Comparative Analysis

January 2003


English Literature

Coursework Unit

Pre 1914 Verse – comparative analysis

Texts - Andrew Marvell To His Coy Mistress (C.1630)

- John Keats La Belle Dame Sans Merci (1819)

- Robert Browning Porphyria’s Lover (C.1850)

Assaignment: Write a comparative analysis of the style, meaning and content of

any two or all three poems.

Abbreviations: THCM – Marvell

BDSM – Keats

PL - Browning

All three of these poems explore a man’s love for a woman and the complexities and changes that relationships may bring, be they for the good or the bad of the lovers involved. Marvell portrays the passionate pleading of an unacknowledged lover in his bid to win a woman’s heart; Keats’ dramatises the effects of rejection on a love stricken man, and Browning presents a man’s confession of a passion fuelled murder. All three are written in different styles and have been laid out in different formats. Marvell wrote in rhyming octosyllabic couplets; Keats has written in lyric stanzas of four lines and Browning in a continuous narrative with five line rhyming sections, although these are not obvious.

At first glance you cannot see the complex ways in which each of the poems are pieced together. It looks like THCM and PL are just continuous lines and that BDSM is simply four line stanzas, but each poem can be broken down or pieced together even more than that. In THCM it can be easily broken down from a continuous piece into much smaller sections. It has rhyming octosyllabic couplets which are almost always separate to the next pair of lines; however, the splitting up of rhyming sections in PL is much more subtle. It has sections of five lines rhyming with the pattern A,B,A,B,B, in every part, but the sections merge into each other and there is never a different format or layout, it is written in one long continuous narrative.

The other way in which the poems can be split apart is most obvious in THCM. There are three larger sections than just the couplets that are broken apart not just by the words themselves but also in the paragraphing. The first two sections are talking about what the lovers could do with their time together, a thesis, the second section is more about how that time together will not last forever and that time is going to stop them someday, an antithesis, and the final section is a synthesis with a persuasive argument as the time for them to do things together is running out and they should do what they can. The grouping of the smaller sections in BDSM is not quite as obvious as it is only indicated by the words themselves. I have come to the conclusion that of the twelve stanzas, they can be grouped into threes. The first three stanzas are like questions either posed to the lover, or that the lover has asked himself, “O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms, So haggard and so woe-begone?”. Then in the next three stanzas, the lover describes what has happened (going back in time), each beginning with ‘I’. “I met a lady in the meads” and “I set her on my pacing steed”. This indicates that the ‘knight-at-arms’ is in charge of the relationship. The next group of stanzas begin with ‘she’, maybe indicating a power change in their relationship or the way that his love for her has increased above his regard for himself. “She found me roots of relish sweet”, “She took me to her elfin grot” and, “And there she lulled me asleep”. Then in the final section the ‘knight-at-arms’ concludes the story by returning to the present time and not acknowledging her as in charge because she has left him. “And this is why I sojourn here, Alone and palely loitering”. In a complete contrast to the poems being able to be split up into groups or sections, PL has no such boundaries and is more like a flowing narrative all happening in a small space of time with an incredible amount of description.

Another way in which two of the poems are the same and the third different is the ‘storyline’, if you can call it that. PL and BDSM are both more like