Cousin Kate and The Seduction

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‘Cousin Kate’ was written by Christina Rossetti in the nineteenth century. Her most popular piece of work was the Christmas carol ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’. ‘Cousin Kate’ is a narrative poem and it is spoken in the first person narrative.

‘The Seduction’ was written by Eileen mc Auley in the twentieth century. ‘The Seduction’ is also a narrative poem and it is written in the third person narrative.

The theme for each poem is the same in which both women were used by men, thrown to one side and left pregnant. Men ruined each woman’s life and created a bad name for her around the community. Even though the poems are written in different centuries and nowadays it may be more acceptable to have a child out of wedlock, the fact remains that some women are still judged and treated as outcasts. In ‘Cousin Kate’ we see

‘The neighbours call you good and pure

Call me an outcast thing’.

While in ‘The Seduction’ it says:

‘And better, now, to turn away, move away, fade away

Than to have the neighbours whisper that “you always looked the type”.’

The men in each poem are in sharp contrast to each other in the method by which they seduced the women. The maiden in ‘Cousin Kate’ was seduced in pleasant surroundings by a wealthy lord.

‘He lured me to his palace home’.

In ‘The Seduction’ however the girl is seduced in a sleazy, sordid and squalid way using alcohol and promises.

‘I’ll take you to the river where I spend the afternoons,

When I should be at school, or eating me dinner.

Where I go, by myself, with me dads magazines

And a bag filled with shimmering, sweet paint thinner’.

The two poems differ because in ‘Cousin Kate’ two women are involved because the lord was involved with the cottage maiden and when he saw Kate he disregarded the former. Kate however was more cautious than her cousin. She didn’t jump straight in. She held out until she got a wedding ring. In ‘Cousin Kate’ the cottage maiden really loved the lord

‘O cousin Kate my love was true

Your love was writ in sand:’

However, in ‘The Seduction’ the girl was drunk and she didn’t really know what she was doing. At the time there is a possibility that she might have thought she was in love.

‘As he brought her more drink, so she fell in love …’

‘The Seduction’ contrasts with ‘Cousin Kate’ because of the role of the media portrayed through teenage magazines. In ‘The Seduction’ we see this in the lines

‘And she stifled a giggle, reminded of numerous

Stories from teenage magazines …’

In both poems the girls are young and na�ve but now they have to accept the responsibility of a child and the gossip and ridicule that comes with it. The two girls react differently. The cottage maiden talks about the shame of the situation but she also talks about the pride and the love she has for her son:

‘My fair-haired son, my shame, my pride

Cling closer, closer yet:’

However, the sixteen year old girl reacts by grieving for her loss of youth and by throwing her shoes at the wall.

‘And on that day she broke the heels

Of her high white shoes (as she flung them at the wall).’

The shoes themselves may represent innocence and its loss. The cottage maiden is prepared to accept it but the sixteen year old is not.

The mood of ‘Cousin Kate’ is quite romantic to start off with but then it suddenly changes to a mood of bitterness and tension, resentment and depression. However, the poems ending is on a happier note and the poet portrays the image of the pleasure that the child has brought the mother. We can also imagine the pride and love the mother has for the child. The cottage maiden is gloating and is triumphant.

‘Your father would give lands for one to wear his coronet’.

The girl in ‘The Seduction’ had a very negative reaction and attitude towards the fact that she was going to bear a child and she also feels cheated because it has ruined her life. All her dreams are in tatters. She is cynical and bitter. The mood in this poem is cold through out. The fact that the girl was drunk when she became pregnant appears to make her attitude towards her child quite callous and depressing. The boy is portrayed in the simile-

‘With his eyes as blue as iodine and the kisses that tasted of nicotine’.

The ‘kisses that tasted of nicotine’ suggests coarseness and the unpleasantness of the taste of nicotine. The following quotation portrays a mood of anger and hatred:

‘On the carpet. And on that day she broke heels of her high white shoes (as she flung them at the wall).

And realized, for once, that she was truly frightened

But more than that cheated by the promise of it all’.

The poem is gloomy as the girl would rather die than bear a beautiful child that you can call your own.

‘Better to starve yourself, like a sick, precocious child

Than to walk through town with a belly huge and ripe.’

We can see the image of her wedding dreams in tatters by the way she ripped up her magazines on the carpet.

‘And she ripped up all her

My Guy and her Jackie photo comics

Until they were just bright paper, like confetti, strewn.’

The structure of both poems is different. ‘Cousin Kate’ is structured in a formal way which reflects the era in which it was written and its setting. Its structure is comprised of six eight line stanzas. The fact that the poem rhymes allows it to flow easily.

‘I was a cottage maiden

Hardened by sun and air

Contented with my cottage mates

Not mindful I was fair

Why did a great lord find me out

And praise my flaxen hair?

Why did a great lord find me out

To fill my heart with care?’

‘The Seduction’ is comprised of sixteen four line stanzas, each verse representing one year in the young girls life. ‘The Seduction’ has some rhyme to it but is not as tight as in ‘Cousin Kate’ as it doesn’t flow as easily.

The language is different in both poems. ‘Cousin Kate’ was written in the nineteenth century and its language reflects the formality of the period. The words used in ‘Cousin Kate’ would not be used nowadays. The words are pleasant and they help build up a fairytale image.

‘He lured me to his palace home-

Woes me for joy thereof-.’

Many of the words are old fashioned and are no longer used, “Flaxen” hair and “mean estate” are examples of such words. The language also helps to create and reflect how the girls are viewed by society. The different names used “an outcast thing” used in the nineteenth century would be the equivalent to “slag” in the twentieth century poem but is not just as brutal.

The language used in ‘The Seduction’ is more informal and it reflects the society of modern times and how vulgar language has become. We also see in ‘The Seduction’ how debased life has become:

‘I’ll take you to the river where I spend the afternoons,

When I should be at school, or eating me dinner.

Where I go, by myself, with me dads magazines

And a bag filled with shimmering, sweet paint thinner’.

The words used are vulgar and common in our society and they paint a bleak picture

‘He spat into the river’

‘He handed her the vodka and she knocked it back like water’.

The image of filth and vulgarity is developed by the similes:

‘The Mersey, green as a septic wound’

The language used in ‘The Seduction’ is blunt and creates a sleazy, hard hitting image.

I preferred ‘Cousin Kate’ rather than ‘The Seduction’ because the story line of ‘The Seduction’ is rather sad with a young girl seduced by a young boy and left to bear a child. This situation is quite common nowadays so no-one thinks it is a ‘big deal’. Even I have seen young girls in this situation before and it probably always will be the case where the people still blame and talk about the girl, not the boy. I found ‘Cousin Kate’ interesting because I had never come across this situation before and it was also a nineteenth century piece and I am interested in this era because I am studying this in History. The imagery in this poem is also more romantic and more pleasant to read.

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