presented differently in each of the poems by the poets. In “First Love” love has been presented through the physical and emotional effects by John Clare. In “How Do I Love Thee”, Elizabeth Barrett Browning presents love by trying to express the depth; she has changed abstract nouns into proper nouns to prove their importance. Christina Rossetti presents love by sharing the positive and uplifting sensations of love and celebrating the joy it brings; she uses imagery of nature and summer as well as a comparison to one of the happiest times of life, a birthday. In “A Woman to Her Lover”, Walsh presents love through the conditions she expects the man to agree with if he was to become her husband. And finally, Lord Byron presents love in this poem as something he has lost.
His shame and his grief are also very strong in description. Of all the poems, my favourite is “A Birthday” by Christina Rossetti. This is because it is a celebration of love rather than the after effects of a broken heart. It also has a light, cheery attitude whereas the other poems are slightly disheartening. Overall the poems are about love and loss. The innermost feelings and emotions of love between two people are discovered and expressed in detail. Both negative and positive emotions are explored and the effects it has on both people are portrayed.