The three poems, Remember by Christina Rossetti; How Do I love Thee? by Elizabeth Barrett Browning and When We Two Parted by Lord Byron, each explore love and loss in their own unique ways. Remember is, as expected from the title, a solemn lament which is a farewell sonnet to her treasured one. How Do I Love Thee? is again a sonnet of love but is of a love that is present and hopefully will remain forever. The third poem that will be examined is When We Two Parted which tells of a lost secret love that has left a scar on Lord Byron’s life.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s impressive How Do I Love Thee? is, as you might suppose, a poem describing the extent of the author’s love of her partner. It is one of her “Sonnets from the Portuguese” which were written in her Italian days at the Casa Guidi. Like many of them How Do I Love Thee? takes the form of a patriarchal sonnet which is the most common sonnet form and is for the most part the more appropriate form for love poetry over the English or Shakespearian sonnet or the Spenserian sonnet. Using sonnet form, you would expect the change in tone after the first octet but in this the change is less pronounced with a subtle change to a graver side of love. Though it is so understated it could be debated that it isn’t there at all.
The second poem to be analysed is Lord Byron’s When We Two Parted. This is written from a different perspective to How Do I Love Thee? where the relationship has ended and his feelings can be simply shown in language. The overriding tone is one of hostility and bitterness towards his past and this is imprinted in the layout which features an ABAB rhyme pattern emphasising the separation. This also happens in First Love by John Clare where this rhyming structure stresses the fact that they were not as one rather just the one. When We Two Parted is particularly interesting as Lord Byron is frequently described as a womaniser yet he seems to express regret at the incident as, for once, it appears to have harmed him more than the other involved.
The last poem to be studied in detail is Remember by Christina Rossetti. This is a patriarchal sonnet like How Do I Love Thee? but tells a different story. Remember
is a sombre dirge acting as a departing message for Christina Rossetti’s loved one. Also the separation between the octet and the sestet is much more evident in this, the first segment of eight lines is a reminder of the good times and how much she will be missed. But the second section of six lines acts as a messenger to tell that the time has come to move on. To live their life without the one soon deceased. We also know that this poem is genuinely heartfelt as Christina Rossetti had a recurring illness which was diagnosed sometimes as angina and sometimes as tuberculosis before finally dying of cancer on December 29th 1894.
How Do I Love Thee? is thought by many to be the epitome of the love poem and I don’t think anyone can disagree when reading the descriptions of faultless love. ‘I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach’. This is, perhaps, the best description of true love, showing Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s infinite degree of feeling for her love. It stretches in all directions as shown by the enjambment which prolong the emotions as far as is possible and may possibly suggest a love so complete it is in a new dimension. An unparalleled level for their love to stand on. ‘How Do I Love Thee? Let me count the ways’. Truly it is a boundless love that is, as of yet, inaccessible to others.
To a point, When We Two Parted describes a relationship of a not to distant quality from How Do I Love Thee? The only difference being that Lord Byron’s relationship has ended and he feels it has marred the perfection of it. The secrecy of the relationship also appears to have taken its toll as ‘In secret we met, in silence I grieve’, he feels betrayed, deserted and not quite complete without his partner. There is also a sense of regret about the whole affair as ‘Long, long shall I rue thee, too deeply to tell’. We get the impression that only now does he understand the quite disproportional consequences to his actions. This love may well have been a love meant to be, which surpassed all known love but from When We Two Parted we can learn that all good things come to an end, regardless, and when they do they can leave devastation or ‘silence and tears’.
Remember however, describes a different type of love, a platonic love. The emphasis of the relationship does not seem to be on the love rather the hole that will be left. ‘When you can no more hold me by the hand, nor I half turn to turning stay.’ Christina Rossetti will be greatly missed as a companion rather than a lover. Yet, the relationship is pushed a different way in the sextet; the memory of it is more important then what it really was. This resembles My Last Duchess by Robert Browning where the love is only remembered by the picture on the wall which will always be a pleasant memory. This description is one of an ideal remembrance of herself when she has ‘Gone far away into the silent land’.
All three poems use language to enhance the effect the poem has on the reader. In Remember and When We Two Parted the lexis is a lot more desolate than in How Do I Love Thee? When We Two Parted is a story of the death of a relationship and so language of death is often used to cement this idea in the reader’s head. The opening lines of the poem read “When we two parted In silence and tears” which help prepare you for the remainder of the poem as Lord Byron continues to dwell on the demise of another relationship. Words like ‘pale’ and ‘cold’ give the impression of a lifeless person who was missing something or someone. Furthermore, vocabulary you would usually associate with loss are used to describe the failings of the partnership such as ‘grieve’ and the “knell to mine ear”.
Similarly in Remember the imminent departure of Christina Rossetti invites the use of deathlike language to make sure the reader knows that she is leaving this world for the ‘silent land’. She tells her loved one not to ‘grieve’ and not to ‘remember and be sad’ rather ‘forget and smile’. This is interesting as she asks to be forgotten where in poems like When We Two Parted and My Last Duchess the memory of the other is strongly preserved in either a painting or in a person’s mind.
However, How Do I Love Thee? being about a love that is still strong and true it does not focus on death and separation, instead on everything that is good. “I love thee freely, as men strive for right; I love thee purely as they turn from praise”. This encapsulates the whole ideology of this type of poem where the love is everlasting sincere, and most importantly is so strong it can get through anything. To back up this you only have to look at probably the most famous line of one of the most famous love poems ever written: “I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach”. The words ‘depth’, ‘breadth’ and ‘height’ suggest all dimensions and therefore an interminable love.
Remember, When We Two Parted and How Do I Love Thee? each show love in a different way, Remember shows it as a platonic love between friends where it is going away. When We Two Parted tells the story of a lost love edged with the feelings of bitterness that come with an ended relationship and How Do I Love Thee? recounts an absolute love that is flawless and perfect in every way.
The presentation of loss in How Do I Love Thee? is virtually non-existent with only one mention where the love will grow stronger after death. In When We Two Parted loss is the main theme of the poem and is shown as a very grave matter that is not good for any person. Remember shows loss differently as though it isn’t necessarily an awful thing. It isn’t good but you cannot dwell on it, you must move on and live your life. Ultimately, love and loss can be presented in many different ways and these poems show us some of these ways very well.