08/05/2007 English Coursework
Compare and contrast how the writers of “My Last Duchess” and “Remember” portray different views of love.
Love has as many expressions as people who experience it. For some it is a romantic life-enhancing one, for others it is a negative painful experience. In the poems “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning and “Remember” by Christina Rossetti were are offered two widely different views of love. One is a gentle, romantic, poignant message, the other a cynical sadistic monologue. Both are also linked by the separation by death: one implies murder, the other an impending more gentle natural death.
The poem "Remember" is a petrachan sonnet of 14 lines. Sonnet form was a poetic device usually used to express emotions and feelings of love, suggesting that this poem will be more romantic than "My Last Duchess". The octet (first 8 lines) presents the problem, in this case the narrator’s fear of impending death and the rupture between the two lovers: “Remember me when I am gone away … / When you can no more hold me by the hand.” The Sestet (final 6 lines) presents the solution to that problem, and a final more optimistic future.
"My Last Duchess" is in the form of a dramatic monologue. This is a poem of one long stanza in which the Duke, through the language that he uses to describe his former wife, reveals his own character and attitude towards love. It is written in rhyming couplets with some half rhyme; “… pictured countenance / … earnest glance,” and some rhetorical questions, which are polite orders “Will’t please you sit and look at her?” this rigidity of structure emphasises the Duke’s tight control over his former Duchess, and a lack of emotional involvement in their relationship.
This is a preview of the whole essay
The concept of love expressed in "Remember" is one that the Victorian and modern reader can more easily relate to: we all hope to be remembered and missed when we die, and dread separation from our loved ones.
"Remember" by Christina Rossetti starts with the plea "Remember me …" which is repeated five times in the stanza, emphasising the narrator’s need not to be forgotten and that by their loved one’s remembrance and continued care they will still have a measure of immortality, if only in their thoughts. In line 2 the narrator refers to her destination of the “silent land”, a euphemism for heaven, which she must go to alone “…When you can no more hold me by the hand,” emphasizes that their physical contact and love will cease. The dying narrator suggests, in line 4, that leaving her lover is being forced upon her, that she would choose to stay if she could: “… Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.” This shows that their love is something very strong that connects them together very powerfully.
The octet builds a picture of a loving couple that planned to spend the rest of their lives inseparable due to their love. The inclusion of the word “Only…” in line 7 is a final poignant plea, added to “…remember me…” the punctuation creating a caesura, forcing the reader to focus on the strength of their love: “Only remember me; you understand…”
The final line of the octet, “It will be late to counsel then or pray.” Reminds the reader that once the narrator is dead there will be no further point in prayer, suggesting that perhaps the writer had had a long illness and they had prayed together that she would not die.
After this sombre rejection of the comfort of religion, the sestet introduces a more considerate altruistic mood. The narrator reveals that her lover must continue to live in the world she leaves behind, that the concerns of the world will cause him to forget his grief and that he should not feel guilty, “Yet if you should forget me for a while / And afterwards remember, do not grieve:” as a contrast to the earlier appeal to surround himself in memories of his departed lover, the husband is instructed that if the memories make him upset then it would be better for him to forget, move on with his life and be happy. This shows some of the characteristics of romantic love that puts the needs and happiness of the other person first.
"My Last Duchess" is constructed as a Duke having a dialogue both with an envoy and to himself. The purpose of the envoy’s visit – to arrange a marriage, is only made clear in the final eight lines; the rest of the poem is a portrayal of the Duke’s attitude to, and experience with, his former Duchess. The Duke refers to his former wife as "My Last Duchess", the possessive pronoun here giving us the first idea that her saw her as a possession and that she is only one in a line of past and future Duchesses. So possessive and controlling is her of her, even after death, that her has hidden her portrait behind a curtain: “… (since none puts by / The curtain I have drawn for you but I)”. This suggests that love is not romantic, or an emotion, but something by which you can possess someone.
She is a truly beautiful woman and he has had great pride in her beauty and how it reflected on him. He ensured that she was painted by a well-known artist, whose name he mentions twice to try and impress the envoy. “Frà Pandolf’s hands / Worked busily a day… Frà Pandolf by design,” Also he mentions the name of a bronze sculptor so that the envoy will be impressed by his wealth and sophistication. His wife is just another artistic acquisition. Just as he would spurn a damaged painting or a flawed sculpture he has rejected (and arranged for the murder of) his wife for her character flaws.
He is portrayed as an arrogant and controlling man who thinks he has the right to do this “I gave commands; / Then all smiles stopped together.” He sees an insult to his pride in what are really only natural behaviours in a young carefree woman. Lines “ ’twas not / Her husband’s presence only, called that spot / Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek” suggest that she would flirt with Frà Pandolf, a man vowed to chastity, making himself look ridiculous. She was easily made happy and valued everything equally: “A heart … too soon made glad,” gaining just as much pleasure from the Duke’s noble lineage and all his wealth and possessions as with “anybody’s gift” or ‘The bough of cherries some officious fool / Broke in the orchard for her”. This, again, portrays love as a possessive characteristic, not a romantic emotion as in "Remember".
So proud is the Duke that he will not even lower himself to correct his wife or urge her to behave differently. “E’en then would be some stooping and I chuse / Never to stoop”. But this would be beneath his dignity, and shows that he doesn’t even have the affection for his wife to help her, unlike in "Remember". She was considerate and smiled at everyone, but because she is his possession she should only smile at him. The 45th line ends bluntly: “This grew; I gave commands; / Then all smiles stopped together.” These short clipped phrases show that the Duke obviously thought that this was the way to deal with the problem. The phrases stop short, just as his wife’s life did. The fact that her openly talks about giving the orders for his wife’s murder shows that he never had any affection for her; she was just a possession, unlike in "Remember", where their love is an undying bond.
The tone of the poem then changes completely, from his bitter catalogue of his wife’s flaws and her murder to a prosaic request to join the rest of the company and continue with the financial marriage agreements. This rapid change in mood emphasizes the idea that the Duke is not a totally sane man.
The poem ends with a reinforcement of the role of the marriage partner, that she is an object to be bought by him and sold by her father, as much his possession as his statue, which, ironically, shows subjugation. He doesn’t his marriage partner as someone he shares love with, she is just something to make him look and feel powerful.
The two poems highlight differences in relationships and how people show and share love. "Remember" is a tender, regretful message to a lover, an avowal that memories of love ca live after death and that true romantic love puts the other person first. "My Last Duchess", by contrast is a self – obsessed monologue of an arrogant and proud man who sees his wife as a possession, who should be grateful for his “love” which he sees not as an emotion, but as possessions, his noble name and a contract with her father.
Rob West 10W Page of
Here's what a teacher thought of this essay
This is a well informed, intelligent essay, which gives a strong insight into both poems and makes some interesting comparisons and contrasts between them. *****