Exploring Variations on the Word Love by Margaret Atwood

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Exploring Variations on the Word Love

Question:How do(es) the use, meanings, connotations and denotations of the central image of the word “love” change(s) in Maragret Atwood’s Variations on the Word Love and also whether the poem may be viewed as a love poem.

Since time immemorial, the concept of love and its definition have been highly personal and truly unique phenomena. They have been the source and product of comedy, tragedy and everything in between. Poets have praised and despised it, the media has sold it and mankind has ever longed for and misunderstood it. In her poem, Variations on the Word Love, Margaret Atwood juxtaposes the connotations and denotations of the word “love” in order to comment on the misrepresentation thereof in our society. In this essay, I shall attempt to explore how these connotations and denotations relate to one another, how they are sustained as well as how they change throughout the poem. Finally, I shall also attempt to explain how this poem may be viewed as a love poem even though Atwood deviates from the conventions of love poetry as we may have come to understand them. In the first stanza and, by extension, the first two lines of the poem, Atwood seems to have a rather negative, perhaps even cynical perspective on the word “love”. At the offset, she suggests that the word is something used to “plug holes with”, meaning that its function is to fill hollowness. This is a strange turn of phrase as one would not expect the word to be used in a context where one might experience emptiness in the first place. The choice of the word “plug” is also interesting as it creates an image in one’s mind of an apparatus that is used to stop something (e.g. water or air) from escaping a container and thereby rendering it voided. So therefore, as of the first two and a half lines, we are confronted by images of vacancy and potential draining where one would hope to find images of mending or healing. She continues along this train...
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