Amongst the three love poems examined in this essay, the theme of male or female power in relationships pervades throughout. The views of the speakers are expressed and defined through literary and poetic techniques. This gives the reader an insight into the speaker’s problems and dissatisfaction of a relationship, due to an imbalance of power. However there are dissimilarities between the poems – for example where in “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” the female displays supernatural power and dominance over a knight, the Duke in “My Last Duchess” desires psychological power over his Duchess
The poem “My Last Duchess” is a dramatic monologue written by Robert Browning, coming from the Duke of Ferrara. In the poem he displays his megalomaniac tendencies towards his late wife and how he feels his title symbolises his power over her. We also learn how he doesn’t want his wife for love but to be able to exhibit her and ‘show her off’ and enforce psychological power over.
The Duke calls her “My Last Duchess”; here the use of the possessive pronoun indicates to the reader how he feels his wife belongs to him. This implies that the Duke has an authoritative and almost overbearing character as he thinks of his wife more as an object, which he owns rather than a person. The Duke proves his power even further by saying “Notice Neptune, though, / Taming a sea horse”. Here he relates himself to Neptune, the god of the seas showing how he believes himself to be god-like. Also the Duke believes himself to be above the level of common people saying he would never “stoop” down to their level. From this we can presume the Duke is afraid of losing his power, and would rather hold his head up high and suffer for it rather than “stoop”. The use of this word indicates how the Duke is in a state of mind where he sees himself as superior against others.
DOMINATION OF THE DUCHESS Robert Browning's poem 'My last Duchess'; is spoken from the perspective of the Duke and conveys the Dukes personality through the ... behavior of his wife so he casually mentions that he had her killed, the ultimate demonstration of his power. This is an ... his daughter. The manner in which he states this is rather particular. He seems to make it obvious that he knows ...
However as we read on we learn that the Duke has limited control over his wife. He states that “She had a heart…to soon made glad”, showing how he feels she is amused easily and distracted away from him – perhaps by other men. This is amplified further when he says “She like whate’er she looked on”, showing he believes she undermines his control over her and is paying attention to men other than himself. We can infer from this that the Duke is disturbed about his deficit of restrain over his wife and is deeply angered at how “she thanked men” other than himself.
The Duke then goes on to say that “She ranked my gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name with anybody’s gift”. Here the Duke explains that his supremacy, which he received from his family name, has stretched over several centuries and his Duchess should therefore appreciate him for it, however his ‘contenders’ have a lot less to offer but still manage to appeal to her more. The Duke is clearly outraged as he not only feels undermined by the Duchess but also by the other men signifying that the Duke wants hierarchical power over those of lower ranks and the power to be able to make his wife love him. This would have been a typical idea that powerful 19th century men had, as they believed status determined who and what you were. Judging from this, it could be said the Duke has megalomaniac inclinations as he wishes to control everything. This is proved further when he says “if she let herself be lessoned”, showing how he wishes to discipline and manipulate her to respect and admire him and mould her into the perfect doll-like wife he wants. He is perhaps even paranoid because all his statements such as “she liked whate’er she looked upon” are all unproven allegations.
... Men have control and ability to take action while woman are powerless relying on men for permission.. 2) However, Matar demonstrates how power is ... immobile during sex. This heightens that lack of power possessed by woman and the ability for the outside patriarchal society to ... that father would execute ultimate power by killing her without compunction highlights how a woman is merely a chattel in the ...
This could be indicative of the Duke’s insecurity, as he doesn’t who he can and can’t trust. This is heightened further when the Duke says, “Somehow – I know not how”, the pause (in the form of hyphens) suggests apprehension and self-doubt proving he overestimates his real power. Furthermore he was never able to manage to control his wife in person but only in death in the form of a painting. “The curtain I have drawn for you” he says, showing he can open and close a curtain to reveal and hide her, controlling who she could and couldn’t see, which was something he couldn’t do while she was in person. Due to the fact he is only controlling an object and not a person, he has attained no real achievement and the patriarchal power we assume he has, like the curtain covering the Duchess, is only a cloak shrouding his true self.
The strong patriarchal ideas in “My Last Duchess” are a sharp contrast to the feminist theme of “A Woman to her lover. While the woman in the poem may seem to be domineering, she is seeking equality amongst men and women rather than total control and believes the power of love conquers all other forms of power.
In “My Last Duchess” the Duke displays his views of a society controlled by high-ranking men – such as himself, however in the poetic voice of “A Woman to Her Lover”, has a totally different attitude, where women and men share equal power. To illustrate this, the woman creates three hypothetical situations, each containing one of the expectations 19th century men had towards woman. In the first stanza, she discusses how woman are accustomed to be the “servant” and how their function was to “bear you children”. Her use of powerful wording displays her resentment and rejection towards the idea. At the end of the stanza she says, “If that be what you ask, O lover I refuse you!” here the use of the refrain, not only indicates her assertiveness but also that she is only interested in someone who shares the same views as her. This contrasts with the attitude of the Duke, as he wants a partner who is inferior and compliant rather than equal. Also the poetic voice has to explain and reject the patriarchal ideas, whereas the Duke doesn’t have to reject anything, as he believes his view was the only view. We can also infer from this that the woman strongly believes equality is crucial to the functioning of a relationship, however equality was the main reason for the breakdown of the Duke’s relationship.
... and his knights wield physical power: they fight to wage war, to earn respect as knights and to protect the weak. Women, on ... the other hand, assert more subtle forms of power. Even as ... male-dominated world, the Arthurian women assume power through marriage, motherhood and magic. The Arthurian women assume power through marriage by using their ...
From the very beginning of the poem, the woman exhibits her assertive characteristics. In the opening line she says ” Do you come to me to bend me to your will”. Here she directly addresses the reader, which in this case is her lover. In 18th century Britain, it would have been shocking for a woman to speak to a man in such a discourteous manor – let alone publish her own material; this shows her bold and audacious nature. Her strong character is amplified by her use of powerful vocabulary, for instance, words like “bend”, “bondslave” and “drudgery”, show her fearless character and also how strongly she wants equality. Her tone and register is very similar to the Duke’s, as they are both confident, dominating and come across as very powerful. However the power they display isn’t their true nature, which is another parallel between the two characters. The Duke may appear to be powerful, but through a closer inspection we see his insecurity, and for the most part of the poem the woman may appear to be controlling but at the end she reveals her true self. She uses words like “Comrade” “friend” and “passion”, which is a completely different tone, showing her more affable side.
Like in “My Last Duchess”, “A Woman to Her Lover” also uses imagery (in this case celestial imagery) to emphasise her point:
“And our co-equal love will make the stars to laugh with joy
And we shall have the music of the spheres for bridal march”
The words “stars” and “spheres”, suggest how love with equality transcends other natures of love such as the Duke’s, and can be made into something greater. She also refers to God, an example of divine imagery, which can be associated with the purity of the equal match in the relationship. The different types of imagery help amplify and demonstrate the effects the power of love can have on people.
... through the sharp intense words of the poem. He succeeded in his imagery because it almost made you feel ... a visual picture of what love means to him. He uses the imagery because it's necessary to ... of death was used throughout the poem. '... Love so soon decays,' meaning that love so quickly dies. If you cut ... , wish, and adore, but after one such love, can love no more.' In this quote Donne show us ...
“A Woman to her Lover” displays feminist power looking for equality, however this is surpassed in “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”, where the female deceives and dominates the male. This poem was set in Dark Ages where knights, who guarded the land, were seen as valiant, heroic and defenders of the peace. However in this poem John Keats portrays a totally different image where the knight is depressed, “palely loitering” and under the spell of a mysterious maiden.
The female displays the power of deception over the knight, which is the most overwhelming form of power in all the three poems. The knight explains how she intoxicates him by being sensually appealing; he describes her “fragrant zone”, and her “sweet moan”. As well as being sexually evocative, the quotes show how the knight’s lust is driven further. Here, unlike the other poems the woman uses her physical assets to establish her power over men, rather than tone of voice or hierarchy.
However, as implicitly indicated earlier in the poem, the relationship between the two characters was destined to fail, and the love was never true. The woman gives the knight “roots of relish sweet” and “manna dew”. However due to the bad dream the knight has, the reader is led to believe that these herbs are mystical potions instead, and are used to broaden her span of control over him. This is indicative of the fact that this mysterious woman is a supernatural being possessing inhuman powers. For example, she is described as a “faery’s child” and lived in an “elfin grot” proving this beautiful maiden isn’t as pure as first seems. Eventually, the knight becomes so absorbed by the pleasures she has to offer, he fails to see her deceitful nature. He ignores all the warning signs such as her “wild” eyes and her “language strange” and falls into the trap this ‘femme fatale’ has laid out for him – putting himself into her control.
In this poem, Keats depicts a relationship where the woman is in control and the male is inferior, which is a polar opposite to “My Last Duchess”. In this poem, the typical roles of men and women in an 18th Century society have been inverted, and the stereotype of a “damsel-in-distress” ignored. The woman’s control over the knight is shown when she “lulled” him asleep, which draws a parallel with a baby being lulled to sleep showing his vulnerability and weakness – something totally unexpected of a knight. This is amplified when the line “Hath thee in thrall!” is mentioned as it shows how her bodily charm has managed to cast him under a spell of intoxicating love. It would have been archetypal for the man to do all the wooing at the time, however yet again the unconventional nature of the relationship seems to carry through, resulting in an inversion of the roles.
... about the differences between what men and women expect from a relationship. The relationships men and women hold can almost be viewed as ... in this exact manner. She accurately represents that relationships between men and women are, although natural, almost cross-cultural in nature ... much more focused on intimacy in their relationships then men. To a women friendship and connections are key to a ...
The main voice of the poem is that of the knight, whose tone is forlorn, which was very peculiar of a knight at the time, due to his unreturned love. “And this is why I sojourn here / Alone and palely loitering”, here by the words he uses such as “palely” we can see his insecurity and doubt, also the fact that he is loitering shows his insignificance and unimportance. This defeated tone of the knight contrasts with the assertive tone of the woman in “A Woman to her Lover”. Here the juxtaposition helps amplify the unusualness of a knight in distress.
Imagery is also used to amplify the sense of despondency in the poem, the main example of which is pathetic fallacy. “The sedge has wither’d from the lake, / And no birds sing”, here the depressing surroundings reflect upon the state of mind of the knight and also the state of his relationship. The fact that no birds are singing, shows how he feels – devoid of life and happiness. The other main type of imagery used is sensual imagery, for example, the knight describes the woman as “Full beautiful” making “sweet moan”. Here he allows the reader to build up mental picture and have an idea of what she looks like which makes it easier for the reader to understand why he is controlled so easily,
In conclusion we can see that the idea of feminist power and dominance exists in all of them. However each writer portrays women and their power in different ways – Browning depicts them as inferior to men, Walsh seeks to show the competence of women while the woman in Keats’ poem possesses supernatural powers. The main thing that the three poems teach us is that the role of the sexes in a relationship can change, depending on the type and amount of power they posses – the male can be the one who is trapped and exploited while the women emerges as the dominant one.
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