In seeking to discover if the classic fathers of poetry can prove beneficial to the marketing of teen romance films, the poems of Shakespeare, Donne and Dryden should be revisited. After all, William Shakespeare wrote over one hundred love sonnets, so certainly something should provide a link from the 1600 to the present. What insight can these poets provide modern teenagers into this thing called romance?
In answering this question, readers must first attempt to decipher what each of these authors means by romance. Defining this term is difficult enough without having to pore over archaic volumes of poetry that seems to be written in a different language, even if it claims to be modern English! However, when these tomes are dusted off and sifted through, definitions of romance do bubble to the surface. For example, “Love’s Alchemy” by John Donne, “Ah, How Sweet it is to Love,” by John Dryden, and “Sonnets 116 and 130” by William Shakespeare, all have something to say about this most ambiguous term.
First of all, John Donne expresses through his poem “Love’s Alchemy” the very mesmerizing nature of love. His speaker is what modern people might call a naysayer (or teens call a buzz kill). He is certain that his life is just a fulfilling as the lives of other men who are in love. He proclaims love to be an “imposture, all!” (Donne, line 6).
He points out that “no chemic yet th’elixer got” (line 7), meaning nobody has a recipe for love that he knows about and that those in love are merely dreaming. The speaker questions the loss of “our ease, our thrift, our honour, and our day” to this “vain bubble’s shadow” of love (lines14-15). He seems mystified at his colleagues finding the music of the spheres in the voices and minds of the women the say they love and ultimately concludes that women are possessed and therefore bewitch the men into loving them.
This poem seems to indicate that love is a farce, black magic even which serves to intoxicate and brainwash the lover. How true it is! What teenager (or adult) would ever deny that he or she has done something completely insane, completely out of character, even completely embarrassing all in the name of love? Donne’s speaker, though clearly lonely, has illuminated the very essence of love – magic. Although this speaker’s sardonic treatment of romance is evident, the magic that seems to have beset his friend appears to be stronger than all of the speaker’s denial. He is jealous and empty.
John Dryden’s poem “Ah, how sweet it is to love!” takes a completely different tone from the pessimism of Donne’s. This poem moves swiftly, like a song, without the drudgery of Donne’s lyric. Of course some of the content is similar. The speaker, though euphoric, notes the “pleasing pains we prove/When we first approach Love’s fire!”(Dryden, lines 3-4). Even if this love produces tears, these tears are the “trickling balm” (line10) to the one in love. The contrasts between pain and soothing pleasure in this poem in a way reinforces Donne’s theme that love is magic – but not black magic as Donne’s speaker might suggest.
Here, the speaker praises the romantic experience as being an oxymoronic jaunt through emotion – pleasure and pain, joy and sadness, rise and fall. The movement of this poem mimics the ups and downs of true romance – the incredible highs and the devastating lows. Both are important parts of true love. Nobody knows this better than a teenager who has gone on a magical date with his or her true love only to have that bubble burst even a few days later. Of course the bubble resurfaces with another invitation and the cycle continues, as Dryden’s speaker celebrates.
Finally, the tried and true lover of all, William Shakespeare, actually focuses his reader on the realities of love and romance in two sonnets, numbers 116 and 130. In these sonnets, Shakespeare takes a look at what a real romance really is by examining what love is not. In Sonnet 116, the speaker cautions that love will not change as time goes by. He notes that “Love is not love/which alters when it alteration finds” (Shakespeare, Sonnet 116, lines 2-3) and that “Love is not Time’s fool” (line 9).
These lines suggest that changes in people’s looks will not change the nature of the romance. In Sonnet 130, the speaker notes again the magical quality that love has on a person. The speaker sets out by noting that his “mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun”(Shakespeare, Sonnet 130, line 1) and that her voice is far from musical. He illuminates her physical faults only to argue that she is a real person and that her faults do not have any impact on their relationship. He loves her regardless and would not belittle that romance by offering the ridiculous comparisons of other people (and poets).
Here Shakespeare grounds the readers. After reading many poems which compare lovers to goddesses, teens might note a correlation with fashion magazines that compare women with 6 foot tall, size-zero models. Love and romance is a real occurrence in life, so real faults and real pains will be involved. Dryden and Shakespeare express these realities in their poems. Donne expresses this magical quality about love that his speaker tries to denounce, but that has clearly caught his friends in its intoxicating web.
Oddly, we see through these poems that love and romance are characterized as both reality-driven and magical. The feelings are like none that people have ever felt, but these feelings are grounded in real appearances and real situations. Most teens today pronounce that they just want to “Keep it Real!” These poets, though years ago, can certainly help them in that capacity.
Donne, John. “Love’s Alchemy.” Luminarium. Retrieved 8 February 2007 from http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/donne/alchemy.php
Dryden, John. “Ah How Sweet it is to Love.” Bartleby.com. Retrieved 8 February 2007 from http://www.bartelby.org/101/400.html
Shakespeare, William. “Sonnet 116.” Poets.org. Retrieved 8 February 2007 from http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19398
— . “Sonnet 130.” Poets.org. Retrieved 8 February 2007 from http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15557
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