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I am going to compare three different poems: “My Box” by Gillian Clarke, “Valentine” by Carol Ann Duffy and “Shall I compare Thee…?” (Sonnet 18) by William Shakespeare. In my essay I will discuss the language, images, style, rhythm and many other aspects used to construct each of the poems.
The modern poem “My Box” written by Gillian Clarke, in essence, is about a gift of a box from a man to a woman. The first line ‘my box is made of golden oak, my lover’s gift to me. Clarke introduces characters, the lover and the narrator. ‘He fitted hinges and a lock of brass and a bright key. This line has a sort of naivety about it because it is made up of monosyllables, also, when read it seems as if a word is missing between ‘bright and ‘key. This may be deliberate to emphasise the youthfulness of the writer at this point in the poem. ‘He made it out of winter nights, sanded and oiled and planed, engraved inside a heavy lid in brass, a golden tree.’ Due to the emphasis of ‘and’ by its repetition four times within the first stanza, this shows that the man had obviously spent a lot of time on the box.
In the second stanza, the poet goes on to describe what the woman has done with the box. ‘In my box are twelve black books where I have written down how we have sanded, oiled and planed, planted a garden, built a wall, seen jays and gold crests, rare red kites, found the wild heartsease, drilled a well, harvested apples and words and days and planted a golden tree.
This whole stanza is written as a list informing the reader of what they did as a couple. ‘In my box are twelve black books, presumably all her memories written down in books, possibly a diary It is also showing how short life is because her whole life as a couple is written in only twelve books. Each of the things in the list seem to be metaphors of what normally occurs within a relationship. For instance ‘built a wall would be; perhaps, they had bought their own home. ‘Planted a golden tree would be to signify life; perhaps they had children and prospered.
In the third stanza, it is obvious that Clarke is writing as an older matured person, because it tackles death. ‘On an open shelf I keep my box. Its key is in the lock this means that the box is accessible to those who want to read it. Therefore the black books are to be read by people so they’ll know how much the couples devotion and love for each other.
‘I leave it there for you to read, or them, when we are dead, the ‘you mentioned in the line is directed to her husband, and ‘Them is possibly directed to the children to enable them to re-live their memories once they are dead.
‘How everything is slowly made’, is probably referring to the relationship and how it took a long time to make it ‘real. ‘How slowly things made me, a tree, a lover, words, a box, books and a golden tree. She is saying how all these things have made her a person. ‘A tree stands for a possible family tree, having stability in her life. ‘A lover means the good and bad experiences that couples generally have. ‘Words are what you say to people and how they affect you and them. In the last stanza it also says that ‘words were harvested. ‘A box represents her whole life with her partner, and her experiences. ‘Books are the twelve books that she has written in which shows her memories. The ‘Golden tree is the core of the poem, it is a metaphor for love and how it was nurtured from a seed, faces the good and bad experiences and how it flourishes into something beautiful.
Throughout the poem, it seems that the poet intentionally shows the woman to ageing. At the beginning of the poem, Clarke writes as if the woman is young in the relationship. In the second stanza, it is as though the woman has got married and has had children. Then the last stanza is like the end of the woman’s life, but certainly not the end of the relationship because she believes that her experiences will live on through the books. I feel that the poet is trying to portray that life is short but memories will always outlive them.
“Valentine” a contemporary poem written by Carol Ann Duffy, is a poem using an extended metaphor about a gift of an onion to her lover. The poem opens with the negative line, ‘Not a red rose or a satin heart. Already, from this first line of the poem, the readers know the poem is going to be negative because it starts with ‘not. The first line is not part of a stanza so I feel the poet has done this for emphasis and effect. The poem starts by telling you what it isn’t, and then what it is.
‘I give you an onion. Duffy here is deliberately being original in her gift of an onion, as an onion is not usually associated with a love poem so it catches the reader’s attention immediately. ‘It is a moon wrapped in brown paper. It promises light like the careful the careful undressing of love. She uses the moon as a metaphor, as this is a contrast, opposed to the onion, as it is a typical representation of love.
Duffy starts the second stanza with a single sentence ‘Here. This almost seems forceful and again makes the readers pay attention because it has one syllable and, when read a breath is taken before and after, creating a dramatic pause. ‘It will blind you with tears like a lover. It will make your reflection a wobbling photo of grief. Everyone knows that onions make you cry when not handled properly and Duffy is comparing the expected consequence of handling an onion to the fragile structure of love.
Again Duffy uses a single line to emphasise its meaning and mood. ‘I am trying to be truthful. This is almost like Duffy is responding to an unenthusiastic comment of the lover by declaring her authenticity and truth. Below this line there is another single line, ‘Not a cute card or a kissogram. Duffy again uses a negative technique to start the line. This line is again stating that an onion is not a typical unmeaningful gift.
In the next stanza, Duffy again repeats the line, ‘I give you an onion. This is repeated to ensure that the reader can see what the underlying message is. Also to remind the readers how irregular the gift is. ‘Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips, possessive and faithful as we are, for as long as we are. Duffy is saying that the onion is so strong and so sharp that it will have a lingering taste. She is comparing it not just to a kiss but also to their whole relationship.
Duffy starts her last stanza with a single sentence ‘Take it. This gives the impression that this is an order; it also makes the reader aware. The next line which follows, ‘Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring, if you like. This describing the characteristics of an onion that as you get nearer to the centre of the onion, the intensity increases and what you are left with are loops that look like a wedding ring. This shows that as you get closer to the middle of a relationship marriage becomes an option. ‘if you like.’ The next line again uses the technique and effect of a single sentence, ‘Lethal. This is quite obscure because the dictionary meaning of lethal is ‘causing death, either Duffy wants the readers to think that marriage will ultimately lead to death or divorce, or she has written it sarcastically to the lover, maybe he thinks marriage is meaningless and she is writing is mockingly. ‘Its scent will cling to your fingers, cling to your knife. She is stating, that love has such a possessive grasp on her, it clings to her.
The poems irregularity in all aspects, in particular the pattern, I feel that adds to the theme of the poem that love has problems and isn’t just perfect and regular.
This poem can be interpreted in many different ways, but my personal interpretation is that it is partially sarcastic. My understanding of the poem is that possibly her partner has left her and yet she still has such strong feelings towards him. Perhaps he didn’t want to marry or he left her for being too obsessive. The mentioning of the ‘knifeat the end is surfacing her feelings of sorrow and hatred. The poem has such an aggressive, violent feel to it so I think that either she is really passionate about the relationship or fanatical about him.
The last poem I am going to discuss is the pre- 19th century poem ‘Shall I Compare Thee…?’ by William Shakespeare. The form of the poem is a sonnet. This is made obvious due to the single verse consisting of 14 lines. It is also again a love poem expressing a particular idea, which in this case is mutability. It tackles the deep concept of beauty changing and decaying.
The first line opens the poem with a rhetorical question making a comparison to a summer ‘s day. It is then answered in the second line stating that this beautiful woman whom the speaker is addressing is indeed far ‘more lovely’ than ‘a summer’s day.’ The poem contrasts very much to Valentine’ as it is written in a very positive happy tone with the purpose, in my opinion, being to reflect and to entertain. Throughout the poem there is a strong iambic pentameter rhythm and a very apparent alternate rhyme sequence, which consists of three quatrains and one rhyming couplet. As well as this Shakespeare uses many other techniques to help the reader understand the love and meaning inside the text.
Alliteration is used on more than one occasion such as, ‘faire from faire’ in line seven. Particular techniques like this help the poem to flow smoothly. Personification is also wisely used during the poem to help create images and pictures in your mind; such as, ‘too hot the eye of heaven shines’ in line 5. As well as this Shakespeare appears to use hyperbole in his writing, which adds to the strong sense of love that is present throughout the poem. The poem is mainly written by using comparative language. As it is written in the first person it is also very personal and emotional adding to the romantic mood. This sonnet is also very flattering to whoever it is being read to as it describes her as being immortal by saying, ‘Nor shall death brag than wondr’st in his shade.’- line 11.
Although this poem is generally about ones love for another and the atmosphere around this Old English piece of writing is very romantic, I feel that it has a much deeper meaning. This is mainly due to the last line; ‘So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.’ That finishes the poem by stating the power of writing and how it is a memory that will never die. The rest of the poem is just saying how far greater this woman is than a summer’s day because she has no faults for example such as ‘rough winds,’ but I feel that this slightly contrasting ending leaves people reflecting on love in a new and inspired way.
There are some similarities between the three poems. To begin with, obviously all are love poems. Each poem, in effect, shows ones love for their companions.
The tone of each of the poems is however very different. In “My Box” the tone is a warm, autumnal feeling that is portrayed through warm sounding words such as ‘golden oak and ‘heartsease. “Valentine” has a quite an aggressive feel to it. This is because of all the single lined sentences and the single word sentences such as ‘lethal. Most of these sound like orders, ‘Take it. and ‘Here. “Shall I compare Thee….?” However is a very happy tone and as “My Box” uses a season but in this case summer.
“Valentine” and “Shall I Compare Thee…?” seem as though there are many hidden secrets and much of my analysis is based on my interpretation rather than the actual writing. This is unlike “My Box”, in which all secrets are revealed; everything is out in the open.
“Shall I Compare Thee…?” is the only pre- 19th century poem written in Old English and compared to the other two poems I feel it use many more techniques such as alliteration, and the regular form of a sonnet.
All three are poems that rely quite heavily on metaphors and symbolism. In “Valentine”, Duffy uses the onion to give an original and somewhat shocking view of love: “Not a red rose or a satin heart” she ignores the clichs and opts for something more dramatic and powerful. The onion shows the complexity of love and shows a choice the partner has to make.
In “My Box” the box itself and items inside symbolise the relationship between the author and her partner. This poem is similar to the last in the fact that they both give the impression of layers. In “Valentine” it is the onion itself, with its skin and the insides. In “My Box”, the fact that the memories are in the words, the words written in the books, the books in the box made of golden oak.
The use of an onion as a representation of love is very effective. It shows that inside a plain wrapping, one might find something special if they search for it, and unwrap the layers. This effect is also achieved in “My Box” as the author emphasises the fact that the books are there to read if someone opens the box, which is not even locked.
However there is a very apparent similarity between “Shall I Compare Thee…?” and “The Box”. This is the fact that they both show and represent ageing. In “My Box” it shows the man getting older throughout the different sections of the poem and him also wanting the woman to age. Whereas in “Shall I Compare Thee…?” It is showing the woman getting older in a different light; it tells us how beauty changes and decays.
However both of these poems are generally positive and have a regular pattern including rhyme unlike “Valentine” which is very obviously negative and has no rhyme or a regular pattern.
“Shall I Compare Thee…?” and “My Box” both send out the same message that life is short and that we all die, although memories won’t and they will outlive us. In “My Box” it is the writing in the books, and in “Shall I Compare Thee…?” it is again writing but in this case the poem. Both show the power of writing and how it lives on and on.
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