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Examine the theme of Love Essay

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Love. A word familiar to everyone. Love has the power to control ones mind and body. It sometimes provokes a good, healthy and passionate relationship or could be the vital ingredient that leads to obsession, possessiveness or even betrayal.

Poetry is a powerful tool that many use to convey love’s true meaning. It is a unique and special way to help us understand love and what it really is. With clever and emotive wording, love can be experienced by anyone.

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Like love, poetry has many different forms and in this piece of coursework I shall explain each one and show how they can create different atmospheres. You will also realise that poets have certain styles and often one’s work can be spotted just through context.

I will examine sonnets first. They are all fourteen lines and usually about an abstract subject. The lines are fairly long and don’t tell a story. Sonnets also have many different themes.

There are two forms of sonnet, Petrarchan and Shakespearean. Petrarchan was a form named after a Roman poet called Petrarch. He divided his poems into eight lines and six lines. The eight lines are the same, like eight notes in music, these are called an octave. The following six are called a sestet. The octave will consist of one particular thought or idea. After these eight lines the writer changes the direction in the last six, the sestet. The turn in meaning is called a Volta.

Shakespearean is the second form of sonnet. It is divided up differently into three sections of four lines called a quatrain. This leaves two lines at the end that rhyme, a rhyming couplet.

‘Shall I compare thee . . .’

(William Shakespeare)

“Shall I compare thee . . .” is a sonnet written by William Shakespeare and has a very similar theme to many of his other sonnets. He portrays how cruel time can be. This poem allows Shakespeare’s love live forever, maybe not physically but mentally. His poem defeats the meaning of time by letting people have eternal life.

The first two lines show Shakespeare comparing his loved one with a summers day.

“Shall I compare thee to a Summers day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:”

Here he uses a summer’s day as something beautiful and questions the comparison between this and his loved one. He goes on to say she is more temperate. Shakespeare means that his loved one is not too much and avoids excess.

“Rough windes do shake the darling buds of Maie,

And Sommers lease hath all too short a date”

These two lines display Shakespeare pointing out the disadvantages of summer. A strong wind can spoil the buds of May and summer doesn’t last long.

“Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dim’d,”

The sun can sometimes be too hot. The eye of heaven is not only used as a metaphor but also displays personification. The sun can be hidden away by the clouds whereas their love for one another will not let anything get in the way.

Lines seven and eight how beauty is affected at certain times under certain circumstances. The beauty on the outside never lasts and will eventually fade either by age, chance or illness etc.

“And every faire from faire some-times declines

By chance, or natures changing course untrim’d”

After these two lines Shakespeare conveys a picture of his love that has eternal beauty.

“But thy eternall Sommer shall not fade,

Nor loose possesion of that faire thou ow’st”

Here it also describes the beauty she owns shall never fade like everyone else’s.

“Nor’ Shall death brag wondr’st in his shade

When in eternall lines to time thou grow’st”

This is where the poem focuses on the everlasting nature of his poetry. Personification of death is used. Death cannot claim his love if these lines exist.

“So long as men can breath or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee”

The poem ends with this rhyming couplet which is seen in many of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

Let Me Not

(William Shakespeare)

This sonnet by Shakespeare describes the nature of a lasting love between two people. He argues that true love denies any ‘impediments’ especially as it is a marriage of true minds. He also mentions that it cannot be altered. It does not ‘alter’ or ‘bend’. This sonnet reflects a theme similar to that of ‘Shall I compare thee….’. Using love as a tool for immortality and eternal life. The theme of everlasting love develops further. Love is stronger than tempests and alters not even with the passage of time, which it describes as brief. The poem finishes with an emphatic couplet, which claims that if he is mistake then his poem was never written, and ‘no man ever loved’. A clever statement that displays his confidence in loves eternity.

Porphyria’s Lover

(Robert Browning)

“Porphyria’s Lover” is one of the earliest and most shocking of Browning’s dramatic monologues. The poem is about an obsessed and possessive lover who lives in a cottage in the countryside. Realizing his love, Porphyria, will eventually give in to society’s constraints, he kills her.

“Porphyria’s Lover” has an unusual structure. Not only does it lack the colloquiualisms of Browning’s other poems but takes the form of highly patterned verse which rhymes ABABB. This strange structure helps convey how tragic and dramatic the poem is.

The poem is a dramatic monologue, a fictional speech presented as the thought of a speaker who is separate from the poet. It opens with a scene that brings fear, loneliness and emptiness to the heart of the reader.

“The rain set early in tonight,

The sullen wind was soon awake,

It tore the elm-tops down for spite,

And did its worse to vex the lake:

I listened with heart fit to break.”

These opening lines seem to set the scene almost instantly yet it is changed just as quickly.

“When glided in Porphyria; straight

She shut the cold out and the storm,

And kneeled and made the cheerless grate

Blaze up, and all the cottage warm:

Which alone, she rose, and from her form.”

From being so dark and desperate there is an immediate switch of feelings from the speaker and the atmosphere also reflects his emotions. Porphyria herself has the ability to bring happiness to her lover immediately, without breathing a word, the very presence of Porphyria fulfills her lover’s heart. Browning’s first few lines are like a roller coaster to the reader and this proves how dramatic monologue can convey love so clearly and dramatically.

However, once Porphyria begins to take off her wet clothing, the poem leaps into the modern world.

“Withdrew the dripping cloak and shawl.,

And laid her soiled gloves by, untied

Her hat and let the damp hair fall,

And, last, she sat down by my side

And called me. When no voice replied,

She put my arm about her waist,

And made her smooth white shoulder bare,

And all her yellow hair displaced.”

These lines show Browning’s interest in the body and what pleasures it brings. Since Robert Browning lived in Victorian times he couldn’t question the morality of sex and violence. I think this is mainly he explores the subject of love and sex in his poems. In these lines it mentions Porphyria baring her shoulder and holding him. Porphyria is seen to be flirting with her lover yet it doesn’t give the impression that anything immoral is happening.

As the poem continues, the lover grows more possessive over Porphyria.

“Be sure I looked up at her eyes

Happy and proud; at last I knew

Porphyria worshipped me; surprise

Made my heart swell, and still it grew

While I debated what to do.”

The speaker is realising Porphyria has just as much love for him and wants the moment to last forever. The next line portrays the lover’s possesiveness by using repetition of the word ‘mine’.

“That moment she was mine, mine, fair;”

The speaker then comes to terms with the fact his love, Porphria, will give in to pressures of society and decides to kill her.

“In one long yellow I wound

Three times her little finger throat around,

And strangled her. No pain felt she;”

The lover speaks as though he was giving something to Porphyria she wanted. He then goes on to prove himself innocent. He tried to bear no guilt for his actions and reassures himself.

“. . . . . . No pain felt she;

I am quite sure she felt no pain.”

Being afraid to open her eyes, he tries to recapture the moments they shared together.

“As a shut bud that holds a bee,

I warily opened her lids: again

Laughed the blue eyes without a strain.”

He then tried to convince himself that what he had done was what Porphyria wanted.

“And all night long we have not stirred

And yet God had not said a word!”

The poem shows how possesive love can lead to the death of the person you love most. Can murder be justified to someone you love? Porphyria’s Lover shows how obsession with someone can sometimes result in death.

My Last Duchess

(Robert Browning)

Another poem which is written in the form of dramatic monologue is “My Last Duchess”. The duke is the speaker of the poem and is negotiating his marriage with an ambassador. As he shows his visitor around his palace, he stops before a picture of his last duchess. He explains how lovely she was. However he also describes her bad behaviour and how she didn’t appreciate his name. As the dramatic monologue continues it becomes apparent that the Duke was the cause of her early death when he couldn’t tolerate her behaviour any longer. The Duke then returns to the subject of the marriage. As the duke and the ambassador depart from the painting, the Duke points out more pieces of art in his collection.

“My Last Duchess” is structured around rhyming pentameter lines. The lines do not use full stops. They are sentences which don’t conclude at the end of a line and this gives the impression that the rhymes is not complete. The personality of the Duke makes horrifying information seem quite fine.

The poem is a good example of dramatic monologue as the speaker is clearly distinct from the poet and the real character of the Duke is the aim of the poem.

This poem also makes the readers become part of poem as we only hear it through the Duke’s own thought and so we must put the story together ourselves.



This poem reveals the tale of a dishonest lover. The poem is by an unknown author. It was passed down through oral tradition. This ballad is told by a girl, who at the start of the poem is an innocent maiden with no experience too the opposite sex. However, her innocence is lost to a shepherd and she becomes pregnant. She doesn’t profit from being resentful to the shepherd who no longer takes interest in the girl.

It’s clear to see the shepherd is experienced in love and the poem describes him as faithless. When he finds out the girl is pregnant, he deserts her at a time when she needs him most.

Throughout the poem we can see contrasts of a love affair and its aftermath. It uses summer as the love affair and winter when the affair is over.

The maiden is deeply distressed and contemplates taking her and her child’s life. She can’t reason the situation she has been placed in. The poem is flooded with mixed emotions that show anger, resentment and dishonesty.

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