‘The Love Poem’ belongs to Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry collection, “Rapture” (2005) which is all about a love affair. Duffy, through this poem, talks about the difficulty of writing a love poem. This is like a modern-day sonnet sequence. Besides, ‘The Love Poem’ can be likened with Duffy’s other love poem, titled ‘Syntax’. This poem is also one of the parts of “Rapture”. Readers can analyze both the poems with each other since they both show the poet’s struggle of conveying her love in words that would be ringing true and resonate, not look like several other stock clichés.
Moreover, the reference of ‘an epitaph‘ by Duffy in the poem means that she is making efforts to enshrine or memorialize her love affair with words that will be lasting, as the poets quoted by her in the poem. Plus, after reading through the first verse of the poem, it indicates towards the end of the affair.
‘The Love Poem’ by Carol Ann Duffy talks about how the poet can’t find appropriate expressions while she tries to write a love poem. She remains blank and thoughts like clouds appear and leave. Ironically, the cloud, in the poet’s case, doesn’t have a silver lining. However, throughout the poem, she quotes the first or the important lines from famous love-sonnets and lyrics. Specifically, in the first stanza, the poet struggles to find proper words to write her poem. In the following stanza, the poet is thoughtless. She can’t find hope in herself that she can write a poem or not. Whereas, in the last stanza, the poet somehow manages to start again, with new hope and a burning desire like the moth, desirous of the “star”.
‘The Love Poem’ by Carol Ann Duffy consists of three stanzas. Each stanza of the poem has 12 verses. However, the poem is modern or modern in some respects, as the term “modern’ came to be defined by modernism, wherein it departs from regular metrical schemes and is fragmented or semi-fragmented in appearance as well as in meaning.
Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘The Love Poem’, is a collection of verses from other love poems, composed by a few famous poets like William Shakespeare, Sir Philip Sidney, John Donne, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, etc. Such as the poet has taken:
- “My mistress’ eyes” from the Shakespearean sonnet, ‘Sonnet 130’,
- “Let me count the ways” from ‘Sonnet 43’ of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese”,
- “Come live with me”, from Christopher Marlowe’s ‘The Passionate Shepherd to his Love’,
- “One hour with thee” from ‘An Hour with Thee’ by Walter Scott
- “dear heart, how like you this?” from Sir Thomas Wyatt’s ‘They Flee From Me’,
- “look in thy heart and write”, from Sir Philip Sidney’s ‘Sonnet 1′ of the sonnet sequence “Astrophil and Stella”.
- “there is a garden in her face” has been taken from ‘There Is A Garden In Her Face’ by Thomas Campion,
- “O my America! my new-found land” is extracted from another John Donne poem, ‘To His Mistress Going to Bed’
- “Behold, thou art fair” (Chapter 4) belongs to the ‘Song of Solomon’ in the Bible
- “the desire of the moth for the star” has been taken from ‘One Word is Too Often Profaned’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley.
Analysis of The Love Poem
Till love exhausts itself, longs
for the sleep of words –
my mistress’ eyes –
or fall from its own high cloud as syllables
in a pool of verse –
one hour with thee.
Moving ahead with ‘The Love Poem’, one finds the very first verse frustrating. Now this frustration could either be of the poet who, addressing the “love poets” as “love” here wants to tell us that the love poems of the past are passé. Now, the “love poems” of the past have been replaced by the “modern love poems”, which hardly have any love feeling like the earlier poems of the great poets used to have. Duffy says her “love poem” does not state: “Thou shalt feel love” for those feelings have already been best depicted by the former stalwarts of the poetry world.
Comparing the modern love poets with the classical ones, the poet says that the earlier love poets were truth-tellers, but such an opinion can hardly be made about modern love poets. To best represent the love feelings of the earlier love poets, the poet has extracted and used several verses from the past love poems and used them to express the feeling of love has changed over the period.
For example, here, the poet has taken lines like “My mistress’ eyes” from Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 130′; “let me count the ways” from ‘Sonnet 43’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning; “come live with me”, from Christopher Marlowe’s ‘The Passionate Shepherd to his Love’; “one hour with thee” from ‘An Hour with Thee’ by Walter Scott.
Quotations like “my mistress’ ‘eyes” are truncated, but this doesn’t matter because one can guess the rest. One gets the gist, so a reader can either fill out the rest in imagination or if readers are taken with the line.
Till love gives in and speaks
in the whisper of art –
how like you this? –
there is a garden
in her face.
‘The Love Poem’ is about the difficulty of writing a love poem and that difficulties have been best depicted with the inception, or so to say with the introduction of verses from the past poems, composed by the famous poets of their time. Similar to the first stanza, this section also starts with the subordinate clause like “Till love gives in and speaks”, which also shows the frustration of the poet towards the incapability of writing love poems by modern love poets, and makes us believe that the importance of “love” through these poems conveyed in the past, has faded away, or come to an end.
Today’s “love poems” are deprived of those true love feelings that great poets like Shakespeare, Sidney, Donne, Shelley, Barrett Browning would vent out through their poems. Similar to the first stanza, the poet has extracted lines from previous love poems. For example; line like “dear heart, how like you this?” has been taken from Sir Thomas Wyatt’s ‘They Flee From Me’; “look in thy heart and write”, is extracted from Sir Philip Sidney’s sonnet sequence Astrophil and Stella. Additionally, there is a line like “there is a garden in her face” which the poet has drawn from the poem with the same title by Thomas Campion.
Till love is all in the mind –
O my America!
my new-found land –
both near and far,
near and far –
the desire of the moth
for the star.
In this section of ‘The Love Poem’, addressing the past “love poets” and their “love poems” Carol Ann Duffy begins this stanza also with the subordinate clause such as “Till love is all in the mind -“, and says, “O my America! my new-found land – you may be fair”, but when it comes to writing love poems, one doesn’t stand close to the past love poets with love poems.
She says the earlier poems were composed by heart and known by feelings. But one’s desire to touch the star-like moth is futile because the modern poems neither have feelings, nor the ardent desire that the lovers have nor had in the past. So, unless a person creates love in his mind, in his heart, he may not write what previous poets like Shakespeare, Sidney, Donne, Shelley, E.B. Browning had done.
Here also, the poet has used the extracted lines like “O my America! my new-found land” from another John Donne poem, ‘To His Mistress Going to Bed’, and “behold, thou art fair” from the ‘Song of Solomon’ in the Bible, and “the desire of the moth for the star” from ‘One Word is Too Often Profaned’ by Shelley.
Thus, ‘The Love Poem’ orbits around the extracts drawn from different “love poems” of the former famous poets, and with the introduction of these verses in this poem, the poet has differentiated between the love poems of past and present.