Compare and contrast the portrayal of love in the three poems. All three poems- ‘Plena Timoris’, ‘For Me From You’ and ‘Poem At Thirty-Nine’ explore the theme of love. Each poem, however, approaches this theme differently. ‘Plena Timoris’ by Thomas Hardy presents love philosophically; Rita Anayiam St. John in ‘For Me From You’ approaches love objectively, while Alice Walker explores love retrospectively. Hardy looks at romantic love and its transiency; he strongly denies the tenet of resplendent, glorious love, accentuating the belief that love is ephemeral, shattering the romantic ideal that is often accepted. St. John, on the other hand, looks at love in a marriage; whether love is necessarily significant in marriage; whether love is part of the equation. ‘Poem At Thirty-Nine’ presents the theme of familial love – the bond of love between the persona and her father as the narrator – Walker, examines the meaning of her relationship with her departed father.
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The differences in the three poems can possibly be explained by the differences in cultural context in relation to purpose. Hardy, in ‘Plena Timoris’, aims to accentuate the transiency of love through the poem. While distancing himself- the narrator from the persona, Hardy presents a ‘tryst’ between two ‘lovers’; this ‘tryst’ is presented to be a culturally well conditioned love – a love that the persona and her lover believe transcends all others -before Hardy shatters this illusion, to establish his theme and convey his message. This theme could possibly have originated from Hardy’s own personal experiences with love and his first marriage which was said to be unsuccessful and unhappy. Hardy may also have been inspired by the prevalent perceptions of the romantic ideal at the time, and how he never experienced it. Similarly, St. John’s theme also seems to be affected by cultural dimensions. The phrases ‘wine carrying’ and a ‘son for you in nine’ suggest the role of women in Nigerian tribal tradition while ‘in three months’ suggests that her answer to her suitor’s proposal is expected in three months. The combination of the phrases alludes to the fact the marriage may be a blend of western and indigenous cultural practise. That the poem is written in English and that the persona has a choice of whether she should marry the suitor implies that the persona is well educated and that she is aware of her rights; yet, she is bound by cultural constraints, as she has to bear ‘ a son for you[him] in nine’. Her theme – the objective examination of the part of love in marriage is undoubtedly affected by this. As she examines, the western romantic ideal is contrasted to her cultural tradition of servitude in marriage as ‘how much love’ is contrasted to ‘my place For Me From You. ‘Poem At Thirty-Nine’, on the other hand, is not affected so much by its cultural context. It is however, affected by the poet’s loved upbringing by her father, which leads her to look at her love for her father retrospectively and portray to the reader, the importance of familial love.
Each poem is structured to suit its theme and is therefore effectively different. While the structure of ‘Plena Timoris’ and ‘For Me From You’ are in stark contrast, the structure ‘Poem At Thirty-Nine’ bears similarities to the structures of both the other poems. In ‘Plena Timoris’, Hardy writes with a rigid style that allows no room to manoeuvre. He follows the trochaic meter carefully, along with the rhyme scheme of ABBAB in all four stanzas, as well as a strict structure. It is the meter and the rhyme scheme which create tension between the subject matter and the poetic techniques. The reader feels the emotion and hears the rhyme echoing. The tension adds to the overall impact of the poem on the reader. The poem is rigidly structured with four stanzas and five lines in each stanza. Each stanza serves a specific purpose. The first sets up the accepted romantic ideal; the second describes a tragic incident; the third relates to the persona and the reader, a story of how love can end in tragedy; and the last stanza delineates the realisation of the impermanence of love. This is contrasted to St. John’s amalgamation of stanzas, one idea blending into the next, each idea carrying into the next stanza.. While Hardy writes with rigidity, St. John writes in free verse, allowing the poem to flow. She does not follow a fixed structure, rhyme scheme, meter or fixed length of stanzas. The poem rarely even has punctuation. This style gives the poem a certain fluidity and flexibility and mirrors the pouring of words, just like the words of the suitor which have ‘for days and days’ ‘poured and poured’. This free structure does however contrast with the subject of the poem -the lack of freedom if she were to sell her love to him and accept the proposal. ‘Poem at Thirty – Nine’ has elements of the structure of ‘For Me From You’. It too, is written in free verse, with ideas flowing from one line to another. Furthermore, it is unrestrained by rhyme and unhindered by meter. It does have other elements, however, that reflect the structure of ‘Plena Timoris’. A variety of punctuation including semi colons, commas and full stops are used to restrain the flow of ideas. While most ideas flow from line to line, only a few flow into other stanzas. This is less rigid than ‘Plena Timoris’ and more controlled than ‘For Me From You’. This contrast in the structure of ‘Poem At Thirty-Nine’ could be reflecting the life of the persona, which is free and unrestrained, compared to the life of her father, which was restrained. It could also be reflecting the two different identities her father had – the free liberated man he was when he was cooking and the restrained man when working and ‘in the life he knew’.
The tone and mood of all three poems are essentially different. Hardy changes his tone constantly, in conjunction with his narration. In the first stanza, as the ‘lovers looked’ and ‘laughed and leant’, he maintains a calm, almost mellifluous tone, setting up the scene and slowing down the pace, and creating a mood of serenity and peace, before suddenly speeding up the pace in a flurry of activity, as the ‘men came up to them’. The tone changes and there is a sense of urgency and distress in the tone, accentuated by a wide use of punctuation- commas, semi colons, full stops. In the third stanza, his tone them becomes semi-detached, solemn, as in four short cryptic statements, he sums up the ‘woman’s’ life. Throughout the stanza, the mood is sombre, and serious, which aids Hardy’s purpose as he changes tone in the last line of the stanza; the tone becoming philosophic, perhaps even condescending, as Hardy stresses -‘so much for love in this mortal sphere’. St John on the other hand maintains a tone of detachment and disenchantment throughout the poem as she weighs his offer ‘For Me From You’. Her tone is sardonic at times, such as when she ‘go[es] to a market stall’ and ‘ask[s] how much’ and compares love to an object on sale in the market. Her depressed tone makes the reader sympathize with her. Her tone of detachment and depression is accentuated by the somber mood, perhaps even one of monotony, which prevails throughout the poem. This constant unchanging mood is contrasted to the varied, ever-changing mood in ‘Plena Timoris’. The mood in ‘Poem At Thirty-Nine’, on the other hand, is a reflection of her love for her father. It is a mixture of lament, nostalgia and passionate affirmation of both – the love the person feels, and the debt she owes her father, even though he has passed on. The tone in ‘Poem At Thirty-Nine’ is that of reverence although, quite frequently, it is intimate with the reader. The tone is especially reverent as she describes how ‘he cooked like a person/ dancing/ in a yoga meditation/ and craved the voluptuous sharing/ of good food’ and at the same time intimate as she goes on to describe how ‘he would have grown/ to admire/ the woman I’ve become’. This reverent and intimate tone makes the reader empathize and perhaps makes the reader reverent too.
The language in the three poems is as different as the tone and mood in them. The language in ‘Plena Timoris’ is very formal and objective. The distant-narrator-from-persona effect allows Hardy’s theme to be conveyed through the story of the persona, and aids the suspension of disbelief.
This is contrasted to ‘For Me From You’ and ‘Poem At Thirty-Nine’ in both of which the persona and the narrator are the same. This makes it much more intimate and informal, even colloquial at times. It makes it especially intimate in ‘For Me From You’ in which the language is almost stream of consciousness and the reader hears every thought of the persona. The persona is presented to be engaged in an unspoken conversation with her suitor and, the reader; and the reader hears as the ‘words come muscled, come rushing’, ‘come’: ‘proposing’ and ‘disposing’ as well as the personas other emotions and feelings. ‘Poem At Thirty-Nine is less intense in that manner, and is less intimate, but personal all the same, allowing the reader to empathise.
A wide range of poetic techniques are employed by the three poets to effectively convey their respective themes. Sound devices, literary devices, imagery are used to express views effectively. Metaphoric language, alliteration, verbatim, enjambment, irony is used generously. By alliterating the phrases ‘lovers looked’ and ‘laughed and leant’ at the start and end of the first paragraph respectively, Hardy bookends the portrayal of the romantic ideal, effectively creating a relaxed, calm atmosphere with the almost lyrical repetition of ‘l’. There is also a certain underlying irony in the first of the two phrases. The fact the ‘lovers looked’ is ironic as they ‘look[ed]’ but do not see. The ‘lovers’ are looking at love but not seeing what it really is. The ‘lovers’ do not see the ephermerality of love. They also ‘lean[t]’ on love and ‘laugh[ed]’ in love but do not appreciate that their love is not that unique and that it may end, and that perhaps, it may end in tragedy. In the third stanza, Hardy uses verbatim to make it more real for the reader as the reader learns at the same time as the persona; as much as the persona about the tragedy of the ‘woman’s’ love. Hardy also foreshadows the direction of the poem through his title -‘Plena Timoris’, meaning “a woman full of fear and dread”. When the poem starts of in a peaceful haven, as portrayal of the epitome of bliss, one wonders why a woman, so deep in love would be full of fear and dread. This doubt stays in the reader’s mind throughout the stanza, diminishing notions of the romantic ideal in the reader’s mind. Rita Anyiam St John also makes effective use of the title. She names the poem ‘For Me From You’. This makes the reader wonder just what if being given to her and by whom. She then repeats this line several times during the poem, especially in the third stanza, where she capitalises the line for total emphasis. When it is finally revealed that it is the role for her from him -if she accepts, the reader comprehends the inequality of the marriage -further proof that love is not necessarily part of the equation in the marriage, although her suitor is trying to hide that by his seductive words. This is augmented by two present continuous verbs -her suitors words ‘come’: ‘proposing’ and ‘disposing’. They resonate through the stanza; he is ‘proposing’ constantly, tempting her; while at the same time, ‘disposing’ constantly – dispensing with this objection and that obstacle. An important technique used by St John is stream of consciousness. The whole poem seems to be in form of a stream of the consciousness of the persona and the narrator. This very effectively allows the reader to empathise more accurately with the persona and narrator, thus aiding her purpose. There are several metaphors in this poem as well. She compares herself to an object for sale in a ‘market stall’. This reduces her dignity to that of a quantifiable object – nil, arousing pathos in the reader, for the indignity of being bought and sold – for love being bought and sold. Another effective metaphor is that of ‘this dark room’ where the dark is symbolic of her being in the dark about whether she should accept the proposal, her being in the dark about ‘what’ she is ‘buying For Me From You’. Alice Walker also uses poetic techniques, although not as extensively. The only simile Walker uses is to compare how her father ‘cooked’ to ‘a person/dancing/in a yoga meditation’. This is a well crafted simile, as it not only shows how good he was, but how passionate it made him – how liberated it made him. It is also well worded as the words ‘dancing’ and ‘mediation’ are juxtaposed and are incongruous, just like the separate identities of her father -when he was doing what he was passionate about, and when he was ‘writing deposit slips and checks’. It may be argued that comparing cooking to dancing and yoga meditation is hyperbolic, but, it does astutely describe his love for cooking and how it liberated him, and reflects Walkers love for her father as the liberated, passionate man.
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All three poems elicit intellectual and emotional responses from the reader. ‘Plena Timoris’ being formal and objective elicits an intellectual response from the reader as the reader ponders the message presented by Hardy. Emotional responses are drawn from the reader only when Hardy describes how ‘a woman’ ‘drowned herself for the love of a man’ and when ‘the girl’s heart shuddered’. In the first instance, the reader is shocked as the reader learns the harsh realities of the romantic ideal and how it can end in tragedy. In the second instance, pathos is aroused in the reader as the reader feels sorry for the persona, who has had to suffer a cruel heartbreak as she comes to realise the transiency of love. Similarly, ‘For Me From You’ elicits a powerful intellectual response as the reader contemplates love objectively, in the stream of consciousness with the persona. The sombre mood and the detached tone result in a lack of emotional response from the reader, although the reader sympathises – to some extent – with the dilemma of the narrator.
In contrast, ‘Poem At Thirty-Nine’ does not elicit much of an intellectual response from the reader, but educes a strong emotional response from him/her. The reader is engulfed by the tone of lament of the narrator and a sense of pathos is aroused in the reader. This is augmented by the description of the restrained life the persona’s father had, tendered by the wonderful personality he showed as he ‘taught’ her about ‘telling the truth’ and accentuated by the persona’s love for her father, almost up to a cathartic moment. There are cathartic moments in ‘Plena Timoris’ and ‘For Me From You’ as well. In ‘Plena Timoris’, it is when the persona and the reader come to realisation about the transiency of love; the catharsis augments the impact of Hardy’s message on the reader. Similarly, the cathartic moment in ‘For Me From You’ arises when the persona ‘see[s] what I am buying For Me From You’ and realises that she is buying herself a role for ‘days endless and uncountable’. There is a certain similarity in the cathartic moments of ‘For Me From You’ and ‘Poem At Thirty-Nine’ Both arouse an extent of pathos in the reader and both cathartic moments lead the personas to affirm their belief in themselves.
In the end, all three poems agree that while life shapes love, love doesn’t shape life. While love can come and go, life will carry on; while love may not be a part of life, life is a part of everything; and while life may pass away, love can last forever. While love may be ephemeral, while love may be insignificant, it can still cross cultural boundaries, it can still cross generation boundaries, and it occurs in all climes.
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