Compare the ways in which Larkin and Duffy present the reality of love.

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Compare the ways in which Larkin and Duffy present the reality of love.

Both Larkin and Duffy explore the reality of love in their poetry, examining in detail the unrealistic expectations of romance (such as the oft-held belief that love endures through time and hardship) present in a relationship in ‘Love Songs in Age’ and ‘Valentine’. This eventually leads to the realisation that love does not match such idealistic expectations, as seen in ‘Love Songs in Age’ and ‘Disgrace’. However, while Larkin attributes the loss of love to the erosive nature of time in ‘Talking in Bed’, Duffy highlights the complicity of the couple in the breakdown of their relationship in ‘Disgrace’. Nonetheless, both poets ultimately reach the same conclusion- that of the realisation that love is transient.

Larkin presents ‘Love Songs in Age’ in a mixed manner, as seen in the low frequency lexis (‘incipience’, ‘submissive’, ‘unchangeably’)  to reflect the idealised, abstract nature of what love represents, as opposed to the bitter reality of love, as shown in the high frequency lexis(‘case’, ‘cry’, ‘love’). The juxtaposition of the progression from high frequency lexis to low frequency lexis and back again (‘She kept her songs, they kept so little space…Its bright incipience sailing above…To pile them back to cry…’) follows the changing perception the widow has for love, as she rediscovers the love songs of her youth and her once-naïve expectations for love, which eventually fade into a more realistic, jaded view of romance. The poem itself is presented in a melancholic tone, and the theme of memories and the passing of time, with emphasis on the widow’s gradual realisation of the true nature of love, establishes an atmosphere of nostalgia. This is seen through the use of the semantic field of memory to depict the widow’s past, as seen in the lexis ‘relearning’, ‘time’ and ‘young’. Likewise, ‘Talking in Bed’ is written in a mixed manner, with the use of high frequency lexis (‘kind’, ‘bed’, true’) and low frequency lexis (‘emblem’, ‘horizon’, ‘isolation’). As can be seen in ‘Love Songs in Age’, Larkin deliberately uses a mix of formal and informal lexis, with the intention to reflect the supposed intimacy in the act of ‘talking in bed’, but highlighting instead the abstract nature of time and the reality of love as time erodes the relationship depicted in the poem. ‘Talking in Bed’ is presented in a resigned tone, thus creating a mood of despair. This is established through the use of the modal verb ‘ought to be’ to express the couple’s discontent, implying from the beginning of the poem, that ‘talking in bed’ is not all that it should be. Furthermore, the semantic field of dissatisfaction, as seen in the use of lexis such as ‘silently’, ‘unrest’ and ‘isolation’, reflects the state of the couple’s relationship, contributing to the plaintive mood.

Duffy’s ‘Disgrace’ is also written in a mixed manner with the use of high frequency lexis (‘home’, ‘head’, ‘tears’) and multi-syllabic lexis (‘silhouette’, ‘obscenities’, ‘vulnerable’). The mixed register is deliberate, intending to reflect the cognitive dissonance of the persona in the poem as she wakes up to reality, coming to the realisation that her relationship has broken down. ‘Disgrace’ is presented in a bleak tone, with the sombre mood of the poem already hinted at through the use of the abstract noun ’Disgrace’ as the title. The use of the semantic field of decay contributes to the dark atmosphere as well, with lexis such as ‘blackened’, ‘death’ and ‘rotten’ used to represent the death of the persona’s relationship. On the other hand, ‘Valentine’ is written in a straightforward manner, with the use of simple register such as ’red’, ‘onion’ and ‘take’. The intentional use of high frequency lexis serves to emphasise the persona’s insistence on honesty within the relationship, as well as the rejection of idealistic expectations of love. The candid mood of the poem is compounded by its forthright tone, with the use of the semantic field of violence (‘Lethal’, ‘knife’, ‘fierce’) to portray the true nature of love. Duffy also uses a free verse poetic structure, which mimics the form of one side of a dialogue, to emphasise the direct manner in which the persona addresses her lover, with pronouns such as ‘I’ and ‘you’ showing direct address.

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In ‘Love Songs in Age’, Larkin portrays the reality of love through the widow’s love songs as a metaphor for her previously idealistic notions of romance. This is seen in the deliberate use of enjambment in the second stanza; ‘And the unfailing sense of being young/ Spread out like a spring-woken tree, wherein/ That hidden freshness, sung,/ That certainty of time…’ as Larkin reveals the widow’s former, unrealistic belief that love is all enduring by establishing a sense of continuity in the poem. In particular, the use of a ‘spring-woken tree’ as a symbol of the widow’s love is especially ...

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