People say love is impossible to define. Philosophers and poets attempted to provide its definition millions of times and failed. Arguably, a part of the problem may lie in our language because we use the word “love” with various connotations to express a number of different personal experiences in our life. This paper analyzes three poems, namely, Christopher Marlowe’s The Passionate Shepherd to His Love, and Shakespeare’s sonnets 73 and 130. By examining the imagery, metaphors, and symbols of these poems, the poetry analysis reveals to a reader the distinguishing personal experiences and meanings of love described in each of them and links the poems to certain stages in one’s life.
At first glance, the poem The Passionate Shepherd to His Love is so naive and romantically rustic that one may wonder why it is shrined in the history of literature. However, this first impression is shattered after a closer look at the text of the poem.
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During the first reading, one’s foremost feeling might even be close to irritation for the lyric hero’s rhetoric sounds like an attempt to buy his belamour’s feelings, to trade pleasures he promises for her living with him and being his love (Marlowe 1; 20; 24). However, a reader’s evaluation of the poem changes when it comes to analyzing the imagery. Notably, it appeals to multiple senses and aspirations. Marlowe’s poem intertwines visual (“valleys, groves, hills, and fields” (3)), auditory (“Melodious birds sing madrigals” (8), “falls of rivers” (7), “and the swains dancing and singing” (21)), tactile (“sit upon the rocks” (5),” a gown of the finest wool” (13)), and olfactory (“a thousand fragrant posies” (10) and “leaves of myrtle” (12)) senses; it appeals even to thermoception, or, rather, its feeling of coziness by mentioning “Fair lined slippers for the cold, / With buckles of the purest gold” (Marlowe 15-16). What is more, all the objects and all personal experiences generalized as “pleasures” are associated with purity found in nature and the best possible quality of the gifts promised to the beloved one is expressed through mentioning jewelry, expensive materials, and precious metals. Being a shepherd, the lyric hero uses nature as an ultimate metaphor for beauty and valuables as a way to express how generous his love makes him feel towards her.
I would argue that the promised pleasant experiences function as metaphors and all the promised objects function as symbols in this poem. They all invoke the mixture of feelings a man can have while falling in love. Deciphering the poem, one may perceive love as a sense of admiration (the beloved one is perfect; everything that surrounds her should be perfect too) and generosity (he wants to give, not to take; all he asks for is “be my love”). A lifewise reader might recognize immature, early, passionate feelings in this poem; the lyric hero is neither realistic nor practical, nor does he hope for an equal partnership as a mature lover would.
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Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130” is an antithesis to The Passionate Shepherd to His Love in a method of imagery usage. In this poem, the author calmly and practically deconstructs the common and banal “false compares” (Shakespeare, “Sonnet 130” 14) typically utilized to describe a female figure of a perfect beauty. By doing so, he introduces a reader to the true maturity of his feelings: he is in love with a real woman; not with a false image of her, he loves her as she is, and he knows her well (how she looks, walks, smells – all the things people know when they are together for a long time).
In this sonnet, he reconsiders such generally accepted poetic images images as “eyes like the sun”, “skin white as snow”, “roses in her cheeks”, “walks like a goddess” as if he would never think of describing his mistress that way because it is simply not true. Instead, he achieves the accurate portrait of his love in contrast to the dismissed false comparisons.
The only symbol that describes both the mistress and the lyric hero’s attitude to her is denoted by the adjective “rare” (Shakespeare, “Sonnet 130” 13). It is hard to think of a word that would be more appropriate in a poem with the ex contrario usage of the typical comparisons. “Rare” is not the same as “perfect”, however, it is very close to “irreplaceable”. The strength of this sonnet, as is typical of its poetic form, lies in the two final lines that express the perception of true love in this work.
Compared to the analyzed Marlowe’s poem and William Shakespeare’s sonnets, “Sonnet 73” is the most powerful piece of language mastery in its highest poetic potential. To compare, Marlowe’s poem is an ode to anticipation, a promise, a blissful and blossoming piece of youth, while the former Shakespeare’s sonnet is a praise of the mature love, and the latter is a tender yet inevitable farewell. However, the three poems seem to follow and extend one another, illustrating the transformation of one’s feelings throughout the life.
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Remarkably, the imagery of “Sonnet 73” despite being mostly visual and associated with silence, has a little to do with senses; they appear in the poem as if faded by the power of time. Arguably, it is all about time: time of the year (the late fall), time of the day (the late twilight), and time of one’s life (expressed via two mentioned metaphors plus the final complex metaphor of fire). What is more, the imagery expresses the time of ending, closing, ceasing, and decline The lyric hero experiences his death approaching, he is fully aware of it and he articulates this experience to his loved one, so that she can feel it too. He wants to make the upcoming grief easier for her; he emotionally prepares her for his departure.
The metaphors of decline get more and more intense over the course of the lyric hero’s monolog. The late fall described in the first four-line stanza implies feelings of cold and sadness; the late twilight (the second quatrain) signifies that excessive darkness and, probably, fear. In addition, this is where the image of death steps in: Shakespeare calls night as “Death’s second self” (“Sonnet 73” 8). However, both these metaphors appeal to timespans that are parts of natural cycles : spring comes even after the coldest winters, the sun rises even after the darkest nights. It creates a space or further extension of the metaphor of death. The third stanza describes fire creating “the death-bed whereon it must expire” (Shakespeare, “Sonnet 73” 11) of ashes, this process is irreversible, as the life itself.
Two more things are deeply intriguing about this sonnet. Firstly, the author assesses the fire choking on its own ashes (and the lyric hero’s approaching death it stands for) with the words “Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by” (Shakespeare, “Sonnet 130” 12). Emotions and feelings are what nourishes a poet’s life; they might be far more exhausting than those of an average person, so, the poet might be feeling that he is burning out, killed by what once allowed him to live and create. The second intriguing moment lies in the words “This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong, / To love that well which thou must leave ere long.” (Shakespeare, “Sonnet 73” 13-14) The lyric hero recognizes his beloved one both being aware of his state and feeling deeper about him now, as we all do when we are about to lose our dearest ones. However, surprisingly, he says that it is his partner, “thou”, “you” who must leave, not him. This very sensible gesture inspires, for it is the survivor who must cope with grief and continue living rather than the person who dies.
To conclude, the naive and romantic imagery of Christopher Marlowe’s The Passionate Shepherd to His Love is used to describe the straightforward passion of a young and simple mind. Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130” introduces a reader to the philosophy of love that is far more mature. Finally, “Sonnet 73” depicts a farewell with a lover, full of saddness and care. These three poems seem to express three stages of love and connect them to three sets of images: the first one naively-rustic, the second one – knowingly practical, and the third one – definite in its understanding of time, the meaning of people’s lives, and the genuine value of personal feelings.