Explore the Way Poets Portray Love in La Belle Dam Sans Merci with Reference to 5 Other Poems

Core Texts: La Belle Dame Sans Merci. A Ballard – John Keats Sonnet 116 – William Shakespeare My Last Duchess-Ferrara – Robert Browning Illumination Texts: Sonnet 18 – William Shakespeare Valentine – Carol Ann Duffy Porphyria’s Lover – Robert Browning In the above poems love is presented in 3 very different ways, twisted and false love, typically romantic forbidden love, and unchanging love. Twisted and controlling love is a theme that can be seen in some of Robert Browning’s poetry. My Last Duchess” is a dramatic monologue written in 1842 by Robert Browning. It is written in 28 rhyming couplets, with iambic pentameter, which dominates the poem. The conversational flow of the poem is created by making caesura and enjabment. The enjambed lines may indicate control that the speaker is exerting on the conversation and give the feeling that the speaker is rushing through parts of the poem, possibly smimming over the parts the show him in a unflattering light.
When the Duke speaks of the death of his wife, for example, the lines running over suggest that he is nervous about the subject and is nervous of whether he is revealing too much about his envolvement and the caesuras also suggest to the reader that he is hiding something or that he is pausing to carefully think about his phrasing. However, perhaps on reflection, he then boast of his envolvement in line 45 – ‘i gave commands’ possibly showing his character as fake and mysterious, untrustworthy.
We know that the Duchess died suspiciously and that the Duke is in the process of looking for a new wife, and suggesting he disposed of his old one. He is speaking to a messenger about a painting of his now deceased Duchess. The Duke, of course, is casting himself in a favorable light and is presenting his best side. He wants to make it look as if his wife was cheating on him and was unfaithful to him, showing he is not trust worthy. He is very controlling, and could not control her and her smiles or looks – line 24 – ‘too soon made glad, too easily impressed’.

This smile was what the Duke likes the most about the painting of the Duchess–he feels that the painter accurately captured the smile and the ? ‘spot of joy’ in the Duchess. Now that the Duke owns this painting and has placed it behind a curtain, he can at last control who is graced with her smile. ?     When the Duchess was alive, the Duke could not control her smile and love for life and he considered her unfaithful. Other aspects of the Duke that remain unclear include his true character and his true feelings for the Duchess, whether he really ever loved her or not, remain unknown.
As mentioned, he is presenting his best side, but through his speech the reader sees how he is very jealous and controlling, which leads one to believe that he may have many dishonorable qualities. With such a negative description of the Duchess, suggesting she was unfaithful and lacking in refinement, it raises questions about the Duke’s true feelings for the Duchess. This is where the idea of twisted and false love. We question whether the Duke ever loved the Duchess or whether she was just another object for him to control and toy with for his own personal enjoyment and not becasue of true love for his wife.
This twisted and somewhat controlling love can be seen in another of Browning’s poems. In both Porphyria’s Lover and My Last Duchess, Browning describes a man who responds to the affection of a woman by controlling and ultimately killing her. Each monologue offers the speakers’ reasons for his actions towards the desired woman from subject to his object. For example, we have already seen in My Last Duchess, the Duke may have murdered his wife out of jealousy, but decides to keeps a portrait of her behind a curtain so none can look upon her smile without his permission.
Similarly in Porphyria’s Lover, the man wishes to preserve a single perfect moment between himself and Porphyria and so he kills his lover and sits all night embracing her carefully arranged body, as to enjoy the control he used to preserve the moment. In Porphyria’s Lover the man seems to become convinced that Porphyria wanted to be murdered, and claims “No pain felt she” while being strangled, adding, as if to reassure himself “I am quite sure she felt no pain. ” Sonnet 116 portrays a stark contrast to the twisted and controlling love of My Last Duchess.
The main theme of this poem is unchanging love, that love can weather any storm and overcome adversity. The sonnet comprises of 3 quatrains with a new thought at the start of it, with a couplet at the end. each idea in a quatrian is linked, with the help of the steady ABAB rhythm, however it is kept fresh and light with the inclusion of halft rhymes. Sonnet 116 is about love in its most ideal form. It is praising the glories of lovers who have entered into a relationship based on trust and the understanding that trials and tribulations are a part of relationship.
The first four lines reveal the poet’s pleasure in love that is constant and strong, and will not “alter when it alteration finds. ” It describes love as it ‘looks on tempest and is never shaken’ meaning that no matter what life presents, love can and does remain strong. it enstills a hope in love and relationships. The poet goes onto proclaim that true love is indeed an “ever-fix’d mark” which will survive any crisis. Through to line 10 we see the poet explain the physical changes that can occur suring relationships, but reassures that ageing, death and physical appearance will not phase death, descrbing love as a ‘bending sickle’.
The remaining lines of the third quatrain (9-12), reaffirm the perfect nature of love that is unshakeable throughout time and will remain so “ev’n to the edge of doom”, ie death. It also points out that those who find true love, don’t realise how much enrichment. The poet reminds us that love’s ‘worth [is] unknown’, meaning that love can give you strength you never had or knew existed. In the final couplet, the poet declares that, if he is mistaken about the constant, unmovable nature of true love, then he must take back all his writings on love.
Moreover, he adds that, if he has in fact judged love inappropriately, no man has ever really loved, in the ideal sense that the poet professes and that his words are untruthful. This sonnet does not use as much romantic and poetic language as some of his othger sonnets, for example Sonnet 18. The reason for this, is to symbolise the reality of a relationship. sometimes it isnt always chocolates, roses and romantic poems. Often true love and real relationships has ups and downs, but one resounding idea is that features in this sonnet is that true love isn’t easy, but ‘alters when alteration finds’ and ‘is ever fixed’.
Valentine by Carol Ann Duffy, like Sonnet 116, is a poem that portrays love in its rawest form, without the extraneous poetic gestures of love, and instead focusing on a realistic view of love and its hinderances. In the poem Duffy suggests these normal, cliched gestures of love are meaningless and instead gives her lover an onion instead of a rose – ‘I give you an onion’. Duffy looks at the ways an onion is suitable for showing love. She tells her lover what an onion will do for him and uses the onion as symbol. The onion could represent patience, discovery and tears.
The onion represents the tough side of love and the truth about love. The demure and almost humble description of the onions outer skin described as ‘ the moon wrapped in brown paper’ evokes the idea that love may seem boring when you first experience it, but if you take the time to look beneath the so calle dboring exterior, there is a inner beaty and radiance. This is realised with the word ‘light’, referrin to moon light. The imagery used in this poem is poetic, yet still holds true to the style of Sonnet 116, ie realism. The moon, may promise light – but doesn’t always deliver.
Duffy appears to be warning of trusting too much in the promises of romantic partners. ‘The careful undressing of love’ may reveal a person’s true character and motives under the veneer of romantic vows, again critising the cliche romantic type. ?The poet goes on to cleverly create an image of tear-filled eyes – ‘It will blind you with tears like a lover. It will make your reflection a wobbling photo of grief. ’ Here she refers to the stinging, burning properties of onions, using a technique which causes readers to try and visualise seeing through tear-filled eyes by the use of language such as ‘blind,’ ‘tears,’ ‘reflection’ and ‘wobbling. These words all evoke memories of trying to view images through tears. She likens stinging hurts caused by insensitive loves and the blurred vision and sore eyes caused by crying and emotional pain to those created by an onion. La Belle Dame Sans Merci. A Ballard is portyas perhaps the most classically romantic type of love. Often passionate, poetic and short lived, this type of love is well represented in this poem, although it does have many interpretations. The style and language of the poem is very romantic, while theme can be interpretted as forbidden love.
In the poem a young knight meets a beautiful woman, who is so described as ‘ a faeries child’. This description immediately gives us the impression that this young woman is not of the mortal world. There are many stories surrounding relationships between mortals and immortals, and they are often thought to be forbidden. The barrier between these two worlds often leads to unhappiness as the immortality of one partner creates problems in the relationship in many myths for example Persephone and Hades.
The first glimpse we get that the relationship between the knight and the fairy may be forbidden is when the poet says ‘she wept and sighed full sore’ – line 30. It is possible that the fairy is weeping as she knows the realtionship is doomed from the start, that the couple cannot stay together, as the crossover between mortal and imortal world is precluded. She may be powerless to stop the fate of the knight, and is feeling guilty for what she imposed on the knight.
As the fairy is unable to help him escape his fate, she tries to comfort him as best she can, – line 33- ‘and there she lulled me to sleep’. As he sleeps the knight is shown the fate of a man like him, one who has had this fate placed upon him. he is not quite sure if it is a dream, or if he has entered his fate, shown by the constant switching of scenery, from lakeside to hillside -lines 40-44. This dream like state relays back to the romantic love and the idea of dreams, beautiful fairies and other worlds were all romantic ideas, common at the time.
This romantic, poet desciption of the knights lover, scenery and dreams are not dissimilar to one of the most famous sonnets. In Sonnet 18 the poet begins by asking whether he should compare “thee” to a summer day. He says that his beloved is more lovely and more even-tempered. He carries on, saying that everything beautiful eventually fades by chance or by nature’s inevitable changes. Coming back to the beloved he writes about, though, he argues that his or her summer won’t fade nor will his or her beauty fade away.
Moreover, death will never be able to take the beloved and concludes that as long as humans exist and can see, the poem will live on, allowing the beloved to keep living as well. This poem is has the classic romantic and poetic language, the best instance being the comparison of the subjects beauty to the transient beauty of nature, as the lady in La Belle Dame Sans Merci, is described in realtion to nature. However the poet goes on to argue that the subjects beauty is the opposite to natures, as summer can be too hot and short etc – ‘summer’s lease hath all too short a date’.

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