Love is a theme which seems to be unescapable. It is in everyday life and it affects everyone. Love has been a topic of much of the great literature which we keep in high esteem. Thus it is an ideal theme to do as the three poems being analysed are pieces of great literature, mainly from the cannon of literature. In this lecture the poets being analysed are the immoral poet and play writer of the Elizabethan age, Shakespeare and his sonnet, ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day’, The well known poet and songwriter of the Jacobean age John Donne and his poem ‘The Flea’, and the well known American poet Walt Whitman and his poem ‘To a Stranger’.
‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day’ was one of William Shakespeare’s most famous sonnets. It was written in the Elizabethan Age which was from 1588 – 1603.
In the Elizabethan age it was customary for gentleman to write love sonnets about their lover and give it to them. As William Shakespeare was a brilliant poet and play writer of that age he was thought of to be the ideal English Renaissance man and was thought of very highly by nobles of the land.
Shakespeare’s upbringing was irregular to that of someone else in his position. His father John Shakespeare was a Glover and leather merchant which was not a highly paid position. His mother Mary Arden was a landed heiress which allowed for some benefits to come to Shakespeare including free schooling at the Grammar school in Stratford. This gave Shakespeare a high reputation. Also as his father John was a Stratford official which allowed for high tuition for his son. This high education was an influential factor of Shakespeare’s life as it gave a good education so the standard of poetry was at a much higher level, also it gave him the feeling of superiority and capability among people so that he felt free to create his own sonnet structure. As his early life was care free his poetry was mainly on love.
The sonnet “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” was written about a woman Shakespeare loved. In the sonnet he describes the beauty of the woman and he debates whether or not to compare her to a summer’s day. The sonnet shows how strong Shakespeare’s feelings were for his lover. His emotions come over through his disguised and obvious compliments and contrasts. He thinks she is beautiful and, unlike a summer’s day, her perfection will not fade, as this sonnet is written to illustrate and capture the woman’s beauty and the love he has for her. The sonnet is typical for the era as it was common for gentleman to write love sonnets about their lover and give it to them.
Shakespeare wrote one hundred and fifty four sonnets and due to their consistent quality. His sonnets were in the style known as ‘the Shakespearean sonnet form’. A Shakespearean sonnet has fourteen lines, broken down into three quatrains and ending with a rhyming couplet.
In each quatrain a different subject is discussed and described, the subject is then changed at the start of each new quatrain.
A Shakespearean sonnet has the rhyming pattern ABABCDCDEFEFGG.
For example in ‘Shall compare thee to a summer’s day’, the first quatrain shows this rhyming pattern, it is at the beginning so is the ABAB part.
“Shall I compare thee to a Summers day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of Maie,
And Sommers lease hath all too short a date:
The rhyming couplet, GG, often finishes a Shakespearean sonnet; this type of ending often ends the poem with a satisfactory conclusion, for example in ‘Shall compare thee to a summers day’
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
There are many techniques used in ‘Shall compare thee to a summers day’, with the beginning of the second quatrain Shakespeare uses a metaphor to describe the sun; he calls it ‘the eye of heaven’.
In Line 6 he uses personification to describe the sun. Shakespeare refers to the sun as ‘he’, giving the sun human qualities. The sun’s colour and light is referred to as a ‘gold complexion’. This is also personification, as complexion is a word used to describe a humans’ skin.
This sonnet is about Shakespeare’s love for another woman. Shakespeare’s attitude towards the theme of love is that it should be displayed openly. The theme of love is typical to the Elizabethan age as most of the poets wrote about ones they loved.
However in the Jacobean age things were a little different. Elizabethan literature generally reflected the enthusiastic self-confidence of a nation expanding its powers and increasing its wealth and not addressing its social and religious problems. During the Jacobean age the main events happening were revolutions, restoration of the monarchy and the victory of Parliament, so therefore the public demanded that the literature be more intellectual.
John Donne was a prominent poet of this time as he had the ability to attack the delicate topic of love with an increasingly liberalistic and argumentatively structured persuasion to the emotions which was common with the metaphysical movement, a perfect example of this is Donne’s poem, ‘The Flea’.
Donne’s poetry was effected by the attitudes and beliefs of this period in that his poetry had to be intellectual and passionate so that the upper class would find it social acceptable.
John Donne was born to a prosperous catholic family in London in 1572. His father, John Donne, was a well-to-do ironmonger and his mother was the daughter of John Heywood, epigrammatist. Donne was educated at Oxford, Cambridge, and Lincoln’s Inn. This care free and easy live childhood should have affected his poetry in that his poetry should have been of happy things and about an easy life. This would have been so were it not for the death of his brother Henry who died of a fever in prison after being arrested for giving sanctuary to a proscribed Catholic priest. This made Donne begin to question his faith and inturn write sadder and less optimistic poetry. Donne was however able to write the poem ‘The flea’ which is a slightly happier poem about a woman he loves.
‘The flea’ describes a tiny blood withdrawing mite which happens to have sucked a droplet of the Donne’s and his mistress’s blood. Ironically he uses the ugliest, most reviled pest to associate with a pure, probably coy mistress in his attempt to finish his courtship of her. Nevertheless, he manages well.
In verse one, the writer enthuses about the ‘how little’ the thing she is denying him is. He slowly begins to build up his argument by saying that being bitten is not a ‘sin’. He talks about how the flea differs in its approach to her. The flea just jumps up and bites her, while he is painstakingly putting his every effort into wooing her like a gentleman. Donne almost sounds deprived here.
In verse two he begs her not to kill the flea, as it is the symbol of their love, and the only place where they are married is in ‘these living walls of Jet.’ He says that although many things are against them, she must not kill it as that would be killing him and it would be ‘sacrilege,’ as it is their ‘marriage temple’. If it dies all hope of them dies
In verse three, she kills the flea, cruel and suddenly. He feels angry, annoyed and hurt at her brutal, pointless act. She justifies her action by saying that by killing the flea she does not harm any one. He immediately replies by acknowledging her argument. He then finishes by saying that the same degree of honour of will be lost when she sleeps with him, in other words if he really loves her he will wait until they are married.
‘The Flea’ is a song that follows the rhyming pattern AABBCCDDD.
MARK but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is ;
It suck’d me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be.
Thou know’st that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead ;
Yet this enjoys before it woo,
And pamper’d swells with one blood made of two ;
And this, alas ! is more than we would do.
In the second verse Donne uses the metaphor ‘This flea is you and I’ and also that killing the flea is killing him. Donne also uses personification when describing the flea as a symbol of their love.
This poem is similar to the one discussed earlier in that it follows the same theme of love, but this poem is more about physical love rather than emotional love. However in both poems the idea that love should be displayed openly is portrayed well by the poets.
The turn of 1832 commenced the dawn of the Victorian period in England where Queen Victoria was ruling. However in America it was a time of intellectual activity as well as social and economic change. American citizens were enjoying the poetical works of many of the bests American poets who were in the cannon of literature. One of these being Walt Whitman who wrote poetry mainly about the optimistic principles of American democracy. However he did write one poem about love, entitled ‘To a stranger’
In America it was uncommon for men to write poetry about love as it was contradictory to the stereotype image of the ‘man’ to be writing soppy poems. Many of the poets of that stage in time wrote poetry about war and adventures. Although this was a poem about love it didn’t follow the customary focus of most love poems which were about a man’s love for a woman. This tends to suggest that Whitman was trying to keep his manly image while still writing poetry of this theme.
Walt Whitman was born in 1819 on Long Island, New York, to Quaker parents. Being the second of nine children, Walt was never alone as a child; however this also meant that his parents were not very wealthy. In 1823 Whitman attended public school until the age of eleven when he left school to get a job as an office boy in a law office. This lack of education meant that Whitman didn’t have as much advantages as that of poets like Shakespeare and Donne, so therefore his poetry was not as cultured as it could have been should he have received proper education. During the American Civil war Whitman attended wounded soldiers in Army hospitals. This would have influenced his poetry by dampening his spirits and lowering his competency to write happy poems about love.
The poem ‘To a Stranger’ can be basically summed up in one word, Dï¿½jï¿½ vu. It is about walking past someone who you think you have loved in a past life time, or someone you have grown up with but you can’t really remember if it is real or just a dream. The first stanza is about some walking by and the poet has a feeling of dï¿½jï¿½ vu.
The second and third stanzas are about the poet remembering a past love or life lived with the person.
The fourth stanza is about the poet meeting eyes with the other person and having strong feelings for the person.
The final stanza is the poet hoping that he will see the person again to reclaim the past love.
This poem can be classified as a lyric because there is no apparent form to its layout.
It is comprised of one five lined stanza and four four lined stanzas. There is no real rhyme in the lyric except that in stanza one, three and five there is a word repeated. The poet shows that he believes love is important in life; this is displayed in the poem when he says that he has lived a life of joy and love with the person, they left and now he wants them back. This can be interpreted through the first two lines of the second stanza
‘I have somewhere surely
Lived a life of joy with you,’
And the last two lines of the lyric.
I am to wait; I do not doubt I am to meet you again
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.
This theme is not typical of this era in time as not many poets wrote about love.
This poem is similar to the other two poems discussed earlier in that its theme is love and it discusses the poets love for an individual however in this poem the idea that love should not be displayed openly is portrayed by this poet.
Shakespeare was a openly passionate poet and most of his works were on love. His attitude towards love was that your feelings towards someone should be shared and that everyone should experience love. Unlike Shakespeare John Donne was not as openly passionate writer of love songs although he did write many love songs. He chose to be intellectual when discussing this topic as was the common thing to do of his time. Walt Whitman however, was not an open love poetry writer at all as it was against the stereotype man image of his time and many of his poems were about war. His feelings towards love were that it was between a man and a woman and that it should not be openly published. Although the three poets all wrote love poems their views on how the poems should be written were different mainly due to the era they lived in, however this difference did not topple the fact that they are all great poets.