These poems present contrasting attitudes towards women and relationships. Explore these attitudes and the ways in which each poet portrays them.
I am contrasting the poems, “My Last Duchess” and “On the Departure Platform”. Both poems, although are written in very much contrasting styles, share a central theme of loss and separation of a women. It must be taken into consideration that these poems would have been written in the 19th Century when society may still have been very patriarchal. The attitudes towards relationships would have been very much centred on the male being the decision making partner emphasising this feeling of a patriarchal society. However these themes in themselves, contrast also.
“My Last Duchess”, by Robert Browning is written in the style of what’s known as a dramatic monologue. It is called that because it consists entirely of the words of a single speaker who reveals in his speech his own nature and the dramatic situation in which he finds himself. The dramatic monologue reveals its own place and time as it proceeds to uncover the psychology of the speaker at a significant moment in his or her life. The use of this dramatic monologue allows the reader to get into the mind of the character which is vital for understanding this poem.
In this dramatic monologue, the subject is the Duke’s last Duchess who he is talking about and not portraying her too kindly. The obvious observation to be made from the title and from the opening couple of lines, is that the Duchess is dead, “My Last Duchess”. A very important observation is also in the word ‘my’, implying that there was a sense of ownership on the side of the Duke towards the Duchess. This purely amplifies the sense of living in a patriarchal society. The Dukes attitude towards the Duchess is very hostile. “The depth and passion of its earnest glance.” This tells the reader that the Duke was jealous of the Duchess and she must have had many admirers. We also hear of how the Duke was very suspicious of his wife, “Her husbands presence only, called that spot.” This means he may have been suspecting her of cheating on him. The reader gets the idea that the Duke did not believe his wife loved him enough to deserve him. He treats her almost as an object, a possession of his, of which he decides what happens to. He describes a lack of respect, “as if she ranked my gift of a nine-hundred years old name, with anybodies gift.” This portrays the Duchess as the kind of woman who doesn’t judge people on their name, or on their rank in society, but on the kind of people they actually are. This would make the reader feel that the Duke’s complaints against the Duchess are very unfair. She was obviously a kind, gentle and emotional woman who had many admirers. This, if anything helps the reader gather an accurate idea of the Duke as being a lonely, selfish and arrogant man. He was in fact so out of touch with himself that he had his wife killed, “I gave commands”. This continues the theme of loss and separation seen in both poems, but here, the example is about ruthlessness of the Duke in ordering the death of his wife. This shows his lack of love for women and respect for the opposite sex, portraying a poor attitude. However one could argue that the Duke does have a really strong love for his wife. His choice of getting his wife painted by Fra Pandolf (a renaissance artist) must be considered a signal that he found his wife beautiful and must have loved her deep. His decision to keep the painting hung up in his place of residence is an indication that he is not ashamed of her and what she did, showing he does not detest her, although she wounded him deeply. Perhaps, killing her was a bit too extreme but I believe the Duke’s belief was that his wife was either his, or no-ones which is quite harsh but is a true reflection on the society in which the poem is set.
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Thomas Hardy’s poem “On the Departure Platform” is a poem of separation and loss of a loved one. Unlike in “My Last Duchess”, this poem deals with this theme in a more contrasting way. The narrator may well be the poet himself looking at the departure of the lady in white, white being used to indicate her purity, “wee white spot”, “soft white array”. Another voice is introduced in the final stanza, which suggests this departure is a memory which the narrator is holding on to. He may be thinking of a past wife, as in “My Last Duchess”. This is where the two poems familiarise, however the character in Hardy’s poem has a much more 21st Century attitude toward women and treats them as free equals of society.
The relationship between the two characters would have been very strong and the reader gets the idea that he loved her very much. One very important point which must be taken into account is the point is the phrase in line 2 of the first stanza, “she left me”, which not only implies that the woman was the one who decided to leave but it is followed by a comma, which adds effect and acts as a caesura, breaking up the line and adding emphasis on the point that she left him. This acts as a contrast to the first poem again as it shows the women was the one who decided to leave, undermining the old fashioned approach the relationships, where the female would have no say.
The use of contrasts such as “gentle and rough”, “far and near” adds effect to this already troubled relationship. It creates a feeling of awkwardness. It could also represent what could have been and what it is. Hardy’s use of words such as ‘disappear’ and ‘vanish’ indicates that this may not have been a mutual split. Maybe the women in the poem may have found a new lover or the man was unfaithful. “She will appear again” in the fifth stanza indicates she is going to return , “perhaps in the same soft white array”, meaning maybe just as beautiful and pure as before, “but never as then”, indicating the relationship between the two will never be the same again.
By using caesura to break down the poem in its ‘ABAB’ rhyming pattern, it is possible to slow down time, also by using repetition, for example in the first stanza “moment by moment”, “smaller and smaller”. It is also possible to heighten the emotion of the poem adding effect.
To sum up, I believe that both of the narrators in both poems have very contrasting attitudes towards women and relationships. The Duke in “My Last Duchess” is possessed. He is jealous. His wife, the Duchess is seeing other men out of friendship. She let’s painters such as Fra Pandolf paint beautiful paintings of her, yet the Duke is not satisfied and arranges for her killing. I don’t think that the Duke is mad, but I believe it is more of what possesses his mind and his heart. He has this burning love for this woman but does not understand why the love is not returned. However the lover in “On the Departure Platform” shows a great deal of emotion. His woman has left him and left him empty handed and heart broken. In reality, this familiarises itself with the Duke as both men face rejection from their loved ones, however the way in which the chose to deal with this rejection couldn’t be more different. One kills his wife and the other allows his lover to go. This point emphasises the contrasting attitudes toward women and relationships of the characters.
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This essay shows a knowledge of both texts and an engagement with poetry techniques. The writer should learn to embed quotes more effectively and address the question with more focus throughout the essay. ***