The three poems that I have chosen to examine are: ‘Ballad’, which is anonymous, ‘Shall I Compare Thee… ‘ by William Shakespeare and ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ by John Keats. The three poems have both their similarities and their contrasts, which makes them a good selection to study. The first and most obvious contrast, and reason for contrast between the three pieces is the time they were written- with the Ballad being anonymous, we cannot say when it was written, but the other two were written a couple of centuries apart. ‘Shall I Compare Thee…
‘ during either the sixteenth or seventeenth century and ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ in the nineteenth. This gap, in the times they were written, means that some of the language used in the poems is different, both from each other and from language spoken now. A further reason for the contrast in language used is the audiences they were written for. The Ballad was passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth, and would have most likely been told in inns and taverns. ‘Shall I Compare Thee… ‘, being written by William Shakespeare was aimed at people who attended the theatre.
This ranged from kings and queens to people off of the streets, yet the language used is still much more complex. ‘La Belle Dame’ again has more sophisticated language, and it is probable that the piece was written to be read or performed- unlike the Ballad. With two of the poems being written in ballad form and one as a sonnet, there are obviously going to be a lot more similarities between the structure of the two ballads, and difference in the structure of the sonnet. Both of the ballads, for instance, feature repartition: in ‘Ballad’ the fifth and eleventh stanzas are very similar to each other, with only a few words being changed.
In this case it is because in the first occurrence of the verse the lady is talking to the reader and in the second she is speaking directly to the child. “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” features repartition of various single lines, “On the cold hill’s side” and “And no birds sing” being two examples. It could be said that although Shakespeare is not repeating any words or lines, that he is repeating a point- the whole poem simply says how lovely she is and how she isn’t all of the bad things which summer can be, in an assortment of different ways.
All three of the poems use what is now considered archaic language, although at the time this writing probably seemed very contemporary. Shakespeare uses “thee” and “thou”, Keats employs “ail”, as well as “meads” and the anonymous writer uses “ne’er” and “shalt be”. The language used by Shakespeare could also be interpreted as ‘romantic language’, rather than archaic. Keats has written six stanzas of romance and six stanzas of desperation, Shakespeare has written the whole sonnet in a romantic way and the writer of ‘Ballad’ has written nearly all desperation and very little romance.
These three contrasts immediately give the poems a very blunt and obvious contrast to each other, before you even begin to thoroughly examine their contents. This despair and romantic contrast is very obvious in the three last lines, which are examined later on. ‘Shall I Compare Thee’ is a sonnet, and therefore has three quatrains and one rhyming couplet at the end. Within the quatrains the first and third lines and the second and forth lines rhyme. The sonnet also has an iambic pentameter – ten syllables per line, every other one, from the second is accentuated.
The ballad has eleven four line stanzas; each of the lines within the stanzas has eight syllables. ‘La Belle Dame’ is different again, although could be considered a ballad, as it has stanzas of four lines, with the second and forth lines rhyming, but not the first and third. The forth line is also monosyllabic, meaning these are much shorter and very concise. Keats has used bathos in these end of stanza lines – “And no birds sing” as well as “On the cold hill’s side”. These lines definitely do have a sense of anticlimax about them, which both Shakespeare and the writer of the ballad have avoided.
Although all three of the poems are written about love, each has a completely different contents: ‘Ballad’ is about an unfaithful lover; ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ concerns a knight, who has fallen in love, but cannot have his desire and ‘Shall I Compare Thee… ‘ is written as a seductive sonnet, intended to be read by the man, to woman he loves. This difference in the ‘storyline’ of the three makes the two ballads compare more and the sonnet contrast. This said, all three conjure up very vivid images of the lover, “Shall I compare thee to a Summers day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate”, “A faithless shepherd” and “Full beauty – a faery’s child”. Of the three, John Keats gives us the most detail of the lost lover’s appearance. Another major difference in them is that ‘Shall I Compare Thee… ‘ could be Shakespeare’s own opinion of a lady, this sonnet my have been written with a specific person in mind. ‘La Belle Dame’ could have been written in this way, but it would appear more probable that it was written as a tale of two imaginary people.
‘Ballad’ is the same, and although the events portrayed in the story could have happened to someone, it is most likely to have originated as just a story. The dissimilarity this gives the poems, is because they are all aimed to do different things, the sonnet is intended to woo the receiver; ‘La Belle Dame’ is meant partly to warn the reader, but mostly to entertain. The third is written, again to entertain, but has more of a moral than the first two, the moral being don’t fall a victim to unfaithful lovers.
The relationship conveyed by Shakespeare is a very loving and ‘pretty’ relationship. You can tell this as a reader from both the language used and the style of the whole piece: “Shall I compare thee to a Summers day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate”. This makes the sonnet very believable in addition to creating a sense of lovingness between the deliverer of the poem and the receiver of the compliments. Shakespeare furthermore appeals to the senses, “So long as man can breath or eyes can see”, the other two appeal to the imagination but not the senses directly.
The writer, or deliverer, of ‘Shall I Compare Thee… ‘ is not mentioned, and this gives the impression that it is a one-sided relationship, we, the reader, do not know if the receiver of all these compliments loves or indeed doesn’t love the writer. Shakespeare speaks very highly of this lady, bettering her to summer, one of God’s own ‘creations’. The lines in this poem which in my opinion sum-up the relationship it portrays are “And every faire from faire some-time declines, by chance, or natures changing course untrim’d: But thy eternall Sommer shall not fade”.
The eternal summer is a metaphor for her beauty and the deliverer’s undying love for her. The relationship conveyed by Keats is somewhat different, the “Knight-at-arms” loves the “belle dame sans merci”, but she does not love him back, despite the fact she “… look’d at me as she did love… ” Shakespeare’s XVIII sonnet could be used by the beautiful merciless lady in the sixth or seventh stanza of ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci” to flatter the knight, showing that although the style in general of these two pieces is different they do have some similarities.
Furthermore the relationship in ‘La Belle Dame’ has left the knight “alone and palely loitering”, which is comparable to the relationship in ‘Ballad’ but in this instance the lady has left man, not the other way around. A further point which should be made about the relationship between the knight and the lady, is that the they probably both felt that they could have a successful and happy time together, as it might appear in the fifth and six stanzas: “She look’d at me as she did love”.
The stanza which best represents the relationship in this poem would, in my opinion, be the ninth, “And there she lulled me asleep, And there I dream’d – ah! woe betide! The latest dream I ever dream’d On the cold hill’s side” The relationship portrayed by the writer of the ballad is one of varying success. The faithless shepherd seems to have a problem with commitment to the lady, when there is the possibility of them becoming parents, “When my apron would hang low me he sought through frost and snow. When it puckered up with shame and I sought him, he never came.
” This one stanza just about sums up the relationship that takes place in the whole poem. The “frost and snow” is a metaphor for anything which might get in the way of them being together, but the thought of being an unmarried couple with a baby, “when it puckered up with shame”, is too much frost and snow for the faithless shepherd, so he avoids the lady. The third stanza is very similar to the second, this reinforces the type of relationship they had and is a further example of the repartition used in the poem. The ultimate line of the poems adds a final contrast and comparison between them.
‘Ballad ‘ finishes with “Our souls with, God, our bodies clay”, this line is very strongly associated with death, as is the final line of ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’, which reads “And no birds sing”, which could suggest that nature is dying, or it could be a metaphor for how the knight is feeling- maybe he doesn’t want to be able to hear cheerful birdsong when love has left him in this state. This is a final link between these two poems, and an additional point at which Shakespeare’s sonnet, “Shall I Compare Thee…” differs, its last line being the exact opposite “So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
” Two of the poems end with death and only one with life, the title ‘Love Poems’ does not necessarily suit the essay. The poem which most interests me is ‘Shall I Compare Thee… ‘, I think that this is partly because William Shakespeare is a world renowned writer and one I had heard of long before really knowing anything about his plays or sonnets- in the case of Keats I would have only known about him having studied or read one of his poems.
When you read a piece of Shakespeare that you have not seen before, you anticipate it to be good, before reading it; this can have its advantages and disadvantages, in this case having heard the first lines, “Shall I compare thee to a Summers day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate” -the rest of the poem succeeds in meeting your expectations. An additional reason for this being my preferred poem is that it is the only one of the three which is happy from the beginning all the way through to the last line.
The idea of comparing a lady to a summer’s day is also intriguing and clever, giving the sonnet an interesting subject. The length of the poem also means that, unlike the other two, you have time to think and remember each line, and every one of them has to be good, because as a sonnet its length is limited. In the ‘ballad’ style not all of the lines necessarily have to contribute fully to the poem and could be used simply to complete a stanza or rhyme a line. This ‘limit’ on a sonnet’s length means that all lines mean something and ‘space is not wasted’.
This said, all of the poems have their own individual merits, and are all very enjoyable to read and successful in their aims. All in all the three poems, although in some ways similar, have many more dissimilarities than similarities ‘Ballad’ and ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ are, because of their ballad style much more closely linked to each other. ‘Shall I Compare Thee… ” being as it is written in a completely different style, has few comparisons in the way in which it portrays the relationship involved.