Love is Kind and Cruel in Michael Field’s Beneath the Bough

“Love’s wings are wonderous swift/When hanging feathers lift./Why hath Love wings,/Great pinions strong of curve?/His wild desires to serve;/To swoop on the prey,/And bear it away,/Love hath wings.”(12)

This stanza from page 12 of Beneath the Bough hooked me into the rest of the poem. The personification of Love and its possession of wings conveys the complex nature of love instead of perfect, idealized love. Love having wings might draw to mind images of blissful couples or Cupid (or Eros as they refer to him throughout the book) flying around shooting love arrows. This initial idea concludes that love only brings joy, but Michael Field (aka Bradley and Cooper) uses that personification to explore the other side of love as well. Field develops a fuller view of the emotions of love and their implications for lovers.

If Love’s wings are “wonderous swift,” it can easily overtake anyone who tries to escape it (12). This conjures up images of Love attacking helpless targets. In this case, lovers have no control and Love is far more dangerous. When Field describes Love as a bird of prey, with its mighty wings that are “strong of curve,” it once again shifts the view of Love as a wonderful feeling that people can experience to an overwhelming force that you cannot escape or be free of by choice (12).

The line “his wild desires to serve” is particularly interesting to me because it goes a step further from taking agency away from those who love possesses and takes agency away from Love itself — he is slave to his own desires (12). This version of love starts to sound increasingly more like brainwashing and imprisonment and less like passion and commitment. As love “swoops” down and snatches up its victims, it takes them “away” (12). Like an eagle that swoops down to catch a mouse, the intent is clear: the prey will be taken away from life i.e., itself. It then follows that the state of love takes a person away from themselves. They are so captivated by what they feel that they are pulled from their own being. Field turns an idiom about love on its head with these contrasting descriptions and defies common conceptions of love.

This first stanza sets the tone for the rest of the page. Essentially, after the first stanza, you know that winged Love is not what it seems. Love may lift you above the clouds, but it might also drop you to your death. The rest of the verse shows that these aspects of love affect everyone indiscriminately which speaks to the nature of the poem overall. There is no line that says, “I loved Jack, but he broke my heart.” Instead, Love lifts the “forlorn”, but it is quick to “scorn” them as well (12). It takes away the personal details to explore the personal experience that is so uniquely human. The ups and downs of love affect us all, even if it may seem different for each. In my readings, I observed that the dynamic, multifaceted descriptions of Love in this poem contribute to that message.

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Meaghan Mullins

Yo soy un Junior en Dickinson. Yo soy a Virginia. Me gusta animales y fútbol.

One thought on “Love is Kind and Cruel in Michael Field’s Beneath the Bough”

  1. I loved that you honed in so closely on Love’s wings! While I also picked up on the thematic dichotomy between good and evil that love implied, I had not seen it in the wings. This especially clicked for me when you wrote “love may lift you above the clouds, but it might also drop you to your death.” This line made me think about the implication of this dichotomy— that no one knows what love will bring them. The fear is implicit. Good job!

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