In my essay I will be comparing two narrative poems: “The Seduction” by Eileen McAuley and “Cousin Kate” by Christina Rossetti. The poems are two contrasting views of love, although they share similar themes and both present a women’s perspective of love from a personal viewpoint. I will also be analysing their differences and similarities in devices, structure and story. “The Seduction” was set, next to a river, in 1980’s Merseyside which is near Liverpool, and tells the story of how a young girl falls in love but is used and betrayed and ends up pregnant and alone.
I know this is set in the 1980’s because the footballers Sammy Lee and Ian Rush are mentioned and they played for Liverpool in the 1980’s. The poem has sixteen stanzas; each of four lines. There is a rhyming scheme but it is inconsistent and irregular. However, when it features it is every other line. It is unpredictable and unreliable – just like the boy in the poem.
I think the character of the boy is shown in the irregularity of the rhyming scheme. The poem is split in half twice: once in the layout and once in content. The poem is set on the page in two halves – side by side (like two stages of her life).
They are separated by the gap but joined by enjambment. It’s how she feels about her life: it’s so near that she can reach out and touch it; but too far so she cannot change it.
The story is also in two halves. The divide is marked with ellipses. The first eight stanzas tell the story of the seduction itself. The next eight stanzas present her feelings and regrets about what has happened. Stanza nine is the after effect, when she finds out that she is pregnant. It is special. It is on the first half of the page (before the enjambment) but after the ellipses. This shows stanza nine is the turning point in her life.
Before then everything is great and after that everything is bad. Stanza nine is when she has the choice to put on a brave face and be proud of her child (like the girl in “Cousin Kate”), but instead she chooses to fall into the “despicable feminine void” of depression and self-loathing. The story starts early Sunday morning at Birkenhead docks. The two of them are sitting by the river drinking. This is his idea of a ‘date’, and coinciding with the simile describing the Mersey (the river) “green as a sceptic wound” shows that neither the night nor their relationship will be romantic and meaningful.
They had met at a party the night before and she had felt special when he chose her to dance with. That, along with the alcohol, is how come she let him ‘touch her up’, or as she put it, “fingers that stroked her neck and thighs. ” Even at this early stage, his actions indicate his true purpose, and it’s not to fall in love. As she drinks more and more alcohol, and loses control, he stays in control. He is fully aware of what he is doing. But, when he mutters ” ‘little slag’ ” he shows me that maybe he is human after all: he is feeling some guilt about using her.
But, however, he pushes it to the back of his mind and, as if to justify his actions to himself, calls her a slag to ‘prove’ that she’s ‘up for it’ and that her feelings don’t matter. The girl, whose name we never know (this is significant as it suggests to me that she, in the aftermath of what happened, feels invisible and a nobody – and nobody has a name), is innocent and nai?? ve. We know this because the poet describes her as having “wide blue eyes. ” Also, as she talked “about the O levels she’d be sitting in June” it suggests she is only fifteen or sixteen (and I’m presuming that she’s still a virgin).
She is inexperienced and so thinks that they’ll fall in love and live happily ever after. She couldn’t be more wrong. It’s clear from his attitude and his actions that that’s not what he’s got in mind. The boy, whom I’m guessing is in his twenties, is a nasty piece of work. He thinks he’s ‘hard’, as we can see from the way “he spat into the river” and the fact that he wears a leather jacket. He also smokes, (“kisses that tasted of nicotine”) and takes drugs; it only implies this in the poem, but from the way that he takes a bag filled with shimmering, sweet paint thinner” to the lake, I’m guessing he inhales it, along with reading his dad’s magazines. During the act of seducing her, the boy knew what he was doing, as he set into motion a plan that would enable him to ‘get his leg over’. He started reeling her in at the party, as he “brought her more drinks” and “danced with her all night”. She became enchanted with his “eyes as blue as iodine” and fell in love with him. But her feelings were not reciprocated, and he left her after he had got what he wanted. She was left to pick up the pieces of her messed up life alone.
When she realised that she was pregnant and that he was never coming back, she not only felt betrayed by him, but also by her teenage magazines, as she felt like they lied to her and gave her a false impression of romance as their stories of love were not what had happened to her, but also more that that – she felt “cheated by the promise of it all”. During her anger at him for leaving, she threw her “high white shoes” at the wall. These were the shoes which she was wearing when she let herself fall for him, and they made her feel sick as they not only reminded her of him, but also of how stupid she had been.
Once her anger had subsided, she felt frightened as the true horror and responsibility of having a baby struck her. She realised what a horrific situation she was in. This is emphasised with the refrain of the word truly – “truly truly frightened. ” As she wondered about how different her life would have been if she hadn’t met him; how much fun she’d be having, she becomes jealous of other sixteen year olds. They’re off enjoying their sixteenth year (which is a special year); “full of glitzy fashion features”; “bright new worlds”; “fresh fruit diets” and “glamour with a stammer”
While she is stuck at home having morning sickness (“sickened every morning”). In the couple of stanzas which talk about the fun sixteen year olds normally have, there is a lot of alliteration, which emphasises her depression and regrets. In that stanza there is also more repetition. She remembers how he seduced her by making “stupid stupid promises. ” As these were “only tacitly made” this implies that he didn’t actually say anything to her that would mean for him to stick around, he just inferred it by saying other, complimentary things. Also in that stanza are lots of rhetorical questions.
They’re all referring to other girls her age having fun and emphasise her desire to be with them. In stanza fourteen, the poet talks about how other, innocent sixteen year olds go to parties where they “meet the boy next door”, who are nice, sixteen year olds who won’t trick you and take advantage of you, as the older guy did to her. To indicate innocence and how young they are, the poet uses assonance to great effect. The phrase “walk hand in hand, in an acne’d wonderland” uses assonance of the sound “and”. It indicates the way you should read the line, as it puts emphasis on the repeated sound. Acne’d wonderland” refers to teenagers (with spots) having fun and enjoying themselves. Which she is not. Stanzas fifteen and sixteen are the climax of the poem. It talks about how full of regret she is, and how embarrassed about being pregnant that she would rather hide away and starve herself and destroy her body by taking drugs than to admit she made a mistake and to feel the shame. She feels that it is much better to “destroy your life in modern, man-made ways” (i. e. take drugs and slowly kill yourself) than to go out and face the music.
The poet suggests that gossiping neighbours are worse than drugs. The poet creates a creepy atmosphere by the repetition of the word “away” in the last stanza: “turn away, move away, fade away. ” To me it implies that she would rather die (quite literally) than have her “belly huge and ripe” at the centre of attention. She is just too ashamed and full of regret. “Cousin Kate”, on the other hand, is set in 1800’s England, in the fields. It tells the story of how a young girl (a “cottage maiden”) from a poor background falls in love with the Lord of the estate, but he uses her and then marries her cousin.
She ends up pregnant and alone, but unlike in “The Seduction”, is proud. The poem has six stanzas; each of eight lines. Christina Rossetti wrote in the romantic era. As such, her poem is very organised with a regular rhythm, rhyming scheme and structure. The rhythm is very defined and strong. In each couplet, the first line has eight beats, and the second line has six beats. The rhythm also matches the rhyming pattern. The rhyming pattern is regular and consistent – with alternate lines rhyming- quite unlike “The Seduction”.
The structure is also very clear; because apart from the first line which contains enjambment, all the lines are pretty much the same length – again, unlike “The Seduction”. The only exception to the above rules is the first line. It has seven beats instead of eight and the line is shorter than the others. The reason for this is enjambment. The line ends early and so the rhythm is delayed but carries onto the next line. This poem is a narrative and tells the story in first person – the girl/narrator is talking to her cousin and is telling her how she feels Cousin Kate, you grew more fair than I. ” I think that this could be a true story that happened to the poet and she could have written the poem to express her feelings and to tell her cousin how she had made her feel as this would be easier than telling her face to face. The mood of the poem starts with happiness (“joy thereof”) as she has been chosen by the amazing Lord. But quickly turns to rejection (“cast me by” and “changed me like a glove”), resentment (“chose you, and cast me by. “) but then pride (“My fair-haired son, my pride”) as she rises above the gossiping neighbours.
The story starts with a poor young girl who has low-self esteem – we know this because she describes herself as “Not mindful I was fair” and also mentions her “flaxen hair”. She uses rhetorical questions to voice her amusement that a “great lord” would choose her to be with. She doesn’t think a lot of herself, indeed I get the impression she feels insignificant compared with her ‘wonderful’ cousin Kate. My reasoning for this is that she doesn’t have a name whereas Kate does. I think the narrator feels separated from her cousin, and this comes across in the language of “I”, referring to the narrator and “you”, referring to Kate.
This also suggests to me that she feels that she’s worth less than her cousin. In the second stanza she talks with regret about how she let him lure her to his palace, and how she feels ashamed that she let herself be “his plaything”. He used her. She uses the extremely effective simile “wore me like a silken knot” to describe how he owned her and treated her like a possession as opposed to a human with feelings (the man is not completely to blame as it was the feeling at the time that women were inferior to men, but he still behaved appallingly).
She then, using another simile, goes on to say that he “changed me like a glove. This describes how he used (or in the case of a glove, wore) her and then disposed of her, to replace her with something better – in this case Kate. When she says that she moans, “an unclean thing” she is implying that she feels dirty and ‘damaged goods’. The reason for this is not only that he dumped her, but also that she lost her virginity to him. As doves represent peace and purity, when she refers to the dove, she means that, had it not been for him, she would still be innocent and pure. Like Kate. Also, she feels bitter towards Kate as Kate waited and in the end the same man chose her because of this.
In the time the poem was set, the view was that sex should come after marriage, not before, as with the narrator. She was therefore frowned upon for being inappropriate and called an “outcast thing. ” Kate, however, did not succumb to her temptations, and waited until she was married to sleep with him. Because she did the right thing and was appropriate, the neighbours called her “good and pure. ” Although Kate sits “in gold and sing”, married life is not all fabulous for her. The poet uses the metaphor that he has “bound you [Kate} with his ring” to suggest that she is trapped.
In stanza five, the narrator tells of how she feels resentment towards Kate as she feels her “love was true” whereas Kate’s was “writ in sand”. This is a metaphor and implies not true, because when you write something in sand it gets easily washed away by the sea. Also in that stanza she mentions how she feels let down and betrayed by Kate. She tells her cousin that if their roles had been reversed; if she was in Kate’s position (i. e. Kate was in love with him and he had used Kate), she would not have married him. Instead she “would have spit into his face. ” Basically, reject him.
In stanza six, the mood changes. It becomes much more uplifted as she talks about her “gift”. She is doing what the girl in “The Seduction”, in a similar situation, could not do. She is turning a bad situation to her advantage. Instead of hiding away, being embarrassed to be pregnant, she is proud of it; proud of her “fair haired son”. Although she regrets the fact that he’s illegitimate, and regrets the way he came about (“my shame”) she would not change or get rid of him (“my pride”). To me that is inspirational and uplifting. There are many similarities and differences between the two poems.
The main similarity is that of the main themes running through the poems. For instance, both poems are about the love of a young girl and how she is betrayed. It’s also about the premature loss of innocence. The main difference in the two poems is the girls’ views on pregnancy. Irrespective of their times, one girl feels embarrassed and one girl feels proud. Both poets have used similar poetic devices. For instance, both poems contain similes and metaphors, although “The Seduction” uses more, (an example from “Cousin Kate” is “wore me like a silken knot” and an example from “The Seduction” is “like a sick, precocious child. ); rhetorical questions (“why did a great lord find me out… and praise my flaxen hair? ” or “Where, now, was the summer of her sixteenth year? “); alliteration (“cling closer, closer yet”); connotation; enjambment and repetition or refrain (“good and pure” or “stupid, stupid promises”). For “Cousin Kate”, that is all the devices that are used, but “The Seduction” uses some more, including assonance and colloquial language – ” ‘little slag’ “. “Cousin Kate” was written in the first person and uses formal language, whereas “The Seduction” was written in the third person and uses more brutal, open and direct language.
This is mainly due to the era in which the poems were written. At the beginning of both of the poems, both of the girls feel ecstatic (“joy thereof”) that they – ‘little old them’- had been chosen by ‘amazing’ older men. The first few stanzas were about how great life for the girls was. Also at the beginning of the poems, the girls are both young and innocent (“eyes were wide and bright”) and enjoying life. This innocence (as well as their virginity) was lost in the middle of the poems. This premature loss of youth was down to controlling men who, after they had got what they wanted, dumped them.
They were used. In “The Seduction” the girl is drunk (“she giggled, drunk and nervous”) and not in control of her actions, and the man took advantage of her vulnerability. However, the girl in “Cousin Kate” was acting entirely on her own decisions. Regardless of the fact that she made the choice by herself, the man used her. He made her fall in live with him – just as in “The Seduction” – but then dumped her and proposed to her cousin – “Chose you, and cast me by”. Both the girls were betrayed, not just by the man, but also by others.
In “Cousin Kate” she was betrayed by her cousin; and in “The Seduction” she was betrayed by her “My Guy” and “Jackie photo-comics” as they described an inaccurate account of love, and by the “promise of it all. ” After the event had happened, the girl in “The Seduction” was in denial (that’s why it took her three months to realise that she was pregnant). But after the revelation was made, she became frustrated and angry – as she ripped up her comics and “flung them [her high white shoes] at the wall. ” The girl in “Cousin Kate”, on the other hand, felt upset (“I sit and howl”) but handled her feelings a lot better.
She didn’t try and kill herself; she rose above the neighbours’ gossip and was proud of her son. Although both girls had different feelings and emotions on being pregnant and bearing illegitimate children, they both felt some jealousy. The girl in “The Seduction” was jealous of other sixteen-year-olds and the fun they were having (“glossy photographs… smiling faces”); whereas the girl in “Cousin Kate” was jealous of Kate (“You grew more fair than I”) as she was married to her love. Regardless of the similar events in the two stories, the two endings are really different.
In “The Seduction” the girl becomes depressed and suicidal (“better to destroy your life”), feels cheated and lost, and is ashamed of her baby. The end is a sad one. Whereas the girl in “Cousin Kate” rises above the gossip, and is proud of her baby. The ending is an uplifting one and is hopeful. Due to being pregnant and experiencing the brutality of life, both the girls are forced to grow up. In a way, the girl in “Cousin Kate” is more mature because she doesn’t become demonised by gossip and gets on with her life (“Yet I’ve a gift you’ve not got”), whereas the other doesn’t and falls into the “despicable, feminine void”.
However, the girl in “The Seduction” accepts the blame for what happened, whereas the other doesn’t and blames Kate. I don’t think the girls are to be fully blamed, as they were, as it was mostly the man’s fault, but neither are they blameless as they were not physically forced into anything – they could have said no at any point. What I do not like is the way the two men have got off scotch-free, without any blame and are even maybe congratulated on their performance, and all the blame is put onto the girls and they’re made to feel worthless.
In my essay I analysed the two poems and looked at the contrast in similarities and differences between them. Both the poems are written about how a man betrays a young and innocent girl and uses her. They show a woman’s view on love. Due to the time in which they were written, the amount of poetic devices used by the poets differ. Another thing that splits the two poems apart, is that of the girls’ views on bearing illegitimate children. It doesn’t matter that the society and environment of the poems are different, both girls were used and their dreams of finding true love and ‘Mr Right’ were cruelly snatched away by selfish men.