What is Love? Echoes of Love’s House

In William Morris’ Echoes of Love’s House, the unique form and poetics work to create a fascinating discourse of what the narrator defines as “love” and how love functions, as well as its reciprocal effects with humanity. The form present, as stated, is unique, providing opposing, or contradicting statements adjacent to each other throughout the eight stanzas of two lines. For example, a contradictory statement is present in the first two lines of the poem, as the author writes:                                                                                                                     “Love gives every gift whereby we long to live
‘Love takes every gift, and nothing back doth give'” (Morris 1-2).

This contradiction, followed by others throughout the poem, works to establish the narrator’s working definition of love and how it functions. In stating opposing functions of love while using similar language, such as love “gives” every gift and love “takes” every gift, the narrator establishes the propensity to which love can affect people, given that while it can do one thing, it can do the complete opposite.

The personification of love is definitely substantial in this articulation by the narrator as well, given that because love can “give” and “take” it is almost something of a whole other person aside from one and their desired lover. An interesting question to pose would be that if the personification of love in this instance is reflective upon the desired lover of the narrator and the taking and giving comes from the lover, or, that love is somewhat of a whole other thing in itself that functions outside of the relationship of two people. I almost think that this question is referenced towards the end of the poem, when the author writes: “Ah! I praise thee, Love, for utter joyance won!
‘And is my praise nought worth for all my life undone?’” (Morris 15-16).

This interesting contradiction of the effects of love points towards the question I have raised in that because the narrator says, “I praise thee, love” the place of love can be replaced by a person. Is the narrator referring to love as something manifested through their lover, or simply an emotion that holds power over humanity in our shared ability to have feelings and emotions?

2 thoughts on “What is Love? Echoes of Love’s House”

  1. I really like your exploration of the personified, character-like nature of love in this poem. It seems as if love is either an intangible concept in this poem or a concrete figure, like you assert at the end of your post. I think if you view love as a figure in the poem, the contradictory nature of each couplet makes more sense: perhaps “Love” is a capricious or fickle woman Morris is having trouble figuring out, rather than just an idea or feeling.

  2. Cool observations on the contradictions. The couplet form itself almost invites self-contradiction and discourse. Quite ironic that there’s no coupling in the couplets, only the speaker’s own contemplations. The form puts a lot of emphasis on the rhymes, “gain” and “vain,” “blest” and “unrest,” “need” and “heed,” “won” and “undone.” The rhymed words are charged with contradiction, helplessness. Self-contradictions are indeed like echoes that ring in the rhymes.

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