In this essay I’m going to be comparing two love poems. The two poems I will be comparing are “Sonnet” be Edna St Vincent Millay and “No Second Troy” composed by Irelands most famous writer, William Butler Yeats. I hope to look in detail at both poems and to be able to compare and contrast both pieces.
“Sonnet” was written in 1917 be Edna St Vincent Millay. Edna St Vincent Millay was a middle class citizen born in Maine, America. She was very well educated and began writing poetry from the age of 15. “Sonnet” is a love poem structured around betrayal and depression, we can see this in the first line
“Time does not bring relief; you all have lied”
Here Edna St Vincent Millay is referring to the people that told her at the time of separation that things would get better in time and directly accuses a friend or family of lying to her. The first and second lines make use of enjambment which makes the poem flow, it gives the poem a slow rhythm to suit her emotions. Enjambment is used frequently throughout the poem.
“Who told me time would ease me of my pain!”
Millay uses an accusation tone here to show her emotions, which I believe suggests that she is unstable, as she wants to blame anybody apart from herself.
Millay uses personification to display her emotions as the “weeping of the rain” which refers to her tears and also rhymes with “pain” in the previous line. She also uses personification in
“I miss him at the shrinking of the tide”
To say that she misses him when the tide is out which represents peace and quiet in this situation, “tide” rhymes with “lied” in the opening line of the poem. Edna St Vincent Millay compares there relationship with old snow. For example,
“The old snows melt from every mountain-side”
In my opinion “melting snow” is a perfect description as it represents their relationship in two ways: one is that snow “melts” representing their relationship disappearing, and secondly that snow is “cold” also representing their cold and non affectionate relationship.
Millay describes their present relationship situation very cleverly by describing it as “smoke”. As the poet says,
“And last year’s leaves are smoke in every lane”
She uses a perfect description here again as “smoke” is almost non existent and like the “melting snow” in the previous lines it shows that the relationship no longer exists, but unlike the cold snow smoke resembles fire and heat which could mean that they had a fiery relationship. In the past four lines the poet has mentioned all four seasons, I think she has done this so that she can show the reader that she misses him all year round and that she still loves him. I believe that Edna St Vincent Millay is obsessed with him, a good example of this is,
“But last years bitter loving must remain
Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide”
Thins is a great example of compulsive behaviour as she admits that the love was “bitter” but it’s still better than nothing, Edna St Vincent Millay uses an oxymoron to emphasise on the “bitter loving” in my opinion this is used at exactly the right time as it’s showing the reader that she must accept a negative to experience a little glimpse of a positive one. There is also repetition with the words “last year” used in the previous line also. Enjambment is used once again here to give the poem a flow and a slow tempo to suit her emotions. I think that Edna St Vincent Millay has linked the octet to the sestet very cleverly, she uses the last five words of the octet to liken it to the sestet and to completely change her emotions. The octet is dominated by her wanting the love to be mutual but the last five words are about wanting to forget him which leads into the sestet which is dominated by her feelings and her efforts to forget him. You can observe this easily in the opening line,
“There are hundred places where I fear
To go, – so with his memory they brim!”
Edna Millay can’t forget him, she wants to forget him but she can’t, this proves my point from before the quotation. She also uses hyperbole to emphasis the fact that she cant go any were his memory does not exist.
“And entering with relief some quiet place
Where never fell his foot or shone his face”
Here we can see that Edna Millay still thinks of him as ‘divine’, although not literally this is obvious when she says “or shone his face”. This shows that she still loves him. I find it intriguing that she uses the verb “shone” as this is sometime used when talking about a star or an angel, this could mean that she thinks, metaphorically that he’s an angel. She continues to say that when she goes to a place where his foot has never fallen or where his face has never shone so she remembers him.
“I say, “There is no memory of him here!”
And so stand stricken, so remembering him!”
The poem has a slow rhythm and uses imagery throughout and techniques such as enjambment, personification, sibilance, oxymoron and hyperbole.
The second poem I will be comparing is “No Second Troy”. “No Second Troy” was written in 1910 by Ireland’s most famous writer, William Butler Yeats was born in 1865 and was brought up and educated in Dublin. William Butler Yeats had an interest in Irish literature from a very young age and was quoted as being “the pillar in Irish literature”. During Yeats’ early life he fell deeply in love with a lady called Maude Gonne, in 1901 Yeats proposed unsuccessfully for the third time, she saying that she would never marry. In 1903 much to Yeats’ dislike she married an Irish nationalist Major John McBride. William Butler Yeats, Maud Gonne and Major John McBride all shared one dream, Irish Independence. Gonnes’ obsession with the concept of Irish independence was much greater than Yeats’.
“No Second Troy” is a love poem built around the structure of love, violence and depression. The title suggests that Yeats compares Maude Gonne with Helen of Troy.
The Poem begins with a rhetorical question
“Why should I blame her that she filled my days
I think he uses the rhetorical question here to tell the readers that Gonne wouldn’t care if she had filled his “days with misery” and that all she cares about is Irish independence. Referring to one of my earlier points William Butler Yeats believes in what Gonne is fighting for but not the way she’s doing it. As he writes,
“Or that she would of late
Have taught most ignorant men most violent ways”
William Butler Yeats tells the reader that she is to blame for the IRA, when he says “Taught to ignorant men most violent ways” this could mean that she uses her beauty to entice people in to fighting for her, just like Helen of Troy. William Butler Yeats gives us his opinion on the IRA quite cleverly when he mentions violence, although he doesn’t mention the IRA you still get his opinion, this is done very cleverly by Yeats. William Butler Yeats proves him self correct in saying that the way they are trying to get Irish independence is wrong when he says
“Or hurled the little streets upon the great”
This is a factual quote from “No Second Troy”, Yeats tells the audience that the British look down on the Irish. Yeats uses “little” to describe the Irish, I think he uses “little” to try and say that they are lower class compared to the British this can be seen easily when he calls the British “great” . But Yeats later goes on to say
“Had they but courage equal to desire”.
To me this is a very important quotation from the poem as he is saying if the Irish’s courage was equal to their ambition they could be like the British, but it is as if he is giving advice because unlike before he is not running the plan down. Yeats wants Irish Independence and is trying to encourage the Irish by telling them that they can become great but they must fight.
William Butler Yeats believes that violence isn’t the way to gain independence. He wants Maud Gonne to fight for it in a civilized way, legally, this can be observed in the following lines.
“What could have made her peaceful with a mind
That nobleness made simple as a fire”.
Butler Yeats says here that Gonne could have been happy if she would have done it without violence and did things politically and not violently and that her passion for Irish independence could have been achieved by doing it his way. Yeats goes back to talking about Maud Gonne in a very positive way-
“With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
That is not natural in an age like this”
Here you can see that Yeats is obsessed with Maud Gonne when he says that Gonne’s beauty was not natural. We can see Yeats’ opinion of her was very impressive, in my opinion Yeats is telling the reader that her beauty is too good for earth, but after reading the next line you can see that unnatural beauty can come with consequences and be dangerous.
“Being high and solitary and most stern?”
Yeats tells the reader that Maud Gonne’ beauty has led her to arrogance and to an unhappy and emotionally lonely life. A reason for this could be that her obsession with independence has dominated her life and has mentally changed her. In my opinion William Butler Yeats’ changes from being desirable at the start of the poem to being a person looking back in hindsight, this can be seen in this following quote
“Why, what could she have done, being what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?”
From this quote you can see why I thought that he was looking back in hindsight, he looks back in hindsight and asks him self what could he or she have done to prevent the “solitary” and the “sternest” behaviour. When he says
“Was there another Troy for her to burn?”
I think he says this for two possible reasons, one being that she could ruin Ireland and that “Troy” would represent Ireland and “Burn” could resemble the fighting in Ireland. The other possibility is that she is like Helen of “Troy” and that she could become all cause of conflict. The poem begins with a rhetorical question and ends with a rhetorical question, this is just one of the numerous techniques used by Yeats an other technique that Yeats uses is enjambment, W B Yeats uses enjambment all throughout the poem to give it a medium pace rhythm.
After reading and analyzing both “Sonnet” and “No Second Troy” I can finally compare and contrast.
One of the many comparisons is that both poems have been subject of inspiration. “Sonnet” is inspired by Millay’ former partner as is Yeats’ poem. They are both based on the theme of love and both are heavily negative and slightly obsesive. For example this quotation from “Sonnet” proves just how eccentric her love for him is, “last years bitter loving must remain”.
Both poet’s use enjambment frequently throughout the entire poems. Here is an example from “No second Troy”,
“WHY should I blame her that she filled my days
With misery, or that she would of late
Have taught to ignorant men most violant ways”
In my opinion enjambment has been very instrumental to both poets as it allows the poem to flow nicely and to control the rhythym and pace of the poem. For example, enjambment has been used here
“But last years bitter loving must remain
Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide!”
Here it is used to give the poem a medium paced rhythym and is very effective.
Both poems use a small amount of hyperbole, a great example of hyperbole is in “Sonnet” where Millay says “There are a hundread places where I fear to go”. An example of hyperbole from “No Second Troy” is “That nobleness made simple as fire”.
Although there are many comparisons between both poems there are also many differences. For example “No Second Troy” uses rhetorical questions where Millay’ “Sonnet” doesn’t. I think rhetorical questions play a large part in Yeats’ poem as it brings more emotion to the poem. A good example of this is “WHY should I blame her that she filled my days with misery?”.
An other difference is that Millay uses an oxymoron in “Sonnet”. In my opinion a good example of an oxymoron from “Sonnet” is “But last years bitter loving must remain”. I think the oxymoron shows strong emphasis on the ex-relationship status and gives us an insight on what the relationship used to be like.
A big difference in both poems is the flow of the poems. This is mostly effected by the enjembment’s used and the rhyming scheme. “Sonnet” doesn’t follow any rhyming scheme where as “No Second Troy” does. This has a large impact on the flow of both poems which are completely different. “Sonnet” flows much faster than “No Second Troy” making it much better to read.