‘Juan’s Song’ by Louise Bogan explores the idea that love doesn’t always work out. The poet asks what does ‘love deceive’, suggesting that to some extent, everyone knows the end is coming.
‘Juan’s Song’ is a title that satirises the common term ‘Swan Song’, which is a final effort, performance, or gesture that is given just before retirement. In changing this to the phonetically similar ‘Juan’s’, Bogan is mocking the supposed drama of love, downplaying its importance by highlighting the more ridiculous parts. She argues that deep down everyone knows when love isn’t working, things not feeling quite right. If this is true, how do people get so shocked and heartbroken at the end of love – she asks the question ‘Who is it, then, that love deceives?’.
You can read the full poem here.
‘Juan’s Song’ by Louise Bogan is written as one continuous stanza, measuring 10 lines. The poem has a constant aabbcc rhyme scheme, the couplet rhyme flowing throughout. The suggestion of a couplet rhyme is just that, a couple – Bogan using the form to suggest the coupling of people, reflecting the narrative of love within the structure of her poem. Moreover, the consistency of rhyme could further Bogan’s argument that love is not surprising, the steady and unfaltering rhyme scheme providing stability. Due to the structure, Bogan is almost directly questioning what exactly there is to be confused by, love seeming pain and easy to understand.
One technique that Bogan uses in writing ‘Juan’s Song’ is enjambment. Especially between the 5th-8th lines, Bogan’s use of enjambment reflects the ideas generated within the poem. Indeed, she is arguing that love is unsurprising and obvious, and echos this through an uninterrupted structure which flows freely from line to line.
Another technique that Bogan uses when writing ‘Juan’s Song’ is alliteration. Across phrases like ‘beauty breaks’, the harsh consonance of ‘b’ extends the idea of destruction, the aural qualities of the poem echoing the ideas of love breaking down.
Juan’s Song Analysis
When beauty breaks and falls asunder
I keep no chip of it for token.
The poem begins with ‘When’, the suggestion of ‘when’ over a different tense, such as ‘if’, instantly insinuating that it is only a matter of time before love fails. Bogan is seemingly pessimistic but goes on to clarify her argument.
The alliteration across ‘beauty breaks’, the harsh consonant ‘b’ echoing throughout both the words reflects the idea of the loss of beauty. The phrase is consonant heavy, and difficult say, reflecting the loss of love and beauty as the couple gets older. Bogan is suggesting that much of love is based only on ‘beauty’, when that ’breaks and falls asunder’ the ‘love’ evaporates, ceasing to exist between couples.
Although love and beauty have been lost, Bogan ‘feel[s] no grief for it’, knowing that this is a part of life and this is something that will always simply happen. She is not sad, it is a reality that she has come to understand and therefore is at peace with. The word ‘grief’ seems to be taken from the semantics of death, with Bogan perhaps alluding to the idea that many people associate love with an almost romantic death, Bogan laughing at this exaggeration.
The disruptive caesura throughout the third line of ‘Juan’s Song’ is reflective of the content the line holds. Indeed, ‘when love, like a frail shell, lies broken’, Bogan places the destruction of love as the narrative event, then literally fracturing the sentence with divisive caesura. The inclusion of caesura within this line ensures a slight metrical disruption, the line being split into many pieces due to the slight pauses the reader must take. The structural ideas implemented here within the poem directly reflect the idea of a metaphorical ‘love’ which ‘lies broken’.
Even with this broken metaphorical object in front of her, Bogan feels no urgency to fix or pick up and keep a ‘chip’ of one of the pieces. The poet believes that keeping mementos of love is impractical – why would you keep something that is broken?
I never had a man for friend
Who could discern when love was over.
Across these lines Bogan includes both the male, ‘man’, and female, ‘girl’, genders, suggesting that the impacts of love are equal for all – yet the act of prediction is not. Indeed, Bogan suggests that she ‘never had a man for friend / who did not know that love must end’, the suggestion that one knows certainty that love has failed and is coming to its end. This is directly contrasted in the next two lines, with Bogan suggesting that ‘I never had a girl for lover / who could discern when love was over’. Although the males within ‘Juan’s Song’ could always ‘know that love must end’, perhaps ending the relationship themselves, the females could never ‘discern when love was over’, holding on to the dying relationship. Bogan could be commenting on the difference between attitudes to love, suggesting that men are quicker to give up on relationships while women tend to hold on longer. This is quite the generalisation, and I’m not too sure how this comment would hold up if written today, but it is what Bogan believes nevertheless.
The use of enjambement across these lines, ‘friend’ flowing directly on to ‘who’ and ‘lover’ directly to ‘who’, suggests the ease of understanding. There is an almost passiveness in people’s attitudes to love. While the men understand that love needs to end, they do nothing, allowing the poetic rhythm to take them along. Meanwhile, the women do the same, carrying on with the relationship even though it is not perfect. Both swept along by the continual nature of life, represented through enjambement.
Lines 9 and 10
What the wise doubt, the fool believes–
Who is it, then, that love deceives?
Bogan suggests that ‘What the wise doubt, the fool believes—‘, people seem inclined to disagree and prospects of life. While ‘the wise’ doubt something, a ‘fool’ will ‘believe’, the opposite approach to life in these two generalised categories showing the diversity of life. Bogan applies a similar argument here of that which she used in her gender generalisation. This extended hyphen, ‘believes—‘ could suggest that this is the case for all people, the sentence lingering on these ideas.
The final line is metrically split once again, the more difficult conceptual idea being broken down by caesura. Bogan questions, ‘who is it, then, that love deceives?’. While the ‘wise’ doubt love and the ‘fool believes’, who really comes off better when things go wrong – one that gave everything and lost it all, or one that gave nothing at all, and lost out on the experience?