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?

The Burden of Love: A Close Reading of Sonnets from the Portuguese: XII

In Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese: XII, Browing confronts a multitude of topics surrounding love, whether relevant to her time or timeless abstract concepts that one must approach when in love. Throughout this sonnet, there is ultimately a double meaning between what the author describes as the consequences, or effects of love, treading between the concept of the objectification of women in relation to their husbands, and the burden of feeling the strong emotions evoked through falling in love. As the sonnet begins, reading:

“Indeed this very love which is my boast,
And which, when rising up from breast to brow,
Doth crown me with a ruby large enow
To draw men’s eyes and prove the inner cost”
This love even, all my worth, to the uttermost,” (Barrett Browning 1-5).

Whilst later going on to say, “Hadst set an me an example, shown me how” (Barrett Browning 7). The author is commentating on finding love through societal status, through material objects such as “a ruby large enow to draw men’s eyes”, along with abstract concepts or terms such as “boast”, “cost”, and “worth”. Through these terms, and writing, “prove the inner cost” the author is expressing the concept of finding love as a women, love that illustrates itself in as one’s “worth” is something to “prove”.

This concept is maintained throughout the sonnet as later the author goes on to write: “Thy soul hath snatched up mine all faint and weak,/ And placed it by thee on a golden throne” (Barrett Browning 11-12). In saying, “thy soul hath snatched up mine”, the author is implying that for a woman, love manifests itself in women being an object for men to “snatch” or attain; women being an object of desire.

While this was one reading I took from this sonnet, another is more expressive of the burdens that love provides in manifesting strong emotions. Rather than a commentary on materialism or objectification, the author could be using the “ruby large enow to draw men’s eyes” as a metaphor for the heart, as they are both red, and between the “breast and brow.” When the author writes, “And thus, I cannot speak/ Of love even, as a good thing of my own:/ Thy soul hath snatched up mine all faint and weak,/ And placed it by thee on a golden throne” (Barrett Browning 9-12), while expressing that love is not “a good thing of my own”, it is explained in that the author’s soul was “faint and weak.” The faint and weakness of the author’s soul could be representative of the strong emotional connection towards whom the author is in love with, and that their soul being “snatched” is not necessarily an action of their partner, but the strong emotions of the author that has fallen in love.

Sensibility and Nature in Kubla Khan

In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, the repetition and consistency of certain literary devices work to elucidate a sensual expression of the sublime, and the emotional and physical connection of nature to man. Incorporating devices such as alliteration and assonance, Coleridge utilizes these elements as a way to illustrate the sensual and pleasurable world of Xanadu. For instance, assonance is present in almost half of the entire poem, remaining consistent until what is around halfway through the second stanza. Most notably though, is its presence in the first stanza, as it is present in terms such as “Xanadu”(1), “Kubla Khan”(2), “Alph”(3), “ran”(3), “caverns”(4). In the repetition of these vowel sounds, the poem gives off an “ooh” and “ahh” sound, creating a sensual experience for the reader in interpreting this depiction of Xanadu.

I found it interesting though, how this repetition of vowel sounds seemingly coincides with alliteration found in the poem, such as “river”(3) and “ran”(3), “measureless”(4) and “man”(4), “sunless”(5) and “sea”(5) and so on. Serving as what is almost a juxtaposition to the repetition of vowel sounds, the repetition of consonants could seemingly represent the natural world of Xanadu in relation to the more sensual and human aspects illuminated through the assonance. In the world of Xanadu, where human pleasure seems to coincide with the natural world, the alliteration present in the poem works to elucidate the beauty of the natural world by incorporating smooth diction in describing the “river” and “sea”.

Another interesting takeaway I received from the poem is that within the sensual tone illuminated by these two literary devices, the metaphorical language in Kubla Khan evokes a sensual, and even sexual tone to the poem. Aside from the numerous mentions of the concept of “pleasure”, as found in the narrator’s idea of the “pleasure-dome”(2), other instances of metaphorical language evoking a sexual tone include the use of terms such as “deep romantic chasm”(12), “fertile ground”(6), “fast thick pants”(18), and “burst”(20).

Form and Meaning in “Sweet Meat has Sour Sauce”, or “The Slave Trader in the Dumps”

In William Cowper’s Sweet Meat has Sour Sauce, or The Slave Trader in the Dumps, the conflict between form and meaning leaves the reader with a complex understanding and perspective in interpreting this poem. Throughout the poem, the consistent use of the repetition of “Which nobody can deny, deny, Which nobody can deny”, ultimately evokes a jolly and upbeat feeling which can be attained by the reader. The presence of repetition in the poem gives it a singsong feel, drawing the reader in and making them more attentive. Within the verses containing rhyme, the content provided by the narrator contradicts this upbeat mood by providing horrific detail and description in the life of a slave. Though, this conflict between form and meaning ultimately amplifies this attentiveness gained by the reader, providing a shock factor in the conflicting aspects of the poem.

Another aspect of the poem that stood out to me was the title, or the two titles, rather. Cowper is seemingly utilizing metaphorical language with “Sweet Meat has Sour Sauce” through multiple ways. “Sweet Meat” is a metaphor for the benefits that privileged people have gained because of slavery, specifically the sugar trade, as well as benefits that are “sweet” to those in power. The “Sour Sauce represents the “sour” reality of how the “sweetness” has come to be: from the horrors of slavery.

The significance of the title also calls back to the form of the poem which works to elucidate its meaning. For example, the juxtaposition, or contrast between “Sweet” and “Sour” ultimately factors back into the form of the poem in the juxtaposition between form and mood.

Though, with the other title, “Slave Trader in the Dumps”, the meaning is less metaphorical, and more so stating the perspective of the narrator. This leads to a question I would pose in interpreting the titles in relation to the meaning of the poem: Why did Cowper include two different titles?

The Fancied “Peele Castle”

“I could have fancied that the mighty Deep                                                                        Was even the gentlest of all gentle things. 

Ah! then , if mine had been the Painter’s hand,
To express what then I saw; and add the gleam,
The light that never was, on sea or land,
The consecration, and the Poet’s dream” (Wordsworth 11-16). 

Elegiac Stanzas Suggested by a Picture of Peele Castle in a Storm, Painted by Sir George Beaumont, is something of a typical “romantic” poem by Wordsworth as well typical of the Romantic Era. Wordsworth’s focus on what is the spiritual connection between the mind and nature works to ultimately dictate the meaning of this elegy, using metaphorical language to elucidate a sort of reciprocal relationship between nature and emotions that we find in ourselves only through this connection. In this bit from the elegy, something I found substantial and certainly meaningful is the use of the word “fancied”. As one of the “Big Six” of the romantic poets, Wordsworth is known for utilize common factors in which distinguish the Romantic Era from others. As the concept of “imagination” part of the typical terminology of this Era, and as “fancied” is fairly synonymous with “imagined”, it is intriguing to think of how he differentiates the two terms; why he did not choose to simply write “imagined.” 

Though, in considering this conundrum respective to the rest of the elegy, and as Wordsworth continues to write, “Ah! then , if mine had been the Painter’s hand”, the significance of “fancied” reveals itself not only in Wordsworth’s interpretation of the painting, but also in him visualizing himself as Beaumont himself. As this is obviously not the case, it is possible that to Wordsworth, fancying something is a form of visualization with maybe less credence than that of imagination. This concept is reiterated later in saying “To express what then I saw; and add the gleam, The light that never was, on sea or land.” Here, he is seemingly coming to grips with what is real, and what is not. “To express what then I saw”, while later realizing that there was a “light that never was, on sea or land”, Wordsworth is conceptualizing a difference in what he has seen, or even imagined, versus what he has defined as “fancied”. “The light that never was, on sea or land” represents a struggle in his realization that in his connection to nature, or “sea” and “land”, he has worked to create mental fallacies that dictate how he interprets the world around him, and ultimately, how he interprets this painting.