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Pre-1900 poetry and Atonement Comparison Essay

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The poetry collection provides us with a myriad of examples of how many have to face barriers to love – some of our speakers struggle, whilst many prove love to be an indestructible force, mainly seen by writers during the earlier periods who followed more traditional values, believing in a more courtly style love such as Shakespeare in Sonnet 116. However, later on, for example in the Victorian period, as traditions fell to pieces and certain barriers became stronger than the idea of love, people had lost faith: such as Remember. Meanwhile, in Atonement, McEwan takes us on a journey through the love of Robbie and Cecilia who manage to overcome physical separation that many faced at this time due to the World War. He portrays a realistic, yet strong union, proving that even in the Modern times, love can overcome barriers.

In the time of the 16th century, during the Renaissance, when Shakespeare famously published his collection of sonnets – including Sonnet 116 – barriers to love were almost seen as insignificant. Post plague, Shakespeare may be giving hope to those who wanted to hold onto tradition and religion, as the Renaissance marked a time of new ideas and a movement away from the typical ideas around love, which could be much alike McEwan in the sense that Robbie and Cecilia’s love was not broken through the war times. In Sonnet 116, love can overcome all; initially, Shakespeare strengthens the idea of love by naming the poem after the form it takes: a sonnet.

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Everything about this poem represents love, and nothing can get in its way, not even ‘tempests’, proving how powerful it is and how it can even overcome forces of nature. Society creates no boundaries in terms of love within this poem; the use of the metaphor of the ‘star’ signifies how love is not restricted and can be seen by all. Lastly, we see Shakespeare incorporating personification to illustrate the immortal aspect of love and how it overcomes the barrier of time: ‘Love is not Times Foole’.

Clearly barriers of love are seen to be easily defeated, as McEwan also portrays in his novel that attempts to highlight Modern Age love, incorporating realistic scenarios such as the awkwardness in the library, and the issues faced due to war. Many lives were lost, and the story of Robbie and Cecilia could be considered a tragedy, as we discover they die at the end. However, our narrator Briony allows their love to transcend death and live on through use of metafiction: ‘the lovers survive and flourish’, and on paper they do. However, McEwan does highlight the truth and how sometimes, we can lose the ones we love and there is nothing we can do about it.

Religion was a big deal prior to the Renaissance, but as soon as science and new ideas came into play, their began questioning of the churches authority. William Blake explores how the church becomes the force that prevents love and innocence in his poem: ‘The Garden of Love’. Much alike John Milton’s famous ‘Paradise Lost’, the poem sees religion in a critical manner, implying a need to move away from typical Christian convention. His use of ‘Thou shall not’ is a form of linguistic deviation to invoke a Biblical tone, and almost mocks the 10 commandments and sees religion as a denial of everything – even love itself.

God, described as benevolent, has allowed ‘priests in black gowns’, with black signifying negativity, to walk their ‘rounds’ and observe us – not so loving after all. Our speaker uses internal rhyme to highlight how his ‘desires’ are metaphorically ‘binding with briars’, giving us a sense that doing the things that you love result in punishment. Here, love is faced with a barrier that society has pushed onto people and Blake is clearly trying to, along with Milton, become aware of this.

Meanwhile, in Atonement, the idea of status can be a barrier to love, not only for Robbie and Cecilia, but Jack and Emily too. For higher classes, divorce was frowned upon, so although Emily ‘did not wish to be told’ about Jack and his absence, there was not much she could do. Meanwhile, Robbie and Cecilia had ‘known each other since they were seven’, yet she claimed ‘everything he did aimed to distance her’ just because he removed his shoes to refrain from dirtying the floor. Clearly, there was tension due to varying status, keeping the two apart for so long. Therefore, a clear barrier to love, and from moving on to continue to love, is status in Modern times.

Finally, we have the Scrutiny, written by Richard Lovelace, who explores the barrier to love: lust and the need to expand horizons in terms of being with others. During the time, he, much alike other poets such as Donne, turned to carpe diem poetry. For the speaker, he ‘must all other Beauties’ – using imperatives to signify the importance of experience before settling down. The endless opportunities he has metaphorically pushes him to become a ‘skilful mineralist’, representing his need to collect a variety of things (women). Boredom had almost become a barrier to love, as well as selfishness. Meanwhile, we can similarly see that Jack, in Atonement, has too taken advantage of the other options and has taken to cheat on his wife. We also see Lola marrying her ‘rapist’, implying that not only selfishness, but shame can be a barrier to love due to the selfishness of others.

Overall, barriers of love are seen to both insignificant, and also life changing. Love stories became ever harder to write, and McEwan has managed, by setting his novel at the beginning of the 20th century, where many barriers had to be faced, and love was challenged by war, separation of families and couples, and the struggles of status and judgements of society. Therefore, he has shown how easy it is to love in the 21st century, and how potentially love is much weaker as it does not have to overcome any significant obstacles, hence why 42% of marriages end in divorce. The poems can explore many barriers to love, and different approaches are taken on: traditional love that overcomes all, love that is stolen by new ideas such as the church, and a more selfish and arrogant take on love.

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