Love is a very popular theme that is often used in poetry. In this piece of coursework I will examine it’s treatment in Sonnet’s 18 and 130 (William Shakespeare), My love is like a Red Red Rose (Robert Burns) and First Love (John Clare.
Sonnets were first devised in Italy in and Shakespeare was key in their evolution. Shakespeare wrote 154 Sonnets, I will be only looking at 18 and 130 because they are most appropriate because they differ greatly in their treatment of love.
The Sonnets are both written by William Shakespeare and are based around the theme of love. However the loves expressed is not only expressed differently but are different types of love. I will first look at their similarities; They both have the same rhyme structure – ABABCDCDEFEFGG. They both consist of a single stanza made up of four Quatrains and have are written in iambic pentameter.
Sonnet 18 is a very traditional type of Sonnet in so far as it lavishes flattery and complements upon the woman (or man?) Shakespeare was writing it to “thou art more lovely and temperate”. Shakespeare starts by saying how she’s lovelier than a summer’s day. He says that, in fact, a summer’s day isn’t perfect, because sometimes the sun shines too brightly, and Summer will inevitably change into Autumn. He gives the poem it’s meaning in the final rhyming couplet by saying that just as Summer fades, so will her beauty and she will eventually die, but so long as the poem is read, her beauty will always be kept alive through the poem. It is similar to a snapshot of her whilst she is at her most perfect, which people will be able to see. Thus she will never truly die as she will live on through the poem.
Sonnet 130 contrasts with 18 in that it has a different type of love; Whilst 18 lavishes hyperbolated praise on her, 130 simply tells he thruth; Shakespeare simply tells her “I’m not going to lie to you; Your lips aren’t as red as coral, your skin isn’t snow white and your breath doesn’t smell of perfume, but I love you for who you are and it doesn’t matter about anything else.” Thus it is that while 18 lies to her about how beautiful and lovely she looks, the love is more for her beauty than for who she really is, 130 is completely honest and shows a much deeper, unconditional love than 18.
In Sonnet 18 Shakespeare uses a lot of imagery to convey across his love; He first compares the woman to a summer’s day, giving the reader a tranquil, relaxing and beautiful image in their mind, he then augents it with the second line “thou art more lovely and more temperate”. He goes on to make her seem like a Goddess – using personification of the sun “eye of heaven” “gold complexion” and relating her to celestial bodies, giving her a godesslike quality. Shakespeare also personifies death “Nor shall death brag tou wanderst in his shade”. “Shade” is the ironic word here as Shakespeare had originally compared her radiance to that of the sun.
Sonnet 130 also uses imagery, but instead of using it to say how beautifull she is, he compares her unfavourably using a selection of similes and metaphors. He thus gives the impression of a woman, with black wires for hair, red lips – but not as red as coral, not quite white skin, pretty eyes – but nothing like the sun etc. Thus giving the reader the impression of a woman who isn’t necessarily particularly good looking. This is heavily contrasting with 18 in which Shakespeare says that she is what he compares her to – and more, whereas in 130 he says she’s not what he compares her to, but it doesn’t matter anyway.
In both poems the rhyming couplet is the key which unlocks the meaning behind the Sonnet; in 18 Shakespeare explains that as long as men read this Sonnet your beauty shall remain alive through it. In 130 Shakespeare says that, despite her description as not being as beautiful as other women described in other poems, he thinks she is more beautiful than any woman whose virtues have been exaggerated. He is also simultaneously criticising other Sonnet writers “false compare”, and asking them to stop their blatantly lying about how beautiful their lover is.
I have contrasted and compared the two Sonnets I will now do the same for “My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose” by Robert Burns and “First Love” by John Clare.
My Love is Like a Red Red Rose is written in dialect – “’till all the seas gang dry”, “bonnie lass”. This could well be because Burns was poorly educated, unlike Shakespeare and never really got a hold on common English. In a way though, this helps the poem as it makes it seem more authentic – it’s written in such a way that the person it’s written to can put Burns’ voice to it, making it’s words strike a chord with the reader.
My Love is Like a Red Red Rose is about the length of commitment Burns has committed to his love. At first he starts by saying “My love is like a red red rose” This is, to some extent, a double entendre – it is carefully written so that the reader may notice it whilst reading it again; in his use of the word “love” Burns is referring to both his lover and his love for her. In saying that it’s like a red red rose he is saying many things with the simile – it’s a very natural, romantic and tradional love, the next line “That’s newly sprung in June”, not only gives it a fresh feel, but also implies that it’s still growing (as the rose is).
In reference to his lover a rose is naturally very beautiful and appealing. It should also be noted that the rose is described not just as a red rose, but a red red rose, thus not only making it seem more pure and deep (as the hue), but also it sets the love and the lover apart from all the others. The rest of the poem reinforces what was said in the first two lines and says that his love is everlasting “Till the rocks melt with the sun”,”Till all the seas gang dry” – the rocks aren’t ever going to melt from the sun and neither is the sea going to dry up. Thus neither will his love cease.
First Love is about John Clare seeing a beautiful woman and falling in love with her at first sight. It talks more about his physical reaction than any of the other poems – “my face turned pale as deadly pale” “And then my blood rushed to my face”. Like all the other poems it is written in the first poem, but it concentrates much more on him, and his reaction than the woman he is talking about or his love for her. This again contrasts the other poems as they talk more about their love and their lover’s.
Both Red Red Rose and First love use flower imagery in the form of similes, but they use it in very different ways. Burns uses the red rose as the traditional symbol of love, he uses it to portray both the type of love he has and the beauty of his lover. Clare uses flower imagery in “Her face it bloomed like a sweet flower”. He doesn’t mention which type of flower, this could well be because he doesn’t want to take attention from the fact that “Her face bloomed”. In this instance the flower imagery isn’t to portray love; it’s just to compare her to something pretty.
First loves’ language is very simple, it’s not written in dialect, as is My love is like a red red rose, nor is it in traditional old English like either of the Shakespeare Sonnets. This could well be because, like Burns, Clare had a poor education, but unlike Burns he didn’t live in Scotland, so he didn’t write in dialect.
The tones of all four poems are different but and Sonnet 18 are similar, and so are Sonnet 130 and First Love; Sonnet 18 and My love is like a red red rose voth start of with a very natural, tranquil theme which comes with their suggestion of the season “That’s newly sprung in June”, “Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day?”. This immediately gives them the same sort of feel to them, which they both retain throughout the poem. Sonnet 130 and First love focus a lot more on the physical side, describing either the woman “Coral is far more red than her lips’ red” or the author’s reaction to her “I could not see a single thing”. This gives poems a “real” quality as the things described in the poems are not imaginary like they are in the other two poems. This “real” imagery and tone helps the reader to visualise the woman and empathise with the author.
My love is like a red red rose and First love both have very simple rhyme schemes and rhythms; Red Red rose has ababcdedfgfghihi, and First love has ababcdcdefefghghijijklkl. Neither are in the Sonnet structure and so do not have the rhymng couplet at the end.
The first two stanzas of Red Red Rose are written in the present tense, and the last two are written in the future tense. This helps Burns to really underline the point about his love being everlasting and unconditional – no matter where she is, he will still love her “Though it were ten thousand mile”. All the other poems are written in the present tense as they want to convey either their love/lover’s beauty at that moment in time (The Sonnets), or to put across the strength of the author’s emotions (First Love).
In conclusion all the poems studied treat the theme of love differently; some concentrate more on the tangible, physical side, and the others talk more about their intangible emotions and the strength of their love. The poem that I think is most different from the rest is First Love, because it is really a lot more about the author than anything else and it isn’t portrayed as being an entirely pleasurable experience.