Form, Structure, and Love in Duffy’s and Rossetti’s Poetry
For both Christina Rossetti and Carol Ann Duffy, the continuation of love after death is seemingly instigated in part as narrators express their fondness for their partners, without addressing the fear that accompanies death. In “Remember” by Rossetti, which was written during the Victorian epoch, the speaker comforts a partner despite the impending prospect of death. Yet in “Anne Hathaway by Duffy, which was written during the post-modern period in 1990, the speaker reflects on her past relationship with her partner, describing the feelings and passion that accompanied it. Nature and acceptance are both evident in these sonnets; however, it seems that passion is featured more in “Anne Hathaway” than in “Remember,” as the speaker takes up a role that is of a more reassuring nature in “Remember.”
Death is mentioned at the opening of each poem, as Rossetti uses a euphemism in “Remember” whereas Duffy uses an epigraph from Shakespeare’s will. This strategy creates a tone of solemnity, as the prompt mention of death is startling. However, the poet’s progression from demise to everlasting adoration marks the love between speaker and partner as momentous and interminable. The Victorian and Elizabethan epochs were both Christocentric and mainly advocated sexual discretion; however, Duffy has been able to explore the zealous concupiscent side of Shakespeare and Hathaway’s relationship due to writing in a post-modernist period. While reflecting upon their relationship, the speaker uses a lexical field of passion: ‘body, touch, bed, scent, taste.’ This usage could convey the arduous side of their relationship and enables the reader to visualize this aspect of the speaker’s love. Alternatively, the use of a passionate lexical field could also suggest that the speaker is using it as a placating mechanism. It could distract the speaker from the sadness that follows death, as it describes the living aspects of their relationship. However, unlike the speaker in “Anne Hathaway,” the speaker in “Remember” infantilizes a designated partner by remarking how that individual can no more ‘hold me by the hand.’ This approach may have been affected by the context in which it was written, as many women were seen as mothers and this maternal predisposition could have extended into loving relationships. A feminist perspective would comment that this could be the position a patriarchal society would force upon a woman without allowing opportunity for her to extend beyond such a role. On the other hand, an alternate interpretation may suggest the speaker in “Remember” is authoritative and commanding. The repetition of ‘remember’ embellishes this point as it is of an imperious nature. However, this continuous refrain of ‘remember’ could depict the speaker losing power, gradually fading from life. The tactics here contrast with those in “Anne Hathaway,” as the speaker transitions from discussing nature to discussing bodies: ‘In the other bed, the best, our guests dozed on, dribbling their prose.’ The contrast could portray the guests as symbols of the rest of the prosaic world, people who have no pyrotechnic language. The speaker also suggests that her poetic love is more eloquent and more imaginative than the connections of others, presenting it as a superior, unrivaled sensation.
Both sonnets use nature as a platform to elevate love into a superior role. Rossetti uses a metaphor and this softens the bleakness of death. ‘Gone far away into a silent land.’ This contributes to the loving, gentle tone of the poem and emphasizes the extent of the speaker’s love, as the speaker is wary of upsetting the partner with the prospect of death. A Marxist interpretation would suggest that this is a result of the speaker’s partner dominating the situation, thus pushing the speaker into a caretaker’s role and not addressing private fears. However, the gentleness of the poem implies otherwise, as the speaker seems accepting rather than fearful. Duffy also uses the imagery of nature to emphasize the significance of the speaker’s love: ‘My lover’s words were shooting stars which fell to earth as kisses on these lips.’ This metaphor and sibilance presents their love as resplendent and heavenly, accentuating the prominence of it in a manner that recalls “Remember.” Furthermore, the first-person narrative of each sonnet articulates a cathartic, nostalgic fondness, and this suggests that the characters’ love is in a higher realm, which is above death. The Virgin and the Gipsy by D.H Lawrence also discusses the effect of passion; however, Yvette’s infatuation with the gypsy focuses mainly on lust rather than eternal love: ‘He looked back into her eyes for a second, with that naked suggestion of desire which acted on her like a spell…’ The depiction of their eye contact heightens the sexual tension, although this is exaggerated when the metaphor of sorcery is used. It transports Yvette and the gypsy to an alternate realm; similarly, in “Anne Hathaway,” the speaker remarks that ‘the bed we loved in was a spinning world’. This metaphor suggests that dizziness embraces the young and passionate encounters, emphasizing the desiring aspect of their love. Additionally, the enjambment creates a flowing nature to the sonnet; this could make the speaker’s voice more personal and consequently realistic. The virgin and the gipsy’s passion is a vast contrast to the comforting nature of “Remember,” although there is a similarity as Yvette and the speaker of “Remember” both face turbulent emotions when deciding whether to make the right choice, ‘half turn to go yet turning stay.’ This oxymoron insinuates the speaker is suffering from assorted emotions that are further increased by the liveliness of the ‘-ing’ word, as if the speaker is continuously ‘turning’ though she has to ‘stay.’ Furthermore, there is a polyptoton of ‘turn’ and ‘turning,’ and this emphasizes that the speaker wants to stay and escape. One interpretation might suggest that the speaker wishes to stay because of her love for her partner; on the other hand, death could provide an escape for her and this is why she begins the poem with, ‘far away’ and ‘silent land.’ This could imply the speaker is more attracted to the idea of death than to the addressee, but is unclear whether if this is the case.
Each poem describes love following into death despite the overwhelming feeling of loss or grief. “Remember” and “Anne Hathaway” both describe different types of love, but show that such love can continue after death despite its form. While “Anne Hathaway” focuses more on passion, “Remember” consists of a conflicting turmoil of emotions, with care and confusion entering into the equation.
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