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 satirical ‘love’ poems, and poems about unfaithful and untrustworthy men. Some of the most famous love poems, though, the sonnets by Shakespeare are very romantic. They give other poets, and lovers, things to aspire to.
Shakespeare’s sonnets apply to all sorts of love. Sonnet CXVI appears to be about the nature of love whereas Sonnet XVIII is different, in that it is more personal, as if it is being written to someone. Both sonnets are romantic and shw the beauty and importance of love. Both using imagery, although different, it gives the poem more than just one meaning. Sonnet CXVI uses the imagery of navigation, ‘O no, it is an ever fixed marke, That lookes on tempests and is never shaken; It is the star to every wandering barke,’. Navigation was a great passion in the time of Shakespeare. Sonnet XVIII, however, uses the imagery of nature, comparing his love to ‘a Summers day’ yet saying that his love is more beautiful than this, that though the summer fades, her beauty does not, ‘By chance, or natures changing course untrim’d: But thy eternall Sommer shall not fade’.
Sonnets were traditionally about love and were a popular form of poetry, as they are very expressive. When writing a sonnet one has to write concisely; a sonnet should only have 14 lines. Shakespeare slightly altered the sonnet form by adding a rhyming couplet to the end.
Shakespeare’s sonnets are romantic, they hold love up and give one something to aspire to. In contrast to this is Ballad, by an unknown author.
The authors of most ballads are unknown as ballads are stories, quite often love stories or stories about unfaithful lovers, and are passed down from generation to generation, slightly altering each time. This particular ballad is a story of an unfaithful shepherd who courted a women then left her once she became pregnant. It seems as though she is telling the story to her sleeping child, ‘to thee, my child, unto thee’. At the the end she says:
‘I wish, my child, thoud’st ne’er been born,
I’ve made they pillow on a thorn;
I wish our sorows both away,
Our souls with God, our bodies clay.’
She seems to be considering killing herself and her child. She desperately wishes that none of this had ever happened, but she knows there is nothing she can do to change it: ‘I wish, I wish – but it’s in vain – I wish I was a maid again;’
Though the language in this poem is quite similar to Shakespeare’s sonnets, it is a much older poem.
Ballad, is not really about love but about the lack of love. It is a very melancholy poem, not unlike the poem First Love by John Clare.
Though First Love appears to be a poem about someone meeting their first love, it is really quite sad. He knows he cannot have this woman, ‘Are flowers the winter’s choice?’.
In the first two verses he tells of the physical and emotional impact of meeting this woman. He uses the imagery of nature, ‘Her face it bloomed like a sweet flower’ but mainly uses his emotional feelings as physical experiences, ‘My legs refused to walk away,’ and ‘I could not see a single thing,’ being two examples.
In the third verse he tells that though he loves her, and he thinks that she loves him aswell, that they cannot be together but he will never love another: ‘My heart has left it’s dwelling-place, And can return no more.’
The language is clear and direct, as is its verse form, perhaps to capture the immediacy and simplicity of the feelings.
This poem is most likely about John Clare’s own experiences. His background meant he could not marry the daughter of a wealthy farmer as he wanted to. He became mentally ill also.
Love has always been a popular subject of poems but poets approach it in a diversity of ways. From Shakespeare’s romantic sonnets to John Clare’s sad and simple love poem. Though they have their differences, they are all dealing with the human emotion of love, with its wonders and its sadness.