The decisive changing point of the poem is, 'happy and proud; at last I knew / Porphyria worshipped me.' The narrator now realizes that Porphyria does not love him, and 'worshipped' suggests possessive love but also 'me' implies obsessive love. The narrator wants to sustain the moment with this woman, and as a result decides to strangle her. He now tries to justify his actions in defiance believing that nothing is wrong, 'And yet God has not said a word!'
The other Robert Browning poem I have chosen to explore is 'My Last Duchess.' This poem is vaguely based on historical events involving Alfonso, the Duke of Ferrara who lived in the 16th century. The Duke is the narrator of the poem, and tells of a story of physical love between him and a daughter of a powerful family.
Immediately, the title, 'My Last Duchess,' where the emphasis is on 'last', sets the tone and mode of the play; it suggests the poem is written about a character that believes in unrequited love. 'My Last Duchess' comprises of rhyming pentameter lines, rather than using full-spots Robert Browning much enjambment; as a result the rhymes do not create a sense of closure, but remains as a subtle driving force behind the Duke's compulsive revelations.
The poem begins with, 'That's my last Duchess painted on the wall.' With the emphasis on 'that's' and the narrator reduces this woman to something he casually points out, a thing on a wall; but emphasis 'my' and the narrator reveals his sense of owning her. Already the narrator has introduced both obsessive and physical love towards the woman character. However, if 'Duchess' is stressed he implies that he acquires, not just paintings, but also people; but more importantly that Duchesses are no different from paintings. This again is physical love. The mood of the poem is now set to be slightly sinister by a character that seems to believe women are inferior and are simply acquisitions that grace his place and are commercial in value.
Now, when the Duke is standing before the painting, he obsessively blames his wife for exhibiting such a blush to anyone but himself. The more he talks, the more his contempt and self-justifying anger show and the more we can identify with the Duchess.
This poem deliberately engages its readers on a psychological level; because the readers only hear the Duke's talk they must piece the story together themselves. Browning forces his reader to become involved in the poem in order to understand it and this also forces the reader to question their response to the theme and the ways he displays this. He forces us to consider which aspect of the poem is dominating: the horror at the Duchess's fate, or the intricacy of the language and the powerful dramatic development.
I have also chosen to study two English sonnets by William Shakespeare; they are sonnet 18 and 116. Shakespeare uses a much different interpretation of love to convey his ideas. The sonnet uses a very specific rhyming scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG with ten beats per line, as it is very hard to write poems within these constraints the poem is quickly respected by the reader.
Contrastingly, Christina Rossetti's poem 'Remember' is a hybrid sonnet, half Patrachen and half English. She splits her poem into an octave and sestet rather than the four line stanzas; the poem has no rhyme scheme and each line has a different beat pattern.
Sonnet 18 is arguably the best known of all Shakespeare's sonnets and discusses how this woman is more perfect than anything on Earth. Shakespeare compares her to various natural processes and explores their defects. The sonnet is particularly suitable for the careful consideration of a heavy and often highly personal subject, as its structure aids logical thinking.
This sonnet starts with, 'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day.' This is immediately shows a comparison and sets the tone for the following poem. Shakespeare personifies the summer's day: and as the reader knows that a summer's day is nearly perfect, this allows the woman to be instantly compared to something very wonderful. Unlike Porphyria's Lover, Sonnet 18 directly addresses love in the first line; however, the love portrayed is romantic and possible physical rather than obsessive. The love could be considered physical as Shakespeare is comparing her to a something actual.
In the second quatrain Shakespeare starts to build up the tension, which changes the mood with a list of problems with the sun and time: 'Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines' and 'and every fair from fair something declines.' These two lines mean at times the sun can be too hot and everything that is beautiful will lose its beauty, respectively.
However, in the third quatrain there is a change on thinking as the line begins with, 'but.' This abruptly changes the tone and pace of the poem, which follows with the evaluation of the woman. Everything that is said in the second quatrain is now improved on by the woman in the third, for example, 'But thy eternal summer shall not fade.' This means that her youth shall not fade; this reinforces the ideas of romantic love.
The last rhyming couplet of poem is a summary, and the last line, 'So long lives this and this gives life to thee' shows that this poem will live on presenting the beloved immortality. This again supports Shakespeare views of romantic love rather than the more sinister obsessive love.
The other sonnet I have chosen to investigate is Sonnet 116: this again is based on true love and explores how a relationship should be built on trust and understanding.
The first quatrain of Sonnet 116 reveals the poet's pleasure in love that is constant and strong, and one that does not 'alters when it alteration finds.' The first line 'Let me not to the marriage of true minds / Admit impediments,' here 'true' means completely transparent and honest and 'minds' refers to an intellectual meeting. This may involve marriage, but it could also be a historical point. Because marriage in Shakespeare's day was mainly an economical or political move; 'the marriage of true minds' actually acknowledges an intellectual dimension. It recognises that women could have an intellectual life.
This explores the ideas of the basis of love, and defines how true love should be. This line does not allow the reader to think of obsessive or unrequited love, but purely passionate love. The turning point of this poem is on the fifth line, where the narrator contradicts what is said on line three and four. These two lines suggest what true love is not, 'Love is not love / which alters when it alteration finds.
'O No!' This is the turning point; the narrator now begins to tell the reader what love is. He allows no room for the readers' imagination to mistake the true meaning of the lines. Shakespeare now shows that love is a fixed mark, 'It is an every fixed mark' that sees the storms coming but it is never shaken: 'That looks on tempests and is never shaken' but 'It is the star to every wandering bark,' It [love] is the guiding 'star' to every lost person.
The third quatrain shows that love is affected by time, thought its rosy lips and cheek come within the compass on his [Time's] sickle. Here, Shakespeare is personifying time, saying that love cannot be altered by time even if death can take away life. Throughout these quatrains, there are no references to any other type of love other than true or romantic love.
In the final quatrain Shakespeare shows much confidence in his reputation as a good writer, 'If this be error and upon me proved' / I never write, nor no man every loved.' This means that if these thoughts on love are proved wrong, then the narrator has never has never written or no person has never experienced true love. This shows how Shakespeare believes he is in love, and he summarises his beliefs during the whole poem. Because this poem uses no extraordinary rhyming or harmony, this effect allows the reader to focus on the true meaning of the words.
Each of these poets uses different poetic techniques to achieve the desired effect of the different forms of love: romantic love, physical love, unrequited love or obsessive love.
Robert Browning's narrators have emphasis on obsessive and unrequited love, but this allows the reader to dislike these figures that believe in it and more effectively understand the romantic love because of the contradiction. On the other hand, Shakespeare's poems stand out as romantic love and physical love poems; though the reader easily understands this they quickly question the simplistic nature to find the true meaning of Shakespeare's words.
Centre No: 90306 Tom Gunn
The British School of Bahrain
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