The speakers in the poetry studied show love in very different ways and their attitudes frequently contrast with the popular attitudes towards relationships of the time period. The poems that I will be focusing on are; ‘How do I love thee? ‘ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, ‘A woman to her lover’ by Christina Walsh and ‘When we two parted’ by Lord Byron. All these poems were written in the Victorian era and are also known as part of the pre-1914 poetry. During the Victorian period, poetry was seen as the most acceptable form of writing.
I will be placing the poems in context of the Victorian era. As well as analysing the language and the meaning of the poem, I will also explore the form and structure of each poem. In the Victorian era there were different attitudes towards women’s rights compared with today. Prostitution was frowned upon, women used to cover up their bodies well and had no voting rights. Having an affair with another man meant the woman would be an outcaste to society much more than the man, even if it were the opposite situation.
Many women in marriages would have been unhappy because if they didn’t love their husband they could only get a divorce if their husband chose to do it and all their property would lie under their husband’s name. A woman’s reputation was her most precious asset so she had to remain pure and be faithful towards her husband. Many people in the Victorian era fortunately did have strong love bonds. One of which was Queen Victoria who was married to King Albert. Browning the author of ‘How do I love thee? ‘ also experienced a happy relationship. She shows this by using positive language and references to god.
But Walsh who wrote the poem ‘A woman to her lover’ has a different approach to love. She states in the poem that her perfect lover would be one who treats her equally and truly loves her. She proves to us that she is a woman in the Victorian era who is confident enough to break traditions and boundaries to find her true love. Another poet who has broken tradition and boundaries is Byron, who wrote the poem ‘When we two parted’. He talks about his affair with a woman and how he is now ‘heart-broken’ as they are both ‘parted’ from each other.
However he is a man so he does not need to worry if the society found out he was having an affair as the woman would be more likely to be barred from society. He does prove in the poem, however how much he loved her by telling us all his emotional thoughts and feelings towards her. The poem ‘How do I love thee? ‘ is a sonnet. It is about a joyful love attitude towards Browning’s husband. The evidence that shows this is positive language, ‘Grace’, ‘sun’ and ‘passion’. Browning also uses imaginary references to God to show the positive attitude to love, ‘My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight’.
Many lines in the sonnet use language to communicate the meaning of the poem. One of which is line two, ‘I love thee to the depth and breadth and height’ which means Browning is talking about the size of her love and how it covers all dimensions. Line six uses imagery to communicate her meaning of love, ‘Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight’. This line uses the word ‘sun’ to represent brightness and happiness, and uses the word ‘candlelight’ to represent romance and the night. She loves him all hours of the day.
Line eight uses references to god, ‘I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise’ which shows she loves ‘purely’ while others struggle to live up to the ideals of Evangelical Christianity. The structure of the poem is a fourteen-line poem also known as a sonnet. Many sonnets written represent different views of love. The sonnet is known as a strong and powerful declaration of love. Browning seems to ignore the typical petrarchan structure of having an octave and a sestet but rather concentrates on the power of her love. It was rare for a woman to write honestly about her love in the Victorian era.
Browning uses iambic rhythm to represent the beating of her lover’s heart. The repetitive phrase ‘ I love thee’ shows the poet can keep on listing all the different ways she loves her husband. The similarity between the poems ‘How do I love thee? ‘ and ‘A woman to her lover’ is they both use references to god to make love seem pure. Both poets believe true love is pure and honest. The phrase that shows this for Browning’s poem is, ‘For the ends of Being and ideal Grace’ and the phrase that shows this for Walsh’s poem is, ‘until we reach the very heart of God’.
The difference between the poems is that they are in different structures. ‘How do I love thee? ‘ is a sonnet and ‘A woman to her lover’ is a structured four-stanza poem. Both poems are very different, as ‘How do I love thee? ‘ uses positive language towards love and ‘A woman to he lover’ uses negative language towards love. The language used by Browning gives us an idea that she almost worships her husband. This contrasts to ‘A woman to her lover’ because Walsh is rebelling towards love. ‘How I love thee? talks about how deep and strong Browning’s love is whereas ‘A woman to her lover’ is more confident and wants her love to appreciate her.
‘How I love thee? ‘ also links to Shakespeare’s poem, ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? ‘ as they are both written in sonnet form. The Shakespearean sonnet, however, has a different structure to the petrarchan sonnet. Shakespeare’s sonnet uses rhyming couplets and more complex language to communicate love. This could be because the Shakespearean sonnet is from the Elizabethan period and Browning’ sonnet is from the Victorian period. A woman to her lover’ is about a woman who wants to break tradition and boundaries to find her perfect love.
Walsh declares she wants a true and pure lover who will treat her equally. Her attitude towards love is that love is the joining of two hearts and not just two bodies. She uses negative language to show she is a confident woman and is determined to find her true love. Walsh presents an argument in each of her first three stanzas. She says the phrase ‘o lover I refuse you! ‘ showing she’s not desperate to have any man but a man who will purely love her.
The first stanza in the poem represents slavery, ‘No servant will I be’. The second stanza uses language to represent worship. Words, ‘heaven’, ‘angel’ and ‘worship’ shows the theme of worship. In this stanza Walsh shows she does not want to be used, ‘Go! – I am no doll to dress and sit for your feeble worship. ‘ Stanza three then shows the theme of sex. Words that show the theme are, ‘joy’, ‘desire’ and ‘skin soft. ‘ Again Walsh is telling us she doesn’t want to be used and uses the word ‘abasement’ to show same on people who want to use her.
The last stanza is different to the rest as Walsh begins to use positive language, ‘Comrade’, ‘purity’ and ‘fugue. ‘ The change of tone represents what she is looking for, her true love. She tells us she wants to be equal and have a love of purity, ‘But lover, if you ask of me … Then O husband, I am yours forever. ‘ The use of harsh language is used to show how confident Walsh is so she doesn’t just get any lover but a lover who truly loves her for who she is. The structure of the poem is a four-verse poem. The structure helps communicate the meaning of the poem by the change of tone between the verses.
The first three verses is structured in each stanza to show what Walsh does not want to be used for, e. g. a theme for each of the three stanzas; slavery, worship and sex. Each of the three stanzas also uses negative language to show Walsh’s confidence. The last verse changes it’s tone to show a different attitude to love, a positive attitude. The similarity between ‘A woman to her lover’ and ‘When we two parted’ is that both poems follow a similar structure of different stanzas showing views of love. They are both structured poems in four verses.
The difference is that there is no change in tone between verses in ‘When we two parted’ like in ‘A woman to her lover. ‘ Also ‘A woman to her lover’ uses mainly confrontational language whereas ‘When we two parted’ uses mainly emotional language. ‘A woman to her lover’ links to the sonnet, ‘My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun’ as they both use negative language and an angry tone, ‘coral is far more red than her lips’ red. ‘ The tone of ‘A woman to her lover’ is not keeping with the subservience expected of Victorian women as Walsh is willing to break barriers and is confident.
She cares about her happiness more than what society thinks of her. ‘When we two parted’ is about a man who is having an affair and is ‘heart-broken’ as they have now ‘parted’. Byron’s attitude to love is that it is depressing once it comes to an end and you really appreciate what you had. The evidence that shows this are the phrases, ‘to sever for years’ and ‘colder thy kiss. ‘ Byron uses emotional language to show he is miserable that his affair with the woman has ended because you sense truly he loved her. The negative language used, ‘knell’, ‘shudder’ and ‘chill’ emphasises his sadness and bitterness.
The repetition of the words, ‘silence’ and ‘tears’ show us how deep his feelings are and how lonesome he has now become. Byron paints a very strong image of his lover in the poem. The phrases; ‘colder thy kiss’, ‘Thy spirit deceive’, ‘Vows are all broken’ and ‘Heart could forget’ all suggest Byron’s lover has forgotten the promises and vows and has broken them. She is cold and loveless meaning she has been unfaithful. He uses a bitter and irritated tone to show his hurting of the love. ‘When we two parted’ is a lyrical poem with four stanzas. Byron uses the structure to communicate the meaning of the poem by using rhythm.
This makes the poem tuneful which is a good effect to express his personal thoughts and feelings. All the stanzas talk about the different ways Byron remembers his lover. The similarity between ‘When we two parted’ and ‘How do I love thee’ is that both poets experienced love that meant a lot to them although Byron’s relationship had already ended. The difference between the poems is that they are in different structures because ‘When we two parted’ is a four-verse structured poem and ‘How do I love thee? ‘ is a sonnet.
They also have the totally opposite meaning from each other. When we two parted’ talks about how sad it is when a relationship is over and ‘How do I love thee’ talks about the joy of being in a relationship. The link between ‘When we two parted’ and ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? ‘ is that they both experienced a love relationship which meant a lot to them so they could use language and rhythm for the different ways they remembered the one they loved truly. ‘When we two parted’ contrasts to ‘How do I love thee? ‘ and ‘A woman to her lover’ because the poet is a man. It was quite rare in the Victorian era for a man to talk emotionally about his feelings and thoughts towards love.
In conclusion many different views of love are shown in the poetry I have read. I have learnt from the poems that love can be happy, sad and rebellious. ‘How do I love thee? ‘ shows us love is a happy and pure feeling. ‘A woman to her lover’ tells us you need to find true love with confidence and it has to be pure enough to be worthwhile. Lastly ‘When we two parted’ shows us when love has come to end it is very emotional and it is hard to forget about the one you loved. The poets have shown us many different views of love from their own personal experiences.