Write about ‘Havisham’ by Duffy, one poem by Armitage and two from the pre-1914 section.
What poems would you choose? ‘Havisham’ is about a bitter, sexually-frustrated woman so perhaps ‘Mother any Distance’ makes a good contrast along with ‘On My First Sonne’ and ‘The Laboratory’
How are you going to structure your answer?
Paragraph 1 should present in general terms the way the theme of strong emotions applies to the four poems
In Havisham the main idea is the way love and hate are two sides of the same coin and how little it takes to turn one into the other. Mother presents the idea of the dilemma felt by the young man in the poem; he loves and appreciates his mother and though he desires to start his life on his own he has feelings of guilt at leaving her. On My First Sonne shows how deeply the poet loved his son how bitter he feels now he’s dead and his feelings of guilt that it might be his fault, that God is punishing him for loving him too much, for the sin of idolatry (worship of anything in preference to God). While the female character in The Laboratory expresses her own desire for revenge on her husband and his mistresses in an extreme fashion as we are given access to her thoughts as she watches a toxic potion being concocted.
Paragraph 2 should develop in more detail the speakers’ feelings for the other characters in the poems, showing what their feelings lead to, what they feel and why they feel it. There will be some points of similarity and some differences but try to make sure you compare as you go
The eponymous (character named in the title of the work) but fictional character Miss Havisham and the real historical character Marie Madeleine d’Aubray de Brinvilliers both fantasise about getting revenge on their lovers. Both have been slighted: Miss H jilted at the altar and Mme de Brinvilliers’ has been betrayed by her husband taking mistresses. Miss Havisham can only dream of the revenge she might take upon her ex-fiancé ‘give me a male corpse for a long slow honey moon‘ or ‘I stabbed at a wedding cake‘ or even ‘I could strangle…‘ all giving a very clear picture of her grimly murderous intentions. By contrast Marie Madeleine is able to take her revenge and she gives an alchemist clear instructions in the making of the poison she will inflict on her enemies even down to her disappointment that ‘the colour’s too grim‘. But her obvious excitement in watching the process of its manufacture is a little unsettling for the reader, ‘grind away, moisten and mash up thy paste / Pound at thy powder‘ the alliteration underlining the strength of her emotions.
Paragraph 3 could present the contrasts
On the other hand both the personas in Mother and On My First Sonne are male (in fact both these poems are autobiographical) but perhaps surprisingly they are both emotionally honest and the reader gets a real insight into their deepest feelings, both of which contain love but with a large degree of guilt mixed in. Jonson feels guilt for his possible fault: ‘My sinne was too much hope of thee, lov’d boy‘ and in ‘lov[ing] too much‘ and so does Armitage for his capacity to hurt his mother by flying the nest, ‘I reach towards a hatch that opens on an endless sky / to fall or fly.‘ In this latter the juxtaposition of the words ‘Anchor‘ and ‘Kite,’ both single word sentences indicate the dichotomy (confusion) of his feelings. His mother is his anchor, keeping him safe from storms but also holding him back, while he wants to be like a kite flying free and yet able to return if he wishes.
Paragraph 4 could discuss how the first person persona is created and to whom the poems are addressed
How do the characters reveal themselves to the reader? How does the persona reveal their feelings about the person they are talking about? e.g.
Each of these poems is a dramatic monologue though they are not all addressed to their love. Both On My First Sonne and Havisham begin by addressing the love: son and fiancé respectively, directly, ‘Farewell, thou child of my right hand and joy,’ and ‘Beloved, sweetheart, bastard.’ but both move swiftly on to talk about their feelings and how their love has affected their lives in very different ways. Jonson almost regrets his fatherly love, ‘O could I loose all father now,’ and ends up vowing that he ‘may never like too much‘ again, gaining our sympathy in the process. Whereas in ‘Not a day since then I haven’t wished him dead… Spinster,’ Duffy’s persona uses colloquial speech and graphic images many involving harsh colours to give the bitter flavour of her character: ‘bastard‘, ‘Puce curses‘ and ‘a white veil; a red balloon bursting.’ But ultimately she breaks down and perhaps we at last feel for her in the last line, ‘Don’t think it’s only the heart that b-b-b-breaks.’
Paragraph 5 could refer to structure and how it contributes to the presentation of feelings. Also how feelings are shown through the presentation of images E.g. Armitage’s use of the sonnet form and why, also his use of images about rising in the world while still symbolically attached to his mother
Browning in his poem The Laboratory cleverly uses standard quatrains and particularly a regular rhyme scheme aabb to emphasise the deliberation of his persona’s actions. These combine to give a chilling counterpoint to the increasing madness of the character’s obsession with the poison and her intentions to murder. The rhythm and rhyme stay rigorously regular while the poet incorporates violent alliteration, ‘brand, burn up, bite into its grace,’
Both Havisham and The Laboratory contain some strong sensuous imagery. For example the colours in Havisham reflect her emotional state while the Browning poem has imagery of wealth, voluptuousness and the immorality associated with the ancien regime of the title, in France.
Paragraph 6 could contain some ideas about the times in which they were written or which they were written about and how that influenced the style and form of the poems. This could include comments on words which were used in the past and aren’t used much now e.g. ‘spinster‘ and how a woman of this era would have been treated as a result of having been jilted and how she would have felt and reacted – clue she was full of feelings of humiliation, self-disgust and self-pity: ‘Stink‘ has connotations of the elderly or animals which have been neglected -but how would she feel in the modern age?
Paragraph 7 should summarise your general opinions on the original question
Despite the differences in eras in which these poems were written, and the differences in style, nevertheless each of these contain some timeless elements and ideas about the emotion of love. Between them they run the gamut of aspects of love from parental, through lust to the extremes of hatred and revenge by lovers who have been betrayed. All of which just goes to show that there is nothing new about love or the depth of feelings that it or its loss inspire. Here we see that love can inspire great pride but hurt so much that it can cause the one who loves to never wish to feel that strongly again; or it can become such an obsession that it causes a kind of madness. It can also induce feelings of guilt, something modern man is very good at! It can also inspire one to great creative works and here these range from Ben Jonson’s ‘best piece of poetrie‘ to Marie Madeleine’s ironically poisonous creation!