Plena Timoris by Thomas Hardy, Refugee Mother and Child by Chinua Achebe and Piano by D. H. Lawrence are all poems that explore the theme of love, although they may seem very different at first glance. Plena Timoris tells of two young lovers’ relationship as it ends, while Refugee Mother and Child shows the strong bond between a mother and her child and Piano takes the poet down the road of remembrance into his childhood.
As many readers would know, love can be a painful thing. However, the first stanza of Plena Timoris portrays a seemingly perfect and flawless love of a man and woman. The poet constructs the setting to be that of a typical love poem by using the images of “parapet-stone” and “the moon in its southing directly blent / its silver with their environment”, the moon being a symbol of romance and secret meetings with lovers in the 19th century, the time of the poem.
The alliteration of the “l” sound in “lovers looked” and “laughed and leant” suggests that the lovers are harmonious and at one with each other and their surroundings as the “l” sound is one that is soft, smooth, flowing and not at all abrupt. The image of “his arm around her” shows the sense of security within their relationship, the regular rhyme scheme of ABBAB and the regular structure of four stanzas of five lines, adding to this security, comfort and predictability. This very positive portrayal of love convinces the reader to pursue love as love is shown as achievable perfection and therefore links love to perfection.
Refugee Mother and Child illustrates a different type of love: the affections of a mother for her child. The poet alludes to the recognized image of the Madonna and Child to show the eternal love of a mother for her child and that this love is universal whether it is between the Madonna and Child or a refugee and her son. The poet also implies his thoughts on how the love of the refugee for her child is greater and more tender than the love of the Madonna as the refugee is in a very bleak situation.
This greater love is shown by “no Madonna could touch that picture of a mother’s tenderness.” The purity and strength of the mother’s love is shown through the synaesthia “singing in her eyes”, symbolising the hope and pride of the mother despite the bleak circumstance. Positive phrases and nouns, such as “pride” and “flowers”, are scarce in the poem, causing them to stand out even more against the many negative phrases. This contrast makes the good seem better than it is, and the impact that these nouns have is made stronger and stronger as the poem goes on.
Piano, on the poet’s close relationship with his mother is another positive portrayal of love between a mother and her child. However, it is shown in a different perspective in that it is from the perspective of the child. The sibilance in “smiles as she sings” helps to replicate the calm and relaxed atmosphere of “the cosy parlour” and the warm affections of the mother and child. This is added to by “the heart of me weeps to belong” as the heart is where deep feelings are said to originate and belong.
It also emphasises that the mother is the emotional heart of the poet’s childhood, as she is of Piano. It is obvious that there is a strong bond between the poet and his mother, and this sense of security and predictability is heightened by the regular rhyme scheme of AABB, which is a reminder of the patterns of melody in music, and the constant structure of four lines in each stanza. To me though, the sense of security that the poet felt at home is surprising, given that his childhood was overshadowed by negativities, such as his father who was a heavy drinker. However, this serves only to further communicate the poet’s love for his mother, emphasising that his mother was the emotional heart of his childhood as she is of Piano.
All three poems contain positive elements of love in their different portrayals. However, all three poems also bear with them, pain and sadness. Refugee Mother and Child conveys the negative of the situation it portrays in extreme. There is death and disease all around and “the air was heavy with odours / of diarrhoea…”, but in contrast to what I would have expected, death brought the mother and child closer together. The poet mentions how things would have been different “in another life”, and future conditionals in the past tense such as “would have been” and “would have to forget” serve to separate the mother from the alternative lifestyle that we in the wealthy portion of the world take for granted.
As a result of the separation, the act of “part[ing] it (the child’s hair” becomes greatly significant as it would be a “daily act of no consequence” in the alternative life, but instead, it was as though she was “putting flowers on a tiny grave”. This image that the poem builds up to is a final representation of death as it is often seen at funerals, showing that the mother is preparing her child for his death as she parts her child’s hair, making it perfect as she would do had he been dead. In this, death brings them together as the mother wants more time with her son, and treasures the physical contact with him as she parts his hair “carefully”.
In contrast, death tears apart the lovers in Plena Timoris, as the girl in the poem seemingly becomes the drowned woman when she hears of the tragedy. The negative undertone of the poem shows through in the title itself which is Latin for “a woman full of fear and dread”, describing at first the woman who “drowned herself for the love of a man” and then describing the girl in the poem as “her arm dropt from his”. This contrasts the image of “his arm around her” at the beginning of the poem, and this represents the loss of emotional closeness between the lovers. “They said; climbed over; slid down; let go” has many unnatural pauses, and is deliberately confusing to the reader, mirroring the lovers’ confusion. The sudden end to their closeness is shown in “until he grew tired.
But she…” as it is the only line with a full stop in the middle, which represents the end of their relationship. The cynicism the poem has towards love is also shown through the men who retrieve the woman’s body who say “so much for love in this mortal sphere!” The use of the phrase “mortal sphere” suggests that the poet thinks the only true love you can have faith in is religious love and piety, and that relationships are essentially “mortal” and doomed. Having seen love as perfection at the beginning, the negativities that start in stanza two bring a dreadful low to the reader. I, myself, felt disappointment and “hopeless despair” and was persuaded that love is, in essence, condemned – that true love like what was shown at the beginning of the poem, can never be found and will never last.
Piano, although it doesn’t refer to death, is also a poem that is tinted with melancholy. The tone of the poem is nostalgic and wistful and emphasis on this longing is furthered by phrases such as “I weep like a child for the past”, showing that it is impossible to go back. The poem is written in present tense, and this further distances the poet from the past that he cannot revisit. The poet writes that the “song / betrays me (the poet) back” and the alliteration on the harsh “b” sound adds to the effect of the word “betrays”, which has negative connotations such as distrust.
The choice of the word “betrays” suggests that it was not by his own will that he is revisiting his memories and the immense love he has for his mother, and this leads me to think that it was not socially acceptable to break down and be as emotional as in Piano, and research into the Victorian era when the poem was written shows this to be true. With the pressures that are on men still, to be emotionally strong, the pressures back then must have been even greater in comparison, and for Lawrence to write Piano as his “manhood is cast” and reveal his overwhelming emotions even so shows the effect his mother must have had on him.
The three poems all deal with the universal themes of love and suffering – Plena Timoris on the loss of love between the two young lovers, and Piano on the remembrance of a love in the past. However, as a reader, Refugee Mother and Child is the one that has the most impact on me because of the familiar hyper-realistic photojournalistic images, that the media frequently show, that appear throughout the poem. This draws out sympathy, guilt and grievance from the reader as many of us in the wealthy portion of the world do not do a significant amount to help, and because we are privileged which makes it hard for us to imagine the circumstance, the resilient love of the mother for her dying son is even more moving, dealing with the themes of love and suffering most powerfully out of the three poems.
Of course, Plena Timoris and Piano are also effective in portraying love, but in different guises from that in Refugee Mother and Child. However, the poems have a point in common in that all three poems also movingly illustrate the pain and suffering that is felt through the painful loss of love, which we all hope will never happen but as shown by the poems, inevitably does. This in itself unites the poems, showing the love depicted in each as the same, underneath the surface, and universal.