Poets have written about love in many, possibly countless ways, each of them emphasising different aspects of an emotion which is at once both wide and deep. I have studied a range of love poems exploring married love, unrequited love, possessive love, destructive love and even lost love. Some seem to be personal, such as John Clare in his poem “First Love”; whilst others are celebrating finding their ideal partner such as Christina Rossetti in “Birthday”. However, Rossetti also describes and everlasting selfless love in “Remember”, when she anticipates her own death.
Finally Lord Byron writes a sad lyric poem about the end of a relationship and the sorrow that follows. Two sonnets describing a perfect love are written by Rossetti and Elizabeth Barrett Browning; they are “Remember” and “How Do I Love Thee”. The forms and styles of the poems vary from creepy dramatic monologues such as Browning’s “Porphyria’s lover” to the more simple lyrics like Rossetti’s “A Birthday” I will now compare A Birthday, How Do I Love Thee? and First Love in detail. A Birthday presents love as being a special occasion.
It also shows love as being a happy occasion by using many positive words. How Do I Love Thee? is a more religious poem and to me it presents itself as being a poem that sees love as being very holy and created by God. This makes it very precious and pure and should not be destroyed. First Love is in comparison a very sad and pessimistic look at love. The poem looks at love as being something that destroys a person from within. However the beginning of the poem is much alike to A Birthday. The poem First Love begins by being very vibrant.
The title suggests the love as being overwhelming, passionate and painful. The poem opens with the line “I ne’er was struck before that hour” the elision used maintains the rhythm and the use of the word struck shows that love cannot be planned and when it hit’s it hit’s hard, without allowing the victim to prepare. The next line is much more soothing after the force of the previous line as the poet has used alliteration, “so sudden … so sweet”. The poet goes on to use many similes, which relate different images together, ” bloomed like a sweet flower”.
This suggests that the poet can see her inner beauty. The love develops into something completely different when the author describes his face as “deadly pale”. The love now seems threatening and resembles a disease, which is a very different outlook to before where love was natural and perfect. The poet later describes love as making a person physically incapable, “legs refused to walk”. This again creates the image of love as being threatening. At the end of the stanza the poet says, ” turned to clay” the clay in my opinion represents death which is cold and unworthy of thought.
This ends the stanza on a very negative tone and this in contrast to the beginning of How Do I Love Thee? How Do I Love Thee? is a poem that begins with a question. This suggests that throughout the poem the question will be answered and explored. The question is repeated in the first line of the poem reinforcing the idea that the question shall be answered throughout the poem. The first line ends very slowly and gently; this is because of the long “e” vowel sounds, “let me”. The poet goes on to explain how she feels that love has no physical boundaries and that nothing can measure her love, “depth… readth… height”, the use of tripling further adds emphasis to her immeasurable love.
The poet also believes that she cannot see love but only feel it, “feeling out of sight”. Barrett Browning feels that love goes on for eternity to the limits of existence and time, this is seen when the poet says, “For the ends of Being”. When the poet uses the phrase “ideal grace”, she is portraying God’s perfection and she is trying to explain how her love will go on into an afterlife. The beginning of How Do I Love Thee? appears very calm and very convincing which is alike to the poem A Birthday.
The poem A Birthday has a title, which is very positive and creates an atmosphere of joy, excitement and celebration. This is a very clever title for a love poem as many of the emotions felt for a birthday are felt when a person is in love. The first line of this poem contains a symbol of the human love, “heart”. The simile relates the singing bird to a heart because birds sing because they are free and this is how the poet feels when in love. The first line also contains an example of assonance and this has the effect of light and cheerfulness, which continues through the rest of the poem.
The word “nest” suggests safety, security and comfort, which is Rossetti’s idea of love. The use of the word “shoot” suggests new life, yet one line later the shoot has matured into an “apple tree” much like her love has for her lover. When the poet uses the word “bent” she implies that her lover is laden, overflowing and an excess of love for him. “Rainbow” is a word that makes the atmosphere seem magical, colourful and natural. Whereas the word “paddles” indicates young innocence, which is alike to her love. This innocence is equally similar to the poem First Love.
When the poet says, “blood rushed to my face” he is describing how embarrassed he feels. Clare feels anxious and he is unsure of his feelings at this point. “sight away” displays how Clare feels that he is so overwhelmed by love that he can see nothing other than his deep love for this beautiful woman. The reader is made aware of Clare’s confused state when it seemed to him “midnight at noonday” another interpretation could be that Clare realises that his love does not return his feelings, as the atmosphere is much darker.
Clare becomes very upset now that he understands his love’s feeling and so the poem goes, “could not see a thing”. “Words from my eyes did start” this describes in metaphorical language how the character is crying and wants his love to understand the pain that he is in. He is trying to speak through his eyes. The poet also tries to portray his feelings when he says, “spoke as chords do”.
This is his way of describing the effect of how music can play with people’s emotions and the effect that music has on people. blood burnt round my heart” is a way that Clare is trying to describe how passionate, hot and caught up in his emotions he is. The use of the word “burnt” is a very negative look on love whereas the poem How Do I Love Thee? is very different in that it has a cheery more positive point of view. The poem How Do I love Thee? continues to be very cheerful and there is no major change in the direction that the poet is going. The poet repeats the words “I love thee” to reinforce to the reader the fact that she truly loves him and only him.
She continues to describe to the reader her feelings that her love is not just a passion it is a vital need like food and water, “quiet need”. When the author uses the words “sun… candlelight” she is portraying to the reader that her love is a positive idea. The poet could have not used these words to symbolise that her love was a positive part of her life, in addition these words show how love can illuminate someone’s life by brightening up the darkest of days. “Freely” indicates that the poet wants her love to be seen as natural and not forced.
Later Barrett Browning uses the word “purely” which implies that the love has been god-given and that it is innocent. This makes the love more special to the reader as they feel that it is pure and not wasted on someone who does not appreciate it. The reader is assured that the love shall be true when the poet continues to describe her love with heart-felt emotion. The poem develops by becoming more intensified and the reader has not lost interest in this poem. The poem A Birthday is also very cheerful which is alike to the poem How Do I Love Thee?
The poet feels that nothing can compare to her love when she says, “gladder than all these”. When the poet says, “my love” she is telling the reader that she only has one love and as she has not said lover the reader feels that this love is special. Rossetti uses many words, which symbolise status; this is done to show the importance of her love to her, these status symbols include “vair”, “peacocks” and “pomegranates”. The reader can also distinguish her love as being luxurious when she symbolises her bed with the words “dais of silk and down”.
When the poet uses imperatives she is demonstrating her confidence that she feels in her love, “Raise me” and “Hang it”. Rossetti uses the word “doves” in her poem because they symbolise innocence, peace and purity. The “doves” also represent soul mates and that the poet feels that she has found her true love as doves have true soul mates for the rest of their lives. “grapes” were eaten by the Gods in Greek and Roman times this shows the reader how high Rossetti regards her love. “grapes” are also symbolised as being intoxicating and sensual which is how she feels about the love she experiences.
The poet of First Love feels very strongly about his love stealing his heart and this is comparable to A Birthday. Clare becomes philosophical when he says, “flowers … winters choice”. Clare deliberates why he is destined to fall in love with someone who does not love him in return. The poet continues to consider his unfortunate destiny when he uses a contrast, “loves bed … snow”. Love should be something that is warm, happy and serene, however Clare feels that love is deathly, painful and harsh. Later the poet uses alliteration to soothe his feeling of rejection, “She seemed … ilent”. This slows down the poem and appears to calm his feelings.
Even though Clare is feeling many different emotions he remembers how sweet his love is when he refers back to the beginning of the poem, “so sweet a face”. The poem ends with Clare despairing that he will love no one else and that this lady has stolen his heart forever, “return no more”. The poet has a new feeling of rejection and doubt within himself that is very different to how he first felt about his love. This is in contrast to the poem How Do I Love Thee which is much more positive from beginning to end.
Towards the end of the poem How Do I Love Thee the poet suffers religious doubts and she feels that her love is capable of destroying any worries that she feels, this can be seen, “love I seemed to lose”. Barrett Browning cleverly creates a mini climax by using a pause and this effect makes the reader excited, “saints – I”. “with the breath” indicates the poet feels that she cannot live without her love just as she cannot live without oxygen. Barrett Browning also feels that she and her love can survive anything as she wrote, “smiles, tears”.
This proves to the reader further that her love is not taken lightly. The poet continues with the idea of religion in her poem when she refers back to God, “if God choose”. Barrett Browning wants the reader to understand her trust and belief in god and portrays this through her implied trust that he will allow her love to continue. The poem ends with the poet displaying her trust in love by describing it as lasting immortally when she says, “after death”. The poet feels that her love is too pure and too right to be just mortal.
The poet continues to prove her love to the reader when she places emphasis on a word “but” however it is unnecessary as she has made her point numerous times before. This emphasis is likewise to the poem A Birthday which uses a different form of emphasis. A Birthday is a poem that continues to be overwhelming and cheerful. This can be seen when the poet looks at how her love is very similar to a birthday directly. “birthday of my life” is the section of the poem that relates to this. Rossetti’s love symbolises new life just like birthdays represent new life.
The word “birthday” brings memories of bliss, excitement and joy, which is directly related to how the poet feels about her love. The poet continues to be unable to contain her excitement and happiness when she repeats herself, “is come … is come”. Love is represented as being linked, exciting and overflowing and not rigid through the rhyme scheme. The final message of the poem A Birthday is that her love is incredibly special and that the poet is incredibly lucky to be blessed with love as exciting and compelling as this love.
The beginning and the end of A Birthday are very similar as they both praise love and celebrate it. All three of the poems are related because each of them provides a feeling of affection and elation. I feel that the key difference between the poem First Love, How Do I Love Thee and A Birthday are the endings. The ending of the poem First Love is a very negative and this differs from the poems A Birthday and How Do I Love Thee, which end in a very enthusiastic and self-assured way.
I admire the poet of First Love for his clever portrayal of how unrequited love can break a heart, and I was particularly captivated by the use of metaphorical language. The poem How Do I Love thee looks at love in a pure and holy way, by using language, which is directly referred to religion. The poet of A Birthday feels that her love is superior to all others and this is represented with words that illustrate status. This poem is captivating due to its use of representative language. I admire the way in which Rossetti describes her love as being luxurious as that is how many people feel whilst in love.
Finally I feel that there is a hidden message behind all of the poems which I have studied this is that you don’t have to be rich or poor, sane or insane, well or sick to feel the warmth and contented feeling which is rare when in love. The pre 20th century impression I have acquired about love is completely prehistoric in nature to today. The love today has no restrictions to gender, class, ethnicity where it did then, at the same time the sense of love being divine is not as strong today as it was before 1914.