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Love In Victorian Poetry

My Last Duchess – Robert Browning

The poem seems to be direct speech from a Duke as he is discussing a painting of his late wife with a group of people who are quite probably friends and acquaintances attending a party. Throughout the poem the Duke implies that his wife was, or appeared to him to be, too friendly with other men as there was no distinguishing between the smiles she gave him and the smiles she gave other men. There is an undertone to the poem which suggests that the Duke may have had some hand in the Duchesses death.

Love Presented

The idea of sexual love and promiscuity is presented – The Duke believes his wife is not faithful to him, although the idea of her being sexually involved with other men is not explicitly shown.

The idea of a lack of love is presented – The Duke only mentions his late wife’s portrait in passing and then moves on to look at other art, he is not that ‘hung up’ over her. Also, if his wife was flirting with other men it suggests that she felt no love for him, either. This fits with the idea that for upper class people marriage was usually for convenience.

Form

The text is similar to a narrative poem because it tells a story, although in a retrospective way.

The fact that the speaker of the poem is telling an anecdote makes the reader feel as if they are talking directly to them as oppose to directing it to an unknown recipient.

Structure

The poem is made up of one stanza containing 56 lines of steady iambic pentameter.

The rhyme is regular rhyming couplets.

The fact that the poem is so regularly structured like this reflects the idea of the poem telling a story.

However, it also contrasts with the underlying disturbing idea of the poem that the Duchess was murdered.

The many uses of caesura and enjambment throughout the poem make it seem like natural speech, further supporting the idea of it being an anecdote.

Language

The language is quite clear and there is not a lot of imagery, which again supports the idea of it being anecdotal.

At one point Browning uses direct speech from another character, so we are able to see another character’s viewpoint on the situation and what we see suggests that the Duke was being paranoid.

There is also a euphemism within the poem. Although we can assume the Duchess is dead from the title, the phrase ‘I gave commands/ Then all smiles stopped together.’ Is the first implicit suggestion we receive that tells us the Duke might have had her killed.

How Do I Love Thee? – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

In contrast to the poem above, Browning’s poem is just her describing the different ways she loves someone. It seems to be about someone specific and ends with a suggestion, which is very typical in poems about romantic love, that she will even love him after death.

Love Presented

The only love presented in this poem is romantic love. Browning pretty much over-romanticises love in her description of it, suggesting that is a new love or a very intense one.

Form

Unlike the former, Browning’s poem is nothing like a narrative poem and doesn’t appear to have any clear form other than it being a poem.

The speaker, we assume, is just Browning, which does make the poem seem more personal and make it feel like it is directed at a specific person rather than to the general public.

Structure

The poem is structures into 3 stanzas. The first two with 4 lines each and the last with 6 lines, which gives the impression that the last is summing up all of her feelings.

The metre is a mixture of iambs and anapaests and is a fairly even tetrameter throughout. This rising rhythm reflects the optimism the poet has about her love and her view that it will last until death.

The rhyme scheme for the first two stanzas is ABBA, giving them a rounded and balanced feel and the final stanza is alternate, suggesting it really does sum up her feelings for him. Language used

The majority of the language used is hyperbolic, suggesting the speaker feels their love is greater than any other love.

The poem is something like a list format with every point made starting with ‘I love thee’, which gives the impression she is speaking this directly to the one that she loves.

Context

Both were written in the Victorian period, so the contexts for both are fairly similar. Things like sex outside of marriage and adultery were frowned upon and marriage was typically for convenience should probably be considered when looking at Victorian poetry. However, there is also the idea of attitudes evolving and the fact that industry was booming to consider also.

Other Poems

Here is a list of some other poems and what type of love they display:

Goblin Market – Christina Rossetti - Sexual love, familial love (sisterly).

Remember – Christina Rossetti – Romantic love, grief and love.

Remembrance – Robert Browning - Romantic love, grief and love.

Anything by Emily Dickenson – Probably lack of love and possibly love of nature.

Literature


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