Monday, October 22, 2007

What Is Love - 10/22/07

Similar to the origin of life, love is a very complex part of life that people say they experience, but can’t explain. This confusion is very visible in poems because poems sometimes try to explain love by relating it to images such as the sun and the color red. However, love isn’t actually understood for all people due to subjectivity. For example, in William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130,” he challenges the public’s exaggerated and unreal outlook on love by describing his mistress plainly, as opposed to exaggerating her features. Similarly, W.H. Auden questions today’s view on love by writing his poem based on its title, “Tell Me the Truth About Love,” in which the narrator tries to find out what love really is. This argument is based on the idea that love is a word used to describe a one’s strong affection towards another. Unfortunately, the extent of that feeling is so different for each person that it makes love very hard to define. And since it can’t be concretely defined, its own identity can be questioned. On the other hand, many use love to describe strong emotion connections, making the word very real and very significant to many people. The controversy concerning the existence of real love is important because it makes people question what they are really feeling, instead of blindly substituting their larger-than-life emotions for a small word.

W.H. Auden’s “Tell Me the Truth About Love” questions love and cites experiences the narrator has had with it. The poem is set up so that the second, fourth, sixth and seventh stanzas ask questions about love, while the other stanzas describe the narrator’s encounter with love.
The first, third, and fifth stanza describe how the narrator has encountered love. The first stanza shows words the narrator has heard other people use to describe words; the third stanza describes where he has found love in literature; and the fifth stanza names the places where the author looked for love. The word choice in these stanzas implies an immature tone and also hints that the narrator has no idea what love is. This is because he compares love to things people usually wouldn’t compare with love. For example, the narrator compares love to a little boy and a bird (lines 1-2). In the third stanza, the narrator explains how he’s seen love written on the back of railway-guides (23-4). Then, in the fifth stanza, the author explains how he couldn’t find love inside the summer-house (31-2) or underneath his bed (40). The unusual words he uses to describe his encounters with love make the narrator sound as if he’s a kid. This would make sense when implying that the author doesn’t understand love because it’s normal to believe that kids don’t understand it. The narrator’s confusion continues as he asks questions about love in the other stanzas.

It becomes evident that the author doesn’t know much about love in the second, fourth, sixth and seventh stanzas as he asks unusual questions about it. In the second stanza, he asks questions about love’s physical characteristics (such as its appearance, smell and feel). Instead of asking something cliché about love (such as if it’s as bright as the sun, feels like smooth velvet, and smells like honey) he asks if love “looks like a pair of pyjamas” (9), if it smells like llamas (11) and if it feels like a prickly hedge (13). The fourth stanza asks what love sounds like. Here, instead of asking if love sounds like a soft ballad, the narrator asks abnormal questions such as if it sounds like a hungry Alsatian and if booms like a military band (25-6). The sixth stanza asks what love can do to a person. The narrator asks if love can make a person greedy (45) and if it can make somebody make weird faces (41) instead of asking if love can make someone feel like everything in the world is okay. Lastly, in the last stanza, the narrator asks how he will know if love has arrived. He doesn’t refer to any goose bumps or butterflies in his stomach; as a substitute, he asks if it will be unexpected like him picking his nose (50) or if it will knock on the door in the morning (51). The unexpected words used in the questions the narrator has about love imply that he knows nothing about love. However, the author isn’t too ignorant. This is because at the end of each stanza described above, he asks the reader to tell him the truth about love, as if he had been told a lie about love. Or as if popular culture had distorted his view of love, or as if he questioned the idea of love even existing. In a similar way, in Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130,” the narrator challenges the public’s view of love and compares it to what he feels and sees in his mistress.

Most of the poems and song lyrics that I have read have made efforts at describing love by comparing it to objects that people usually find extraordinary or beautiful. Some of the objects compared to love are: the sun, the color red and roses. In “Sonnet 130,” William Shakespeare decides to write a poem that at first glance resembles a letter about the author’s distaste towards his mistress. The most noticeable part of his poem is how he takes characteristics usually related to love’s, such as appearance, sound and smell, and uses them to describe his distaste for his lover. He vilifies her appearance by contrasting her eyes with the sun and the red of her lips with red coral. He finishes by commenting on how he dislikes her breath, her smell and her manner of walking. The images Shakespeare chooses to contradict his mistress are essential in the controversy of the existence of love because, as he admits in the last two lines, he thinks he loves his mistress, but he doesn’t really know how to explain his love. However, in the last two lines, the narrator admits that he has a strong emotional connection with his mistress. The line breaks and structure of each line of the sonnet also help the reader point out the traditional aspects of love that confuse the narrator when he compares them to his mistress.

The structure of the lines in “Sonnet 130” help bring out the aspects of love that the narrator questions. For example, the first four lines aren’t enjambed and clearly express the features of his love that are contrasted by others’ view of love. His mistress’ “eyes” aren’t as bright as the “sun” (line 1), her “lips” aren’t as “red” as they should be (2), her “breasts” aren’t perfect and “white” as snow (3), and instead of being silky, her “hair” is ugly like “black wires” (4). As the poem continues, it is separated into couplets: the first line (which is sometimes enjambed) describes an aspect of the narrator’s mistress that he expects to be pleasant based on the public’s view of love, and the second line portrays the reality of that characteristic in his mistress. For example, in lines 7-8, the narrator contrasts the pleasant scent of perfume to his mistress’ disgusting breath that “reeks.” The use of this couplet structure within the sonnet helps the reader realize the author’s confusion. From the last two lines, it can be inferred that the narrator has a strong emotional connection with his mistress. That being said, according to what others compare to love, the aspect in the first line should apply to his mistress. Unfortunately, the reality of that aspect is presented in the second line, and love’s not as extraordinary as it seems. It’s not understood and, even thought the narrator has strong emotions for his mistress, he can’t necessarily say he loves her if he doesn’t even know what love is. He’s putting all his emotion in a word that will hopefully explain everything he feels.

The public’s view on love is questioned and challenged in Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130” and Auden’s “Tell Me the Truth About Love.” The poems are similar in that the narrator doesn’t agree with what the public’s view of love. In Shakespeare’s poem, the narrator is a man who doesn’t believe that the unrealistic characteristics of love don’t apply to his mistress. Even though he has very strong feelings for her, he can’t apply the public’s view of love (which is supposed to be a word describing the highest level of affection towards another) to what he feels and sees in his mistress. On the other hand, the narrator in Auden’s poem is a child who doesn’t ignore the public’s view on love, but questions it. He questions the public’s take on love and desires to know the truth about love.

Both poems express the idea that love is different for everyone and that it isn’t clearly defined. Knowing this, ask yourself these questions: Is it possible to say that something exists if it can’t necessarily be defined clearly? Is it even possible to believe in that specific thing? Even if you say you feel it, how do you know if it’s really what you’re feeling when you don’t know what it is? Would you still agree with this way of thinking if the thing I was talking about was love? The truth is that love has evolved into too many identities to be defined as one thing for everyone. People have been so involved in defining every strong emotion they have that they forget to look back at the source of all that emotion. It would be a shame to ship away all the emotion you had for someone in a small four-letter word and expected it to mean something.

Works Cited

Auden, W.H. “Tell Me the Truth About Love.” The Norton Anthology of Poetry. Ed.

Ferguson, Margaret, Salter, Mary Jo, and Stallworthy, Jon. New York and London:

W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2005. 1470-1.

Shakespeare, William. “Sonnet 130.” The Norton Anthology of Poetry. Ed. Ferguson,

Margaret, Salter, Mary Jo, and Stallworthy, Jon. New York and London: W.W. Norton

& Company, Inc., 2005. 267-8.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Funeral Blues

This week, we started out by reading love poems. Reading the various poems assigned helped me to see the different types of love. At first, I just thought we would be reading poems with rhyming couplets about perfect love. However, to my surprise, the majority of the poems were imperfect in that they had sad endings.
Reading various love poems helped me to identify different types of love. The love I expected was portrayed in John Donne's "The Good-Morrow." The poem didn't have rhyming couplets and terrible forced rhythm like some pop songs today share, but it was a well-written poem that could've been a monologue. It was aimed directly at a lucky lady and the poem was filled of what I'll call happy love. However, some of the other poems portrayed different types of love.
By reading "Funeral Blues" by W.H. Auden, I discovered love through death. I'm sure most can relate to this type of love. The love you feel when you lose someone who was already really close. This love is sad, it's angry, it's painful and it's confused, but it's still love. Similar to the love experienced through death is the love expressed in "The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter" by Ezra Pound.
In "The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter" by Ezra Pound, I discovered what I'll call love through loss. This love is the feeling you get when you miss someone who you really care about and would give anything to have her back. You can either be missing her because she has left for a long time and you don't know when she'll be back, or because she has passed away and you wish that she could be back (similar to Auden's poem).
After looking carefully at each of the poems, imperfect love started to make sense. This is because sadness, loss, death and pain are all real and they're common. It's rare for someone to find a spouse that he has loved and end up marrying her. If it does happen, it doesn't always end such a happy ending. This is because someone will leave (either by choice or because it's his time) and love will amplify the sadness that the survivor feels. I'll stop there with all my depressing words and ask you (whoever you may be) a question. What do you think about love? Is it better to find love and later feel pain of loss, or to be alone and safe from the pain that might come?
Have a nice day :)

Saturday, October 6, 2007

War Poems

Last Monday was a very good discussion day because we discussed war poems. This was very exciting because I had never read a war poem before, and the poems we read were also very good. My favorite poem from that day was "Here Dead Lie We Because We Did Not Choose" by A.E. Housman.
Out of the poems we read I only found "Here Dead We Lie Because We Did Not Choose" to show support towards fighting. The very short poem follows:

Here dead lie we because we did not choose
To live and shame the land from which we sprung.
Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose;
But young men think it is, and we were young.

When I read this poem for the first time, I merely skimmed over it to get a general idea of what it was about. The last two lines unexpectedly grabbed my attention and made me reread the poem a few times before putting it down.
When I read the poem, I imagined the end of a war movie with the son of a lost one standing over his father's grave, reading the words on his tombstone. The father is telling his son that they (he and his fellow soldiers) are dead because, instead of the complaining about how unfair their country is, they chose to have some pride in their country and fight for their country. This is because when you have something great and beautiful you believe in, your own life becomes a small concern. Your only desire is to reach that goal you were trying to pursue. However, the young usually think of their own lives as a great deal to worry about and always want to live for the moment. Nonetheless, these young men were so committed to their dream that they threw away living for the moment and instead lived for their country. They were young, but they were very brave.
This poem touched me a lot because, even though I don't support the idea of war, I greatly appreciate what soldiers do for our country. They put their lives at risk and throw away every bit of freedom that they have. For what reason? I don't know. Maybe it's to fight for their country, or it's a promise they made to their parents. For whatever reason they do it, they do it and they should be greatly appreciated by everyone.