“Romantic” – this word holds many different connotations and brings to mind a collection of different images. It can be “fanciful, impractical, unrealistic”; it can be “ardent, passionate, fervent”; and it can be “imaginary, fictitious, or fabulous”. According to the dictionary, “romantic” is an adjective characterized by a preoccupation with love, or by the idealizing of love or one’s beloved. In the three poems I have chosen – “Let me not to the marriage of true minds” by William Shakespeare, “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” by John Keats and “Piano” by D.H. Lawrence, the poets use a variety of linguistic and literary devices, as well as explore different themes and imagery, to present love from a “romantic” perspective. The “romance” portrayed in the three poems may be distinct to each other, but is without a doubt something that idealizes love, that elevates the subject of love onto a pedestal. The poems “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” by William Shakespeare, “First Love” by John Clare and “Remember” by Christina Rossetti also depict love in a romantic light. I will examine exactly how the poets do it – how the poets ingeniously present love from a romantic perspective in their poems.
Firstly, “Let me not to the marriage of true minds” – also known as Sonnet 116 – is one of the most famous in William Shakespeare’s collection of sonnets. It demonstrates the glory and invincibility of love, and is a poem addressed to a mysterious “Fair Youth”. The sonnet proposes the idea that true love will always persevere, regardless of any obstacles or troubles that may come. Shakespeare employs various literary and linguistic devices to present love from a romantic perspective and portray it in a divine light.
Shakespeare uses metaphors and imagery to idealize love, presenting the subject romantically. The lines “It is an ever-fixed mark / That looks on tempests and is never shaken” and “the star to every wandering bark” portray love as a permanent guide, something unwavering and definite that will always be there. The idea that love is a guiding star has been used in countless poems by many different poets, but Shakespeare puts a unique emphasis on this imagery. The main metaphor of the sonnet is that love is like the North Star, which never changes position in the night sky – it has been a stable point used for navigation for centuries, and by using such a comparison, Shakespeare portrays love as the star that shepherds people through life. The “tempests” that trouble the seas are a metaphor for the obstacles that relationships may have to face, and the “wandering bark” personifies the lost ship, as if it has a purpose and is looking for something. “Wandering bark” is also a metaphor for a lover being led, by love, out of the boisterous sea of life. Through the use of nautical imagery, Shakespeare presents love from a romantic perspective by creating a vivid scene of a ship lost in the turbulence of a stormy sea, with a serene, unmoving star as a guide above.
The poet also explores the themes of time, age and death to glorify love, hence presenting it romantically. Elizabethan readers of Shakespeare’s sonnets are familiar with the Grim Reaper, the icon of European culture in the medieval period when many died every day due to the Black Plague. The Grim Reaper is a horrifying character who bears a scythe, skeletal and macabre. However, in Sonnet 116, Shakespeare expresses that the Grim Reaper can actually be defeated by love – again depicting the intrepidity of it. “Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks / Within his bending sickle’s compass come:” personifies love and time, claiming that Love will not succumb to Time. “Sickle’s compass come” uses the plosive sound of “k” to mimic the harsh sounds of a death rattle – it is onomatopoeic. In the lines “Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, / But bears it out even to the edge of doom.”, the “his” refers to Time, and Shakespeare is emphasizing the...
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