My Last Duchess and La Belle Dame Sans Merci Comparison

My Last Duchess and La Belle Dame Sans Merci are two poems that explore a wide range of power dynamics that result from love. Patriarchal power is a key theme that is explored in these two poems, with conflicting views on each. La Belle Dame sans Merci tells of a sorry tale of how a knight, a typically powerful figure, is cast away by a woman who had no love for him. This theme is almost mirrored in the other poem; however the other poem, My Last Duchess seems to exert a more male perspective, focusing more on patriarchal power.

A women to Her Lover, seems to be a blend of the two poetic styles of the previous two poems, as it both states the various patriarchal powers, and then proceeds to tear down these beliefs, and also tear down the conventions which were typically seen as the norm of the day.

The title of the poem is typically an indicator of what to expect from the poem, and in what vein it will be written.

My Last Duchess is no exception as it immediately gives the reader a sense that the narrator, The Duke, see’s his late wife as a possession. He refers to her with the possessive pronoun ‘My’ to try, it appears; to regain a certain degree of control over her. This wanting of control is further explored when he says that ‘The curtain I have drawn for you,’ which portrays the sense that he feels he is the one who is giving others the right to see his wife.

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During the Renaissance (a period which Browning based his characters society as) was a time that was largely seen as patriarchal, and so the duke would typically want to conform to this norm.

Furthermore, it may be this possessiveness that leads to his jealousy when she is seen as accepting a ‘bough of cherries’ from someone who he regarded as an ‘officious fool’. He also felt that she had a heart which was ‘too soon made glad’ and that it wasn’t only her ‘husband’s presence’ that she appeared to crave. These lines seem to be the Duke commenting on how her rather flirtatious and outgoing nature, not typical of women in that period, displeased him greatly. Furthermore, it seemed that he wanted her to end this affiliation with the other people, and this gave rise to the suspicion that he killed her, to end the constant barrage of seeming embarrassment and discomfort from his wife’s various exploits.

In those days there were always certain classed that would always be prejudiced against. Therefore, this incidence could have been regarded as his wife trying to exert some egalitarian power, by making the ‘officious fool’ feel like an equal, and also by riding round on a ‘white mule’, something which was often seen as a past time of the poor, as they could not afford to buy a proper horse. This form of power did not seem to go down well within the constraints of the love relationship. The duke seemed particularly afraid of this form of power as he proceeded to mention the fact that he thought that she felt that she ‘ranked’ his ‘nine-hundred year old name’ with anyone’s ‘gift’. This shows that he feels that the social classes should stand as they are. This is quite ironic, as this is set in the Renaissance period where it was said that people were becoming more scientific and were ready to embrace new ideas. This is at odds with what actually happens in the poem, with the man defecting to the typical view of women being ‘slaves’ to the men, but during a very socially obligated period.

As well as this, the poem also manages to explore the power of love itself. This is shown with the infatuation of the widowed husband over the picture, as is demonstrated when the Duke believe that there is ‘depth’ in the painting, and that the women portrayed in the painting still holds some ‘passion’ for him. This could either be the power of the love, or, in fact, the power of the painting. This could, however, represent the actual mentality of the Duke, as he falls in ‘love’ with a painting of a woman who is deceased.

This displays the underlying power of the love that had blossomed between these two individuals, and how the power of the painting was so influential that up to this point (in the poem), he still feels the attraction of the painting. However, this is at odds with what he says later on in the poem, written using enjambment to make it a more conversational style, when he talks about how he ‘tamed’ her, and rather uncharacteristically he uses a metaphor, perhaps to inject some frivolity into the proceeding so as to avert any fear of being caught. However, he also mention ‘I gave commands’, perhaps referring to getting her killed, and then he goes on to say that ‘all smiles stopped together’. This form of power could also be regarded as patriarchal power or perhaps more accurately as sheer male strength over the opposite gender.

The poetic techniques used are also pivotal to understanding what types of power are being explored. A key feature used in the poem is the iambic pentameter, which is a meter typically associated with a more male poem, due to the stressed single syllable at the end of a line. This is often attributed to the fiercer and fierier poems, which are to be said with an earnest, thus it being seen as a more masculine form of rhyme. As well as this enjambment is used, meaning that all of the lines follow on from each other, giving the poem a more conversational tone. This is quite odd, as the Duke himself comes across as a very contrite kind of person, but this could be due to the Duke trying to appear more powerful in his own home, or estate, meaning hierarchal power is something that is quite high up on his agenda, probably because he feels that hierarchal power is the only way he could have got this relationship.

Overall, this poem is mainly based on patriarchal power, and despite the fact that it does include a few instances of other forms of power, such as egalitarian power, patriarchal power seems to take an overbearing role. It is written from the perspective of someone very high up on the social ladder, and thus would include references to this form of power, inherited, or hierarchal power. La Belle Dame sans Merci on the other hand is a poem which almost admits to a person of rather high importance, the knight, being led astray by a woman. This poem is set in the medieval period. Various power dynamics are explored throughout the poem, mainly the various struggles between the desire of the man, and the simple want of pleasure for the woman.

The atmosphere is largely controlled by the weather displayed in the poem. This poem first begins by thinking of the power of nature and how this seems to coincide with the mood of the narrator, creating a pathetic fallacy. He is described by the visitor as ‘alone’ and ‘palely loitering’, and to add to the rather sombre starting, the atmosphere is seen as in the winter, where the ‘sedge’ has ‘withered’ away ‘from the lake’. This displays how the rather somber natural world seems to effect on his recovery from his painful loss of his girl. The weather seems to dampen his spirits and this is almost confirmed when it says that ‘no birds sing’, or that there is no sign of happiness. This power is quite strong as it is unavoidable, and can have an effect on his love for the woman as he may ponder on the relationship more. However, this is only one power dynamic that may have an effect on his love for the woman, and his overall love outlook. This power is far less prominent in ‘My Last Duchess’ with the atmosphere merely created through the dramatic monologue. Also, the main atmosphere is created through the ranting of the Duke.

A woman’s power over a man is not often accredited, however it is brought to light in this poem with the woman who he (the knight) see’s as a ‘faery’s child’, or in essence a woman with an abundance of beauty. This power of the woman over him may have resulted in him becoming quite ‘haggard’ and ‘woe-begone’ meaning his gradual degrading of state, because of his insistence that ‘she did love’ him, even though he believes she does, although she never explicitly stated those words, and this is backed up later in the poem when he admits she said it in a ‘strange’ ‘language’, which he believed said that she ‘love[d]’ him, even though it was quite plain to see that she did not in fact love him, but was there to be pleasured. This shows that the woman used her power to manipulate what was the result.

However, another power that is used to some extent, is matriarchal power, on a more philosophical sense, as the knight imagines the lady wearing a ‘garland’ that could be seen as him trying to believe that the ‘sacred’ woman is still angelic, however, this is contradicted when he describes her as ‘wild’ and that he could only ‘shut her eyes with kisses four’. This shows that he had such an infatuation with his prospective wife that he looked past these slight niggles, as he was blinded by the power of love, which is essentially what under lied all of the events that occurred in the whole poem.

The first poem on the other hand instead looks at the woman as someone who should be at the hand of the man to answer to his every need, not someone who should be able to have fun when she wants, and in this poem the woman is allowed to freely go, whereas in the first poem, she comes to an arguably, sinister end. Furthermore, in ‘My Last Duchess’ the woman is not given much power except those that come with the name, and of course her egalitarian power. Apart from this, ‘My Last Duchess’ has few similarities with this poem with regards to the way women are treated; aside from the fact that the knight believes she should be obedient to him.

Strangely, it seemed that hierarchal power was of not much importance to the two, as despite the promise of power, the woman still left him ‘alone and palely loitering’. This was also unconventional, rather like most of the events that occurred in this narrative, where the woman didn’t jump at the option of gaining some power, but instead just left him. It seems that the woman was just there for the power of the promise of being made love to, but not hierarchal power. Instead this poem seems to focus only on the aspects of love, unlike the first poem which makes sure that the reader is aware of the hierarchal integrity that is needed. This is at odds with ‘My Last Duchess’ which focuses heavily on how the status brings power to the family, and it is essentially this that makes the Duke so incensed by the bad behavior of his wife.

However, this poem doesn’t use the masculine pentameter, instead it has the last two syllables unstressed, which gives the impression of having a much softer, and morose feel to the poem, which is quite suited to the overall theme of the poem. This is in stark contrast to the more conversational, but still fiercer style of the first poem.

Conclusively, the power dynamics explored in the first poem are far more diverse, and it appears that there are much more powerful components involved in the rather complex relationship, and it showed the power of the relationship that the man was ready to kill, or silence his wife. This is contrary to the second poem where the knight seems to be rather constrained and polite at all times, and in this case it is the woman who has control over the man, unlike the trends of the time. Overall, the power dynamics behind love in the first poem varies greatly; largely going down to hierarchal power, but the second poem is a relationship of courtly love, which is not based on true unabated love.

The third poem is a strange mix of the previous two poems, with both patriarchal and matriarchal poems being discussed. A woman to her lover offers a refreshing insight into the inner workings of a woman’s mind. It begins by listing all the conventions, particularly how males usually dominate society. She openly attacks these conventions, by saying that if he wants to ‘make of [her] a bond slave’ then she simply ‘refuse[s]’ him.

This is quite odd, as the poem was written at a time, when everything that she is trying to repress was actually the norm of the day, so it is seen as quite unconventional that a woman is being able to exert so much power of a man, by actively refusing to follow the current conventions of the time. This matriarchal power trying to quell the patriarchal power is evident. This is in stark contrast to ‘My Last Duchess’, where the main forms of power explored are those which are typically more to do with patriarchal powers, in a male dominated society. For example, the Duke feels that she should respect his ‘name’. However, this poem does bear some resemblance to the second poem, in the way that both seem to respect that women do have some power over men, however limited and unconventional it may be.

However, this poem is largely egalitarian power, as it largely displays how men and women should be treated as equals, and this is demonstrated when she pleads to her lover, that she wants to be treated as a ‘comrade’, and a ‘friend’. This shows that this woman firmly believed that she was in an equal position to the man, and, despite it being said otherwise in the unwritten law of the land; the woman feels that she should be at the same level as the man. The narrator uses phrases such as ‘o husband’, and ‘I am yours forever’ to try and show that she has submitted to him, and to try and restore some order, with the male again being the more dominant one. This is surprisingly similar to ‘My Last Duchess’ as both women in the poems try to make them equal with the opposite gender, seemingly oblivious to the opposite gender.

Another key aspect of this poem is the way in which it is written, such as organization, and poetic techniques. Firstly, it is written using enjambment, creating a more conversational style to the poem. This means that the woman does not appear to be dominating too much, and is, as a result, courting him on equal terms, emphasizing the fact that she feels that it should be a ‘level playing field’ for them. It is also quite clever in the way it manages to make the things that it is trying to crack down on come first and then it brings them down by saying what she would actually like.

This is clever because it sticks in the person’s mind, and creates a stronger argument. The technique of enjambment is similar to the first poem, where it manages to create a conversational style so as to appear to converse with the other messenger, while realistically the Duke isn’t very sociable. However, none of these literary techniques are echoed in the second poem, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, which is probably due to the problem of both being written in completely different styles, with one being a more sorrowful poem, and the other being a more commanding and endearing poem.

Conclusively, the three poems all share a variety of power dynamics that are all explored. The most common theme was that of which gender was more dominant and which gender was controlled. This was mostly explored in ‘My Last Duchess’ and ‘A woman to her lover’. Inevitably this led on to the topic of equality, and it is in this way that egalitarian power was brought to light. Even ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ explored how the woman and the man were both equal as they could both enter and leave the relationship as they did please. However, poetic techniques were used to further enhance the message of the poem; with all the poems using a different poetic technique to enhance and improve it’s delivery of different love and power dynamics. In the end, the power of love seemed to encompass all the poems, as all three showed how love took control of the.

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My Last Duchess and La Belle Dame Sans Merci Comparison. (2017, Sep 26). Retrieved from

My Last Duchess and La Belle Dame Sans Merci Comparison
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