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Love is one of the strongest, most powerful emotions that anyone will ever experience. It is a universal emotion that completes every individual and can be found in many different forms. Love is a life's quest waiting to be unravelled and once the sensational feeling it creates is released, the bond it holds over two individuals makes almost anything in life's journey feel possible. There are many different aspects of love. Often, it is defined as the moment in someone's life where they reach the peak of happiness and wish to spend the rest of their life with someone. Love can be romantic, or simply a form of affection that you hold for a family member. It can also be passionate, exciting and comforting, knowing that there is someone by your side who you can cherish and grow old with. Love is a breathtaking experience and once true love is found, nothing can be greater. However there are also many negative aspects of love. It can cause jealousy, insecurity, despair and even hatred. When a relationship ends, sometimes by death, it can often leave the partner feeling distraught, lonely and unwanted. People may feel there is nothing worth living for, leading to depression or even suicide. Consequently, many poets have written about love describing it in many different ways; such as ballads, free verse, iambic pentameter and most commonly, sonnets. These styles open up a wide range of ways in which a poem can be portrayed and the mood it creates.
We studied a wide range of poems that each discussed the theme of love. 'First love' by John Clare, describes the emotional feeling of first love and the happiness it brings. He mentions that love is innocent yet also describes how love can be painful and obsessive. 'How do I love thee?' by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, is written to emphasise the happiness her lover brings to her. 'A Birthday' by Christina Rossetti, describes the joys and effects that love has. 'When we two parted' by Lord Byron, explores the feelings of despair, hatred and upset caused by the separation of a lover. 'A Woman to her Lover' by Christina Walsh, describes the negative aspects of how men treat their wives and is standing up for women's rights. 'The last Duchess' by Robert Browning, looks at how love can cause jealousy. The poem describes the autobiography of a man who supposedly had his wife murdered as he was jealous that she attracted other men. 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci' by John Keats, describes the pain of being deceived by love and the sense of insecurity and loneliness it creates.
The poem, 'When we two parted' by Lord Byron, is a poem based on the aspect of loss and tells the story of a man who misses his love. The poem is written in the first person so it is possible that is autobiographical and refers to the separation of him and one of his many lovers. Lord Byron describes how things used to be and mentions his existing feelings about the past events of his life, as seen when he begins the poem: "when we two parted in silence and tears" showing that he is still living in the past. We learn how he feels through his present and future thoughts, which helps us to understand how he is feeling emotionally. Lord Byron has been so hurt by the incident that he is apprehensive about meeting her again and feels the need to prepare himself for what may happen in the future: "How should I greet thee?" This is an example of how his mood changes throughout the poem as he begins by thinking about the past and ends by thinking about the future. There is also a link as he uses the phrase "With silence and tears", to both start and end the poem. Perhaps he feels that when he sees his love once again he will be reminded of the painful memories of when she left.
The poem begins with a soft, flowing, regular rhyme scheme in each stanza, starting with ABAB CDCD however ends miserably at the end of each line, emphasising the heaviness it holds. The structure has been 'broken-up' into four, short, eight lined stanzas which also emphasises how his heart has been broken up into tiny pieces. The poem has a regular rhythm and rhyme scheme which suggests that as the writer was grieving, he is attempting to be more controlled and calm about the situation. As seen in the first stanza, the poem gives the impression that his love has died, "in silence and tears, half broken hearted". This suggests that he is mourning over the end of the relationship that his lover has ended; feeling unhurt yet left him feeling broken hearted. We also see this when he mentions: "pale grew thy cheek and cold, colder thy kiss" as it suggests that she is unnaturally cold and lifeless. We are also given the impression that perhaps this is because she was deceitful and only pretended to love him but then became bored. We learn from the second stanza that she broke all of the promises that she had made with him, "thy vows are all broken". Though vows are often acknowledged with marriage, they can also be used to represent the promises that join a couple together. Marriage vows can only be broken with death which suggests that their relationship died and thus so did their 'vows'. However, it is possible that Lord Byron had a secret affair with someone, who was already married meaning that he was causing their vows to be broken. We are also presented with the idea that they both did something shameful: "And share in its shame". This implies that Lord Byron feels guilty about what he became a part of and the tone of how it is written suggests that he feels a sense of regret. The third stanza also supports the idea that the lover has left him: "A knell to mine ear" which shows how he is constantly being reminded of the death of their relationship. In the last stanza we are told that "In secret we met", which implies that maybe he was having a love affair with a woman and so they had to meet in secret because it would have been forbidden love. Throughout the poem we see a mixture of different emotions which adds to the sad and tragic atmosphere that the poet creates.
Contrastingly, the poem, 'A Birthday' by Christina Rossetti' focuses on the happiness and joy that love brings. The poet describes all of the speaker's emotions and feelings associated with her birthday. There are many feminine references throughout the poem, such as when she compares her heart with a 'singing bird whose nest is in a watered shoot' as It is the female bird will build a nest for her young, so it is possible that the poet is also the speaker in the poem. The poem is written using the form of iambic tetrameter which creates a fast-paced heartbeat rhythm, showing her excitement for the day. There is use of tactile imagery: "Raise me a dais of silk and down; Hang it with vair and purple dyes". The silk is soft and precious and the vair, squirrel fur, is very expensive. The use of expensive medieval materials shows that she is feeling a sense of royalty and pride for being in love. It also shows that she is full of life. The poet uses repetition of "My heart" at the beginning of the first four sentences which emphasises her feeling of joy and shows her happiness and excitement for the start of this special day. She begins the poem by stating: "My Heart is like a singing bird" A singing bird is generally associated with romance which suggests that maybe her lover is coming to see her and the use of sound evokes a sense of peace and natural fulfilment. She also describes her heart like a "rainbow shell" which suggests that she is so blinded by the beauty of love, that it is as if she is tucked away in her own, small, little world. The last four sentences, she makes a list of instructions about what she wants before her love comes. This, yet again, shows the excitement she is feeling as she wants everything to be perfect for the arrival. She demands that her dais is "Carved in doves and pomegranates". 'Carve' symbolises that she wants it to be permanent so that the precious moment will never be forgotten and doves symbolises beauty and peace, so she wants it to be a happy day. 'Pomegranates' have hundreds of seeds which can represent eggs of fertility and love. However it can also be seen as a representation of new life. This gives us the impression that perhaps this poem is describing the arrival of a new born or simply signifies that she feels reborn. There are several other mentions that suggest this, such as: "whose nest is in a watered shoot". Birds often nest when they are going to lay eggs, which is a form of new life and a shoot also represents new life. The final line is the most significant as it has several different meanings as to what the whole poem is based upon: "Because the birthday of my life is come, my love is come to me". This may symbolise the fact that the birthday of her precious new born has arrived and now her heart is filled with love and joy. It may simply be a way of showing her happiness for remembering the day she was born or it could perhaps be that it is not her real birthday but represents a new special person she has met who makes her feel reborn. It is also possible that her love is religious and signifies her becoming closer to God, possibly by confirmation to the church.
The poet cleverly allows us to explore her feelings and visualise her emotions by using imagery that engages us with her imaginations by sound and touch: "paddles in a halcyon sea" creates vivid thoughts of standing on a beach and hearing people paddle in the depths of a beautiful turquoise, blue sea. We can see from the way that her mood does not change and remains throughout, that she looks at love in a very positive light and wishes to celebrate the happiness it brings.
We see a large contrast between 'A Birthday' and 'A woman to her lover' by Christina Walsh. This poem was written pre-1914, which was a time where men were seen to be the more dominant figure, over women. They had more authority over law and employment and most women would not have dared to speak out about the issue of sexism. The poem is therefore rather surprising, for the time it was written, as it is standing up for women's rights and making it clear that women have the right to be treated as equals to men. The speaker lists the commitments that women are expected to make, once married, and states how men regard women as domestic slaves, angels and sex objects. However in the poem 'A Birthday' we see that the speaker feels very much committed to her love as she seems to want to please him by making everything perfect before he arrives. The poem of 'A woman to her lover' is written in the form of free verse as this makes it easier for the speaker to talk and to argue their feelings. The first three stanzas have been used to point out the three main stereotypical views of women. The first stanza covers the area of being treated like a domestic servant and being expected, as a wife, to do the daily household chores: "to make me your bondslave" is written in a way that shows us her sense of disgust at the unflattering expectations of men. The poet also uses controlling, aggressive words: "as conqueror to the vanquished" to describe the way that women feel they are used as servants. In the second stanza the poet challenges the way some men control women by idolising them as beautiful possessions to look at. We see that there is a slight religious theme all the way through the poem as at one point, she refers to herself as an angel who has been sent down from heaven to do as he pleases. There is use of repetition on the last line of the first two stanzas: "I refuse you" which shows that she is trying to emphasise her message of being treated fairly and with respect.
In the third stanza the poet describes how many men feel that women are simply sex objects for them to own and to satisfy their desires. She accuses them of being lecherous: "My skin soft only for your fond caresses" We notice the persona's sense of disgust towards this matter and there is use of sibilance to describe her anger as it sounds like the words are being hissed out in hatred. The words used in this stanza are all negative which shows her anger for this ruthless behaviour. She even refers to herself as "a creature" which shows that her lover does not respect her, causing her feel like she is worthless and doesn't deserve to be treated like a human.
However, in the fourth stanza the tone changes dramatically where the speaker gives her lover the opportunity to change: "But lover, if you ask of me That I shall be your comrade, friend and mate". This shows that she is giving him the chance to show some negotiation. She also provides a sense of forever togetherness with the use of 'list of three'. The last stanza is the largest which emphasises the freedom she wants in marriage. In this poem, the poet is fighting for the love and respect that she wants from a relationship and from her partner. She also explains how she expects to be treated as an equal and for their love to be equally balanced: "our co-equal love will make the stars to laugh with joy". There is an emphasis on equality and collaboration: "we shall have music of the spheres for a bridal march... hand holding hand until we reach the very heart of God" which shows that these are the two issues she feels most strongly about. She describes how it is wrong and disrespectful to see woman as child-bearers, sexual objects and to be treated like servants. The poem is also directed at all the other men in the world as she is trying to stand up for all women. It is a powerful poem as it displays the issues of sexism in society and how she wants men to change their attitudes towards women.
Love can be complicated and yet a life changing experience. There are many forms of love and therefore poets have written about it in different ways. As seen in the three poems I have analysed, it is clear to say that love is one of the most powerful expressions in life and very often, it is what determines how people live. These poems have shown a mixture of emotions towards love, some being hatred, compassion and others sadness but overall they have shown that though love is a universal emotion, it can be experienced in so many ways.