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Compare the ways poets have written about love, bringing out different aspects of the theme

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Compare the ways poets have written about love, bringing out different aspects of the theme Yaseen Radwan The poems I have chosen to compare are 'First Love' by John Clare, 'How do I Love Thee' by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 'A Birthday' and 'Remember' by Christina Rossetti, and 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci' by John Keats. In John Clare's poem 'First Love' we see love as an instant attraction and he says it was a love 'so sudden.' It also highlights the aspect of unrequited love as the relationship between the poet and the person he loves has never even started. In fact he is hardly noticed as we can see from the rhetorical question 'And when she looked 'what could I ail?'' It is only in his own mind that she even perceived his love for her. She seemed to hear my silent voice And loves appeal to know (L19, 20) This depicts love as obsessive and selfish. A love that exists only in the mind of the lover. John Clare is writing as an adult looking back to his youthful past, to his 'First Love'. It is an innocent love toward a girl he has only just seen, yet feels instantly transfixed and ensnared by. The very first line of Clare's poem declares 'I ne'er was struck before that hour' The use of the word struck gives us an image of someone unexpectedly being hit by a spell or by one of cupids arrows, leaving him unable to resist falling in love. It is a romantic love that is inspired by a brief visual attraction rather than the love that grows as a result of long acquaintance or familiarity. This is clear from the lack of any concrete or detailed description of the object of his love, other than to say 'Her face blossomed like a sweet flower' and 'I never saw so sweet a face'. ...read more.


In stark contrast to this overly jubilant and joyful description of love is her sonnet 'Remember'. The poem has a simple repetitive style that reflects the melancholy mood as it explores a more somber aspect of love and deals with death, a favourite theme of Rossetti's poetry. Like Elizabeth Browning's 'How Do I Love Thee' she depicts love in a spiritual way that transcends death and lives on in the memory of the lover. But unlike Elizabeth Browning's, Rossetti seems less sure about the greatness and power of love and is almost pleading with her lover to remember her as she says, Remember me when I am gone away, Gone far away into the silent land (L1, 2) Remember me when no more day by day You tell me of our future that you planned: Only remember me; you understand (L5-7) It is a love that is fearful of being forgotten. A selfish love that is sad and mournful. It could also be argued that she is not truly in love and reveals her feelings about her present state when she describes her lover as no longer being able to tell her of the future they plan together. This implies that both she and her lover have not yet reached or achieved what they want, or that she or her lover is dissatisfied with their love and that there is need for future plans, for change, for a new direction. Another clue that her depiction of love is not happy, but insecure, is that she is not thinking of her lover's feelings but directs her thoughts, at what must be a very difficult time for her lover, inward, to herself. She seems to think of her lover's feelings only as an after thought, when she says, Yet if you should forget me for a while And afterwards remember, do not grieve: (L9-10) She goes on to say that it is better not to remember her if he is going to be sad every time he thinks about her. ...read more.


His vision conveys the message that love is not the romantic ideal that it seems at first but brings down the noble and ruins the mighty warrior. I saw pale kings and princes too, Pale warriors, death-pale were they all' (L37, 38) I saw their starved lips in the gloam, With horrid warning gaped wide,' (L41, 42) Yet this vision too is in the mind of the knight and we don't know how real it is. There is the feeling that it is the knight himself who has changed - not the lady. For he was the one obsessed by his passion and yet after sleeping he may be feeling regretful for falling for the charms of this lady and fearful about the consequences. This may say more about the male attitude to love. One of burning desire and lust yet unwilling to shoulder the responsibilities that love brings. Love has always been and will always be the most powerful and important emotion to the human race, yet it is the emotion we least understand. All these poems reflect the romantic image of love that was common at the time, but they each depict different aspects. 'First Love' by John Clare highlight's love as instant attraction and the overpowering effects it has on the physical body. It is an obsessive and unrequited love. It is the love of a youth whose sexual desires have been awoken for the first time and have shocked his system. In contrast to this 'How do I Love thee' by Elizabeth Barrett Browning highlights a more mature love of a woman for her husband, emphasising the magnificence, purity and deep spirituality of love that transcends the physical being. In 'A Birthday' by Christina Rossetti celebrates love as life giving, joyous and bringing about rebirth but in 'Remember' she stresses the melancholy and mournful aspects of love. John Keats in 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci' depicts love as seductive, beguiling and dangerous. These poems are still very valid today as descriptions of different aspects of love and contribute to our understanding of this difficult emotion. 5 1 ...read more.

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