Co-Existent Opposites

I really enjoyed reading the excerpts from Tennyson’s In Memoriam A. H. H. I especially liked how Tennyson played with opposites, especially Love and Grief, and sometimes even described them as co-existent. One example of this being his first poem in this sequence, in which Tennyson writes, “Let Love clasp Grief lest both be drown’d,” (l. 9). While mourning the loss of Arthur, Tennyson couples these two concepts together, stating they need each other to stay afloat in this case. Overall this explains that Love cannot exist without Grief and vice versa. Although Tennyson doesn’t mention this relationship between love and grief as explicitly in the remainder of his poems, he continues to hint at the connections between opposing emotions. In the twenty-seventh poem Tennyson writes, “’Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all” (l. 15-16). This time Tennyson pairs love, a wonderful feeling, with loss, a not so wonderful feeling. While these concepts may seem like total opposites, Tennyson writes as if you can’t have one without the other. Furthermore, Tennyson states that it’s better to experience these emotions together than never experience either, further closing the gap between the two.

Tennyson continues to examine “opposites” in his twenty-fourth poem. In this case Tennyson pairs grief with gladness and low with relief: “And is it that the haze of grief / Makes former gladness loom so great? / The lowness of the present state, / That sets the past in this relief?” (l. 9-12). Starting with grief and gladness, Tennyson establishes this idea that grief illuminates memories of former happiness in trying times. Likewise, feeling “low” makes the speaker realize the relief he felt in the past. Here Tennyson is relying on the stark differences between these emotions to show how much he longs for the past when Arthur was still with him. Tennyson returns to the opposing but co-existent concepts of love and grief in the thirteenth poem. Here Tennyson writes, “Which weep a loss for ever new / A void where heart on heart reposed,” (l. 5-6) and “Which weep the comrade of my choice, / An awful thought, a life removed, / The human-hearted man I loved,” (l. 9-11). In both of these parts Tennyson discusses the grief that follows loss. In doing so he emphasizes that grief in a way stems from love because it is the loss of a loved one that causes this pain.

Not as Lovely-Dovey

I thought that it was really interesting to see Elizabeth Barrett Browning write about the anxieties that go hand in hand with love. One thing I noticed throughout a lot of the sonnets was that the speaker seemed to feel inadequate, especially when compared to her beloved. In EBB’s eight sonnet, the speaker calls her lover a “princely giver, who hast brought the gold / And purple of thine heart, unstained, untold,” (l. 2). The use of “princely,” “purple” and “gold” are all associated with wealth and royalty, which help convey how highly the speaker thinks of her beloved. EBB also notes that the heart of this “princely giver” is “unstained” and therefore his heart and love are pure. These descriptions of her beloved help the speaker convey how much she adores him and values his love.

While praising her beloved, the speaker of the poem starts to doubt herself and tear down her worth. At the start of the sonnet the speaker immediately asks, “What can I give thee back…” (l. 1). The speaker is thrown off by everything her beloved has given her and she is unsure whether she should accept it since she has nothing to give him in return. This starts to unravel her doubts as the speaker asks, “…am I cold, / Ungrateful, that for these most manifold / High gifts, I render nothing back at all?” (l. 6-8). Now the speaker fears how she will be perceived if she gives her beloved nothing in return, adding to her prior worries. By doing this, EBB draws the reader’s attention to the speaker’s insecurities and the complex emotions that come with love. The speaker doesn’t feel that she is enough or deserving of her lover because she can’t repay his gifts to her.

The speaker also worries that she cannot love her beloved as much as he deserves. EBB writes, “For frequent tears have run / The colours from my life, and left so dead / And pale a stuff, it were not fitly done / To give the same as pillow to thy head,” (l. 10-13). Here EBB illustrates how the speaker has been grieving and it took a huge toll on her. As a result the speaker feels she is unable to match her beloved’s level of devotion. In this poem, and the rest of the collection, Elizabeth Barrett Browning shows how complex love can be, especially by discussing her speaker’s insecurities and hesitations. This in turn depicts a more realistic love in comparison to other poems where love is simpler and fairytale-like.

The Divine Right of King Ozymandias

Once again, I find myself reminded of Mary Wollstonecraft’s work, this time by Percy Shelley’s sonnet “Ozymandias.” In Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman she discusses “the divine right of husbands” and compares it to the “divine right of kings,” (196). As we discussed in class, this “divine right of kings” is that they were appointed by God and therefore, to question them is to question God. As a result of this right and unchecked power, kings can have an unjust, authoritarian rule. With this in mind, we can consider Shelley’s sonnet “Ozymandias” as a sort of warning of how this “the divine right of husbands” can go wrong. The traveler in this sonnet paints a picture of this crumbled statue, “Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, / And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,” (l. 4-5). The face described in these lines is not one of kindness or compassion, instead the face is stern, cruel, and demanding. The traveler goes on to say, “Tell that the sculptor well those passions read / Which yet survive (stamped on these lifeless things) / The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed” (l. 6-8). This former King not only acted cold towards his people, but he enjoyed ridiculing them. Being a king and therefore having that divine right, King Ozymandias was able to rule with unchecked power and control. The traveler mentions that on the pedestal lies the message, “‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; / Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’” (l. 10-11). The irony here is that there is nothing around the statue, no kingdom, no army, just sand. In a way this shows that the unchecked power King Ozymandias had because of his divine right to rule has its consequences. Instead of a thriving kingdom that remembers him, all that is left of King Ozymandias and his rule is his own decaying statue.

A Kiss Goodbye for Love

Upon first reading Agnes Craif McLehose’s “Ae Fond Kiss,” I interpreted the parting of the lovers as the two being forced to separate as a result of death. However, after reading the sections of Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Men, I realized another possible interpretation of the poem. At one point Wollstonecraft describes how many parents were often very controlling of their children’s lives, especially when it came to marriage (126).  Wollstonecraft wrote, “Girls are sacrificed to family convenience, or else marry to settle themselves in a superior rank, and coquet, without restraint, with the fine gentleman whom I have already described,” (126). This section made me wonder if the separation of the lovers in “Ae Fond Kiss” could be a result of one being forced to marry another by parents or society.

One thing that I noticed was that all twenty-four lines of “Ae Fond Kiss” end with some type of punctuation. As a result of this added punctuation at the end of each line, the poem is slowed down. For example McLehose wrote, “Fare-thee-weel, thou first and fairest! / Fare-thee-weel, thou best and dearest!” (17-18). Not only are there exclamation points at the end of each line, but each also has a comma and the broken up “Fare-thee-weel.” When I think of a goodbye between lovers who are being forced to marry someone else, it’s not a quick process, it’s long and emotional. McLehose’s decision to include the punctuation helps convey that long, drawn out goodbye because they force the reader to stop and slow down while reading. Another element that McLehose incorporates into “Ae Fond Kiss” is an aabb rhyme scheme. This is a very simple rhyme scheme and allows the reader to focus on the rest of the poem and pay attention to things like the punctuation that help the poem stand out.

An Emotional Bond

In the poem “The Thorn,” William Wordsworth continues the romantic emphasis on nature while connecting it to humanity and emotions. Wordsworth fills this poem with descriptive imagery of the thorn itself and the nature surrounding it. The second stanza states, “Like rock or stone, it is o’ergrown / With lichens to the very top / And hung with heavy tufts of moss, / A melancholy crop,” (l. 12-15). The image of the plant-covered stone paired with the word “melancholy,” make me think of old headstones left to the elements, unattended. In the third stanza the speaker solidifies this imagery by comparing the area where the thorn and moss are growing to a baby’s grave (l. 52). One thing that I noticed in this section was how the moss was described. Wordsworth devotes the fourth and fifth stanzas to this “lovely sight” (l. 35) and the  “beauteous dyes” of the moss (l. 51). When comparing this bed of moss to a baby’s grave Wordsworth writes, “But never, never, anywhere / An infant’s grave was half so fair!” (l. 54-55). Graves and headstones are meant to serve as a memorial to the dead. By comparing the bed of moss to a grave, Wordsworth implies a deep bond between Nature and humanity. This is because Nature is acting as the memorial of a human life, which now buried in the earth, provides for Nature.

There also seems to be a sense of comfort in nature within this poem. When Martha Ray was left by her lover, she went to the mountains. After she lost her baby, she continued to go to the mountains. After each of these heartbreaking and most likely traumatic experiences, Martha Ray has gone to the same place making it seem that the nature serves as an escape or at least a place where she can voice her pain more freely without others around. Wordsworth writes, “At all times of the day and night / This wretched woman thither goes, / And she is known to every star, / And every wind that blows,” (l. 67-70). By using the word “known,” Wordsworth makes it seem that the nature around Martha Ray is there to support her in a sense. A few lines latter Wordsworth writes that no matter the weather, Martha Ray always goes into the mountains to the spot where the thorn and moss grow (l. 71-77). The elements don’t seem to affect Martha Ray in this passage and makes me think that instead she finds some comfort in the nature around her since she is able to persevere so easily.