The two poems I have chosen to analyse are ‘Fist Love’ and ‘Ballad’

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Love poetry is timeless, as love itself does not change over the ages. So, this type of poetry is just as relevant now as it was when it was written. Love has been the focus of poetry for many years mainly because it is a feeling which is common to everyone. The Greeks arranged Love into four different categories; Storge: The liking of an object, Eros: Physical attraction, Philia/Philos: Brotherly love and Agape: Un-conditional love. The two poems I have chosen to analyse, ‘First Love’ and ‘Ballad’ demonstrate the love the Greeks named ‘Eros’ both convey imagery of love based on physical attraction.

John Clare the poet of the poem ‘First Love’ grew up in extreme poverty, and was working on the land from the age of seven. He had little access to books, but he developed a great memory for the folk ballads he heard from adults. His health both physical and mental began to fail in the middle age. He suffered from delusions and ended his life in an asylum in Northampton.

His humble background made it impossible for him to marry the daughter of a wealthy farmer. This disappointment made a lasting impression and surely he expressed this in the love poetry he wrote.

The poet of the poem ‘Ballad’ has remained anonymous; therefore we can not establish only true reasons why they may have written the poem. Yet the emotive language used gives us strong clues to why.

‘Ballads’ have been told for generations. Before most people could read or write many songs and poems were passed down from one generation to the next by word of mouth- the aural/oral tradition. The original authors were never identified and each story told in speech or song could go through many minor changes while different variations of the original story could be found in different parts of the country. One of the traditional themes of this ‘Ballad’ was the dishonest lover.

‘First Love’ and ‘Ballad’ both share the same subject which is love based on physical attraction. Both poets speak of their love for someone. However, although the subjects of the poems are the same, the theme of the two poems differs considerably. ‘First Love’ is about the poet John Clare unfolding the story of his first love, this is revealed straight away to the reader by the title and the first line in the poem.

‘I ne’er was struck before that hour.’

The quotation above confirms that Clare had never felt or experienced such love and emotions before. This builds excitement from the reader because we call upon our own experiences of our first love to guess at the details. And we remember and recall our first love and hopefully remember someone special and that moment in time were we had no worries for life seemed to be just fine.

‘Ballad,’ however is a poem recounting a story of deception. A young, innocent girl writes of her betrayal of a dishonest lover.

‘And I sought him, he never came.’

The quote shown above, conveys imagery of the young girl looking for her love and needing her love but he was never there, he never returned. The usage of the word ‘sought’ makes this line of the poem very effective and as a result has a long lasting effect on the reader. The word ‘Sought’ is much more effectual than the word ‘Looked.’ We get a sense as the reader that she not only looked for her love but she needed and required him and without him the outcome would be fatal.

So as you can see the opening effects of both poems impose very different impressions on the reader. ‘First Love’ has left the reader excited, almost thrilled at the prospect of hearing about Clare’s first love.

Conversely the poem ‘Ballad’ has evoked a sympathetic, yet judgmental reaction from the reader as it has left us shocked as we feel the young girl is vulnerable and in danger without her love. But we feel that maybe it was her fault for she was the one that rushed into the relationship, so as a result we judge her.

As the poems continue to unfold new words and phrases are introduced. The words and phrases used by the two poets are different due to the poems difference in themes. The words and phrases used in the poem ‘First Love’ are that of victim who has endured, how Clare describes it an almost physical and obvious attack. Words like:

‘…struck…’ ‘…stole…’ and ‘…deadly…’

The words displayed above are all very powerful words and consequently have a great effect on the reader. Clare is portraying himself as a victim; he makes it seem as though he has no control over what is happening and therefore can not be blamed for the impact it has having on him. As the reader we almost get this sense that he is trying to have the same hard-hitting impact on the reader as his first love had on him.

Clare not only uses words to convey imagery that he is a victim but he also uses phrases which shock the reader and therefore evoke empathy for him and the situation he faces.

‘…and took my sight away.’

The phrase above is a personal loss and therefore the reader automatically ponders on what they would do if they lost something as precious as their sight. This stuns the reader and as a result the reader takes more notice of what they are reading. Imagery of helplessness, innocence, bewilderment are all conjured up which provokes a concerned and genuinely sympathetic response from the reader.

The words and phrases used by Clare change the impressions that the reader once felt when they began reading the poem. They are now left feeling un-easy as they are shocked to hear that his first love wasn’t as they thought fun and electrifying but it was in fact frightening and as a result a painful experience. This change in impressions builds further tension from the reader as we wish to know more and therefore we paint our own perspectives on the poem making the poem more personal to us.

The words and phrases used in the poem ‘Ballad’ are once again that of a victim but not from a physical attack but a victim from the mental suffering of regret.

‘O had I walked ere I did run.’

The quote above illustrates that she is tormenting herself because she recognizes that she should of walked instead of ran. The young girl is metaphorically speaking as she did not literally run, she is trying to tell the reader that she should have taken her time and not rushed into the relationship. The poet that wrote ‘Ballad’ uses simple language, yet the anonymous poet still manages to evoke sympathy from the reader, mainly because it is such a sad affair that a young, innocent, vulnerable girl is so easily deceived.

The reader is left to feel further empathy for the girl as we know that before the 19th century, casual sex was very heavily frowned upon, but now, it is far more acceptable and viewed by some as a must. We also know that she would have been disowned by her friends and family as a result of having an illegitimate child.

‘Weeping on a stranger’s knee.’

The quote above illustrates that she was an outcast left to burden strangers with her problems. So the poem also provides you with an insight into the social customs of the time which builds on the sympathy felt for the young girl by the reader.

The impressions first felt by the reader change as a result of the words and phrases the anonymous poet uses. By allowing the poem to provide an insight into social customs of the time, the poet ensures that the reader feels guilty for thinking that she was too blame for the predicament that she was in. The poet has done this to provoke additional concern and understanding for the young girl.

The words and phrases used by both poets have evidently created different settings and atmospheres. In the poem ‘First Love’ a tense, exciting atmosphere about consuming passion is built by the usage of short, succinct words:

‘…sudden…’ and ‘…rushed…’

The words above create anxiety from the reader, thus creating a tense and uneasy atmosphere. The words can be said very quickly and easily and said together they sound almost like they are part of a fast-paced plot. Because the words can be said with such ease the reader has little chance to ponder over what they are saying, therefore they are left bewildered and as result feel intimidated by what has happened. Clare has allowed the reader to feel the impact he felt when he met his first love.

Another line, Clare uses to built on the nervousness felt by the reader is as follows:

‘…seemed midnight at noonday…’

The above quote adds to the anxiety but not for the same reasons as before, this time however the reader is made to feel uneasy as the quote is paradoxical because it cannot be dark at midday. The uncomfortable feeling provoked by the quotes surrealism is heightened because of the use of the word ‘midnight.’ We know that at ‘midnight’ it is dark and dark is often associated with frightening scenarios, the worst being death. As you can see the reader is clearly left with a startled response to this particular line in the poem.

The setting and atmosphere in the poem ‘Ballad’ challenges our perceived view of love, the poem does not speak of a blossoming relationship but instead conveys connotations of death. As a result the atmosphere is poignant and depressing; this is shown by the following quote:

‘…our souls with God, our bodies clay…’

This line is informing the reader that the young girl wants her and her unborn baby to pass away as she feels there is no need to live anymore. This particular thought that we hold confronts the adage that ‘Love is peaceful and Love is all you need.’ The fact that the writer challenges this view allows the reader to reflect upon what they would do if they were in the situation. This then makes the poem more personal to the reader as they know somehow feel connected to the poem. Also the thought that the young girl feels that live is so unbearable adds to the empathy and compassion felt for her by the reader.

Images and linguistic devices have been used to help add and create the atmosphere the poems portray. Both poets use different devices to try and conjure different images to the reader. In the poem ‘First Love’ personification is used to attribute a personal nature, in this case a human quality to an idea.

‘…My heart has left its dwelling place…’

This usage of personification, once again makes the poem seem more relatable and personal to the reader because they as a result of the use of personification actually picture the heart being its own independent thing and actually leaving home. Clare conveys this image to the reader because he wants us to know that he didn’t willingly give his heart away to his first love but the heart decided itself. This idea conveyed by Clare builds on the empathy felt for him by the reader.

Similes are also used in the poem ‘First Love.’

‘…My face turned deadly pale…’

This particular device has been used to create tension and anxiety from the reader. This can be evidently seen by the usage of the word ‘deadly,’ by using this word, Clare provokes a shaken and surprised reaction from the reader. As we do not usually associate death with love and obviously the connotations of death are going to course unease amongst readers. Clare is trying to create imagery for the readers so that they can visualize the effect his first love had on him.

The poem ‘Ballad’ uses linguistic devices also, to create imagery and tension. Repetition is used in ‘Ballad,’ this has purely been done for effect.

‘…I wish, I wish – but it’s in vain-

I wish I was a maid again…’

The fact that the poet has repeated the word ‘wish’ on a number of occasions ensures the reader reflects upon the word in additional detail. It makes the reader more aware of the word and the message the writer is trying to tell. It also makes the reader question why she wishes she was a maid again and by pondering on that thought they think of all the problems she has faced and now faces. By pondering on the young girls life they are reminded of all the hardship she has endured and therefore compassion and sympathy are once again conjured by the repetition of the lines.

The poem ‘Ballad’ is filled with lots of extreme contrasts, which not only highlight the difference in the young girls life but guarantee that the reader reflects upon the idea of how different her life is.

‘…His heart seemed soft, but it was steel…’

As you can clearly see in the quote above a contrast is made concerning the mans heart. By using the word ‘steel’ instead of ‘hard’ makes the line seem more drastic and therefore the reader takes more notice of what he/she is reading. The contrasts show the extremes underlining the fact that there is something wrong and that the reader should reflect upon this.

Many contrast are made between objects and living things but probably the most extreme and noticeable of all is the emotional contrast that the young girl is wooed and then rejected by the young man.

‘…He came and smiled and stole it then…’

The quote above highlights that she had no idea of his real motives for being with her and she had no incline that he was going to use her. The fact that the apparent emotional contrast is made makes the reader sad as they feel like the young, innocent girl has been betrayed and duped by someone she truly trusted. The word ‘stole’ adds to the empathy felt by the reader because it seems as if she had no control over what happened and therefore had no real choice.

The poem ‘Ballad’ also uses the linguistic device of a riddle to conjure entertainment and excitement for the reader.

‘He has two hearts and I have none.’

The above quote is a riddle which is a description intended to test our powers of deduction or amuse us. The quote above does test our assumptions that we make because we firstly made a judgment that it was the girls fault as she was too immature to recognize that the man was only out to use her. Now as the reader we feel guilty because the girl was in fact cheated and betrayed by a man she truly trusted. Because we have been proved wrong we feel guilty and as a result we reflect this by concentrating more sympathy and compassion towards the young girl.

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