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The Love Poem

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English Literature

‘The Love Poem’ is part of Carol Ann Duffy’s 2005 poetry collection Rapture. The poetry collection centres on a love affair, following Duffy’s typical exploration of relationships beyond heteronormative and other traditional conventions in her work. Within 'The Love Poem', Duffy discusses the difficulty of writing a love poem, touching on themes including relationships and contemporary culture.


Written in

2005

Written by

Carol Ann Duffy

Form

Free Verse

Meter

No set meter

Rhyme Scheme

No set rhyme scheme

Poetic Devices

Enjambment

Simile

Metaphor

Personification

Intertextuality

Frequently noted imagery

Nature

Love

Tone

Frustration

Key themes

Love

Immortalisation

Nature

Meaning

‘The Love Poem’ deals with the tradition of writing love poetry, and the styles and techniques associated with that. It feels the influence of traditional romantic poetry, yet worries that if it adheres to such a style it will sound like a bad copy of the poems which have come before it.

Context of 'The love poem’

Let's dive into the biographical and literary context of this poem!

Biographical context

Carol Ann Duffy is a Scottish poet. In 1983 Duffy won the National Poetry Competition, and in 2009 she was appointed Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, becoming the first woman to receive the position since its creation in 1616. Her collection Standing Female Nude (1985) established her as a key figure in poetry.

In a 2013 article, Duffy highlighted how all of the poems in her collection Rapture were wholly biographical (The Guardian). Duffy’s own experience as a gay woman has influenced her approach to love in her work. She often subverts traditional expectations of relationships and romance in her poems. 'The Love Poem’ both examines how to write a love poem and express one’s feelings for another, and the influence of the famous love poems of the past on love poetry today.

Literary context

The style of 'The Love Poem' is defined by modernism, as its fragmented structure does not follow a regular meter, as expected from traditional love poetry. ‘The Love Poem’ is part of Duffy’s 2005 poetry collection Rapture, which contains a range of poems written in different forms and styles, following the story of a love affair. To an extent, the poetry collection is a modern-day sonnet sequence. However, instead of being made up of sonnets, the collection consists of various poems in different forms, styles, and structures.

Modernism: A literary movement which seeks to depart significantly from traditional forms, styles, and expectations of writing.

Sonnet sequence: a group of sonnets written by one poet with a unifying theme or story.

‘The Love Poem’ analysis

Let's look at the poem itself, now.

Title

The poem’s title is simple and self-explanatory. 'The Love Poem' immediately indicates to the reader that the poem will focus on the topic of love. However, the simplicity of the title also suggests a lack of creativity as the poet struggles to come up with a title which evokes imagery of love or admiration, such as ‘She Walks in Beauty’ (Lord Byron, 1814) or ‘You say you love; but with a voice’ (John Keats, 1817). The title also contrasts with the complexity of the poem itself which is dominated by enjambment, as the poet struggles to find the right words or structure to express their love.

Form

The poem is written in free verse, with an irregular structure and rhyme scheme. Its use of quotes from other famous love poems produces a collage-like effect.

Structure

Throughout the poem we see the poet struggle to convey her feelings, underpinned by Duffy’s use of enjambment to create a free-flowing yet fragmented rhythm which stops and starts.

The poem consists of three twelve-line stanzas, each opening with a subordinate clause and closing with an end-stopped line. This structure creates the idea that the poet is attempting to write a love poem, scrapping their work and starting again. During the course of the poem, the narrator goes through a number of thought processes regarding how to present their feelings.

Subordinate clause: A clause which can not exist alone as a complete sentence.

End-stopped line: A line which ends with a full-stop.

Stanza one

In this stanza the narrator struggles to start their poem, evident through the enjambment between lines. This use of enjambment indicates that the narrator is struggling to construct their poem and convey their feelings.

A comparison is drawn between famous love poems and 'modern love poems'. The narrator highlights how they don’t want their love poem to appear as a copy, deciding that they won’t state 'thou shalt feel love', as this has already been used by former great poets.

Stanza two

In the second stanza, the narrator appears to be stuck on what to say, unable to conjure up the right thoughts to write a poem. The opening line of the poem 'till love gives in and speaks' indicates that the narrator is waiting for their feelings to 'give in' and form the right words. The heavy use of lines from previous love poems in this stanza further highlights how the narrator is struggling to find the right, unique words to express what they're feeling.

Stanza three

In the final stanza, the narrator begins again, opening with another subordinate clause. Here, some of the direct quotations from previous poems stand out more than in previous stanzas, most notably 'O my America! My new-found land' - from John Donne’s ‘To His Mistress Going to Bed’ (1633).

Poetic devices

Let's explore the poetic devices used in 'The Love Poem'.

Enjambment

Enjambment is used throughout the majority of the poem, to create a fragmented, yet free-flowing rhythm. This rhythm is similar to a stream-of-consciousness, as the narrator stumbles through their thought process while constructing the poem. For instance, in the second half of the first stanza, Duffy writes;

come live

with me -

or fall from its own high cloud as syllables

in a pool of verse -

one hour with thee.

The enjambment between 'come live' and 'with me-' creates a fragmented rhythm, indicating that the narrator is hesitant in their request and confession of love. Even though the sentence 'come live with me' is an imperative, the enjambment takes away its forcefulness, further indicating that the narrator is uncertain of how to write a love poem.

End-stopped lines

At the end of each stanza, Duffy utilises end-stopped lines to break up the free-flowing structure within the stanza itself. For instance, the second stanza ends with;

there is a garden

in her face.

The use of end-stopped lines separates each stanza, indicating that the narrator is restarting the poem each time.

Language devices

Let's look at the language devices in the poem.

Simile

Duffy makes use of similes in each of her stanzas. Comparative language is common across romantic poetry, particularly comparisons to the natural world in the context of the literary movement of romanticism.

Romanticism: A literary movement present from the late 18th century to the mid 19th century, characterised by a celebration of the natural world, individual experiences, and the idolisation of women.

In the final stanza, the poem reflects on love as 'all in the mind', captured by 'the writer’s hand', expressed by the simile;

not there, except in a poem,

known by heart like a prayer,

This simile implies that, by writing a love poem, the narrator intends to capture their emotions in verses which can be learned and recited; in effect, 'like a prayer’. The religious connotations suggest that the narrator perceives their love as a form of worship.

Personification

Personification is used to great effect at the start of the poem’s first two stanzas;

Till love exhausts itself

And,

Till love gives in and speaks

Through personifying love, Duffy adds human aspects to an abstract noun, creating a more real image of love in our minds, rather than a purely conceptual one. Moreover, by bringing this abstract concept to life Duffy gives power to it, implying that the narrator may be battling with their emotions to create a love poem. The emotion of love refuses to give in and speak, despite the narrator's attempts to capture their feelings on paper.

Intertextuality

Intertextuality is a notable technique in 'The Love Poem'. Duffy's continuous references to famous love poems through her use of direct quotes and allusions, highlights how the narrator feels the influence of traditional romantic poetry, and is struggling to break its mould and subvert traditional expectations.

The phrases in the poem taken from previous works include:

William Shakespeare's 'Sonnet 130' (1609):

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun

Elizabeth Barrett Browning's 'Sonnet 43' (1850):

Let me count the ways

John Donne's 'To His Mistress Going to Bed' (1654):

O my America! my new-found land

And, 'The Song of Solomon' (The Bible):

Behold, thou art fair

Duffy also drew inspiration from John Donne, among other metaphysical poets, in her poem 'Valentine'.

By referencing such a variety of traditional love poems, Duffy highlights their lasting influence on our own perception of love and relationships.

Tone and imagery of ‘The Love Poem’

A frustrated tone is present in the poem, as the narrator struggles to convey their love to an unknown addressee.

This frustrated tone is most noticeable through the poet’s use of enjambment. Although the lack of end-stopped lines allows the poem to flow, the pauses as one line continues onto another suggest that the poet is struggling to find the right words. This fragmentation results in a tone of frustration.

The repetition of 'till love' at the opening of each stanza creates the idea that the narrator is beginning the poem over and over again, trying to get it right. The presence of references to previous love poetry indicates that the frustrated tone of the poem has developed from the narrator’s continued, yet failed, attempts to not mimic traditional love poems. Famous verses continuously sneak into their work, highlighting how the poet struggles to construct their own unique expression of love.

Romantic imagery

The poem’s varied references to previous works make it challenging to pinpoint specific imagery. However, there is a general semantic field of nature which will be discussed as one of the poem’s key themes. Another image present throughout the poem is love.

Love

As expected with a love poem, imagery associated with love is present throughout. At the opening of each verse love is mentioned directly (‘till love…’). Moreover, it is alluded to more subtly in the second verse with body parts associated with the emotion of love; ‘dear heart’, ‘love lips’, and ‘kissing a line’, which evoke images of passionate physical love. There is also a combination of animal imagery and love in the final stanza.

The desire of the moth for the star.

The image of a moth seeking out a star, or light, highlights how love can be a driving instinctual force. The moth naturally searches for light, and is drawn to it without reason. Love can also have this effect, causing us to do things blindly.

Themes in ‘The Love Poem’

Let's look at the main themes.

Love

As with the majority of Duffy’s poetry, love is a key theme in ‘The Love Poem’. The theme is deconstructed and re-assessed throughout the poem, as the poet struggles to find a way to convey their love that doesn’t parallel the work of earlier poets.

Immortalisation

Rapture is about an affair; this poem is a part of that collection. Throughout 'The Love Poem' there are indications that the affair has come to an end. This is confirmed by the collection's final poem 'Over'.

In the first stanza of 'The Love Poem', Duffy references 'an epitaph'. This noun brings forth connotations of death, and the memorialisation of it. An 'epitaph' on a gravestone will remain for a long time, indicating that Duffy is constructing her poem, and poetry collection, to capture a moment which has now passed, with a view to immortalising it.

This is further indicated by the references to previous love poems which the reader may be familiar with. The presence of lines from these poems in Duffy’s own work suggests that they are, to an extent, immortal - as the words used to express the love of poets such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning and William Shakespeare still have influence today. The presence of these works in a contemporary context highlights the immortal nature of the poet’s works.

Nature

Imagery associated with nature is present throughout the poem, reflective of the common theme of the natural world in romanticism.

A semantic field of the natural world is evident; ‘high cloud’, ‘pool’, ‘love’s light’, ‘a garden’, ‘new-found land’ and ‘the star’. This highlights how the narrator is influenced by previous, more traditional, love poems. It also underpins how love is wide-reaching, embodied in everything around us, not just our internal emotions. The broadness of love, created through the theme of nature and imagery relating to it, is possibly a cause of the narrator’s struggle to convey their feelings in a single poem.

The Love Poem - Key takeaways

  • ‘The Love Poem’ is part of Carol Ann Duffy’s 2005 poetry collection Rapture.
  • Rapture centres on the story of a love affair, and takes the form of a sonnet sequence.
  • The poem is written in free verse with no set meter or rhyme scheme.
  • The poem deals with the tradition of writing love poetry. It feels the influence of traditional romantic poetry, yet worries that if it adheres to such a style it will sound like a copy.
  • The opening of each verse is the same, 'Till love...'
  • Poetic devices used in the poem include enjambment, personification, and metaphor.
  • Love, immortalisation, and nature are all themes in the poem.

The Love Poem

 ‘The Love Poem’ deals with the tradition of writing love poetry and the influence of traditional romantic poetry on modern love poems.

Love, and expressing love.

'The Love Poem' (2005), 'Valentine' (1993) and 'Prayer' (1992) are all famous poems by Carol Ann Duffy.

The mood is frustrated, as the narrator struggles to find a way to express their love.

The speaker of the poem is an unnamed narrator, attempting to construct a poem to an unknown addressee with whom they've had an affair.

Final The Love Poem Quiz

Question

Who wrote 'The Love Poem'?

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Answer

Carol Ann Duffy

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Question

What collection is the poem part of?

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Answer

Rapture (2005)

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Question

True or False? The poem is written in free-verse

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Answer

True! The poem is written in free-verse with irregular rhyme.

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Question

True or False? 'The Love Poem' is a dramatic monologue

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Answer

False! The poem is written in free-verse and is about a narrator trying to construct their own love poem.

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Question

Which poem is the line 'how do I love thee?' taken from?

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Answer

Elizabeth Barrett Browning's 'Sonnet 43' (1609)

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Question

What is the main tone the poem is written in?

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Answer

Direct

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Question

Name two themes which the poet discusses

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Answer

Love, nature and immortalisation are all themes discussed by the poet

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Question

What rhyme scheme is the poem written in?

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Answer

The poem has an irregular rhyme scheme

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Question

What device is used in the lines;

come live

with me -

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Answer

Enjambment 

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Question

How many stanzas are in the poem?

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Answer

Three, twelve line stanzas

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Question

True or false? The poem is written in rhyming couplets.

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Answer

False! While rhyming couplets are common in romantic poetry, 'The Love Poem' does not have a rhyme scheme, or stanzas of two lines.

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Question

What is Romanticism? 

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Answer

A literary movement focusing on the natural world, the individual and the idolisation of women.

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Question

Which of these structural features does the poem not have?

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Answer

End-stopped lines

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Question

Name two types of imagery present in the poem?

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Answer

Nature and love

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Question

Which technique is used in the line;

Till love exhausts itself

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Answer

Personification 

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