Love for love’s sake

The Birth of Venus by Michael Field reflects a strange sense of doom that is also present in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray that can be linked to the influence of aestheticism that affected the literary community in the late 19th century.

The first three stanzas of The Birth of Venus focus on the beauty of the goddess and her surroundings. These stanzas are heavy in color-imagery and flower motifs, including a “ruffled cloak of rose, daisy-stitched” and “Flora, with the corn-flower dressed, /Round her neck a rose-spray curled /Flowerless, wild-rose at her breast.” In addition, the poem is full of references to innocence and purity including the line “New-born beauty with a tress / Gold about her nakedness,” as well as all the flowers and mention of springtime, which are associated with newness and rebirth.  One would think that all this beauty would describe a happy goddess. However, in the last stanza where Venus is described in more emotional aspects, phrases such as “tearful shadows,” “reluctant sympathies,” “lone,” and “stranger,” imply that she is not necessarily as content as the rest of the poem seems to constantly suggest, the optimistic visual symbols and references being contrasted with a more emotion-based sense of doom and fear.Venus’ lack of knowledge of the world is portrayed as more of a curse than a blessing in the same way that Dorian’s initial innocence becomes his downfall, because innocence becomes an open doorway for corruption.

The ending line, “she is love that hath not loved,” reminds me of Dorian Gray. Venus is the goddess of love, and yet she has no knowledge of how love is supposed to feel, only what it is supposed to look like. Dorian Gray is in a very similar situation. He is loved by so many, and yet is unable to give it out himself because he is too focused on his physical appearance. Venus is also distinctly aware of the eyes of Zephyrus and Boreas on her, “one in wonder, one desire.” Dorian’s fixation on Basil’s portrait of him is based on his obsession with his public appearance. The only time he thinks that he is in love is during his so-called love affair with Sibyl Vane, which turns out to be only a performance to this public of what he thinks love is, ironically stemming from her performances of love on stage. Again, this reflects aspects of aestheticism and the idea of art for art’s sake, with love being the art that is admired but never personalized.