Carol Ann Duffy’s The Love Poem, is a collection of verses from other love poems, composed by a few famous poets like Shakespeare, Sidney, Donne, Shelley, Barrett and Browning. Such as; the poet has taken ‘My mistress’ eyes from Shakespeare’s ‘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 Marlow’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 sequence Astrophil and Stella.
In addition, line like ‘there is a garden in her face’ has been taken from a poem by Thomas Campion, ‘O my America! my new-found land’ is extracted from another John Donne poem, ‘To His Mistress Going to Bed’, and ‘behold, thou art fair’ belongs to the ‘Song of Solomon’ in the Bible, whereas ‘the desire of the moth for the star’ has been taken from ‘One Word is Too Often Profaned’ by Shelley. Furthermore, the line like ‘there is a garden in her face’ is part of a poem by Thomas Campion.
Extracted from her 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.
Moreover, the reference of ‘an epitaph’ by Duffy in the poem means that she is making efforts to enshrine or memorialise her love affair with words that will be lasting, as the poets quoted by her in the poem. Plus, when we read through the first verse of the poem, it indicates towards the end of the affair.
Besides, the poem, The Love Poem, can be likened with Duffy’s another love poem, titled ‘Syntax’. This poem is also one of the parts of Rapture. You can analyse both the poems with each other, since they both show poet’s struggle of conveying her love in words that would be ringing true and resonate, not look like several other stock clichés.
The Love Poem Analysis
Till love exhausts itself, longs
for the sleep of words –
my mistress’ eyes –
to lie on a white sheet, at rest
in the language –
let me count the ways –
or shrink to a phrase like an epitaph –
with me –
or fall from its own high cloud as syllables
in a pool of verse –
one hour with thee.
The poem, The Love Poem, has been written in three stanzas, each having 12 verses. Roughly speaking, Dufy’s this poem is, ‘modern’, or modern in some respects, as 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.
As we move ahead with this stanza, we find its 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 past are passe. Now, the ‘love poems’ of past have been replaced by the ‘modern love poems’, which hardly have any love feelings 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 poetry world.
Comparing the modern love poets with the classical ones, the poet says that the earlier love poets were truth-tellers, but such opinion can hardly be made about today’s or modern love poets. In order 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 of times.
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’ of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese; ‘come live with me, from Christopher Marlow’s ‘The Passionate Shepherd to his Love’; ‘one hour with thee’ from ‘An Hour with Thee’ by Walter Scott.
Quotations like ‘my mistress’ ‘eyes’ is truncated, but this doesn’t really matter because you can guess the rest. You get the gist, so you can either fill out the rest in your imagination or, if you are taken with the line.
Till love gives in and speaks
in the whisper of art –
how like you this? –
love’s lips pursed to quotation marks
kissing a line –
look in thy heart
and write –
love’s light fading, darkening,
black as ink on a page –
there is a garden
in her face.
As has been discussed above, this 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 too 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 the 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. Plus, here is a line like ‘there is a garden in her face’ which the poet has drawn from a poem by Thomas Campion
Till love is all in the mind –
O my America!
my new-found land –
or all in the pen
in the writer’s hand –
behold, thou art fair –
not there, except in a poem,
known by heart like a prayer,
both near and far,
near and far –
the desire of the moth
for the star.
Addressing the past ‘love poets’ and their ‘love poems’ the poet begins this stanza also with the subordinate clause (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, you don’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 your desire to touch the star like moth is futile because your poems neither have feelings, nor the ardent desire that the lovers have or had in past.
So, unless you yourself create love in your mind, in your heart, you may not write what previous poets like Shakespeare, Sidney, Donne, Shelley, Barrett 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 entire 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.
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