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The Chemistry of Falling in Love in Poetry

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 Love has evolved throughout history in many forms, but the most explicit form is through poetry. Two good examples of this evolution are 70 by Catullus and Betrayal by Andrea Hollander. Andrea Hollander’s poem Betrayal is a kind of recent poem, it was published in the 2000s, while 70 by Catullus is a more outdated poem. With 70, no one really knows the real name of the poem because of how old it is. These two poems are decades apart, but they are very similar in structure and theme. There are many poems that have evolved throughout the decades of our world. One main reason that many of the poems are evolved is because of the time period that they were written. With the different centuries, they all have different values and beliefs.

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First to talk about love poems a person needs to know about Romantics Poetry. According to the Prep scholar Intro to Romantic Poetry in general, Romantic Poetry explored three main topics, the relationships between humans and nature, the gothic and the surreal, and what the purpose of poetry is and how the identity of the poet should be understood. The Romantic poets believed that the inner world of humans provided endless possibilities for new ideas and ways of thinking and living, which is exemplified in much of the poetry of the era. We can look more closely at the three main topics of Romantic poetry to see how this spirit of freedom and creativity was expressed throughout the Romantic Era. (Prep Scholar)

A major theme in Romantic poetry is the relationship between humans and their emotions and the natural world. The Romantic poets felt that humans’ internal lives and the exterior, natural world had a lot in common: they could both be mysterious, open and vast, wild and free, and sometimes a little bit terrifying. (Prep Scholar).

The Gothic can be thought of as portrayals of terrifying or horrifying phenomena that readers find thrilling. It’s kind of like that rush of adrenaline you get when you go through a haunted house or watch a scary movie. Part of the theory behind the Gothic in literature is that people like being scared. Surrealism and the Gothic often go hand-in-hand. Surrealism’s goal is to subvert–or challenge–normal life by tapping into people’s unconscious imagination. Think of a weird dream you had recently where what you were experiencing wasn’t quite real. Whether you were floating above your desk in math class or riding in a car with a long-lost friend, dreams often blend bits of reality with your imagination. That, dear readers, is surrealism at work! In poetry from the Romantic Era, the Gothic conveys a sort of mysteriousness through the setting and characters, and it often relies on supernatural forces and the unruliness of nature to create the sense of the surreal. If you’re reading a book or poem and there are cobwebs, dark, decaying passageways, or mysterious women who seem capable of putting you under a spell–and you’ve got goosebumps!–it’s possible you’re reading a piece of Gothic literature and experiencing the surreal. (Prep Scholar).

Every literary era is known for creating or putting its own twist on different literary forms. For instance, early twentieth century novels are known for popularizing the stream of consciousness style, where the author basically writes whatever pops into their head. Additionally, the unique rhyme scheme of the English sonnet was developed during the Renaissance in the 1500s! The Romantic poets also used specific poetic forms: odes, lyrical ballads, and sonnets were popular among the Romantics. (Prep scholar).

A great time period that also made a change in love poetry was the Romantic poets and the Romantic Movement. This movement happened in the late 1700s and the early 1800s. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact start of the Romantic Movement, as its beginnings can be traced to many events of the time. The Romantic Movement would have likely extended further into the 19th century, but the premature deaths of the younger poets, followed in 1832 by the death of their elderly German admirer, Goethe, brought the period to an end. The romantics made nature even more central to their work than the metaphysical poets, treating it as an elusive metaphor in their work. They sought a freer, more personal expression of passion, pathos, and personal feelings, and challenged their readers to open their minds and imaginations. Through their voluminous output, the romantics’ message was clear: life is centered in the heart, and the relationships we build with nature and others through our hearts defines our lives. They anticipated and planted the seeds for free verse, transcendentalism, the Beat movement, and countless other artistic, musical, and poetic expressions. Romanticism was arguably the largest artistic movement of the late 1700s. Its influence was felt across continents and through every artistic discipline into the mid-nineteenth century, and many of its values and beliefs can still be seen in contemporary poetry. (Webexhibits.org).

The core group included William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and a magnificent trio of friends: Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and John Keats. While history did not treat Robert Southey so kindly, Byron considered him a key member of the movement. Keats, who wrote ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ and ‘Ode to a Grecian Urn,’ only lived to the age of 26. Shelley died at 30, while Byron succumbed at 36. They wrote together, traveled together–even renting a house at the base of Rome’s Spanish Steps–and commiserated with foreign writers, most notably the older Johann Wolfgang Goethe, whose genius and versatility they idolized. Ironically, the poets held distinctly different religious beliefs and led divergent lifestyles. Blake was a Christian who followed the teachings of Emmanuel Swedenbourg (who also influenced Goethe). Wordsworth was a naturalist, Byron urbane, Keats a free spirit, Shelley an atheist, and Coleridge a card-carrying member of the Church of England. (Webexhibits.org)

The poems 70 by Catullus and Betrayal by Andrea Hollander, both deal with relationships. When they are both read, they give off the main theme of struggles with trust. In 70, Catullus uses imagery and references to get across the struggle of trusting a woman. In the poem, the woman says, “…she prefers to be married to no one then to me, not even if Jupiter himself should seek her,” (Catullus). In this part, Catullus is using a reference. He references the God Jupiter to give off the hint that she is lying and cannot be trusted. He also gives imagery to the woman, “…she ought to write on the wind and swift-flowing water”, in this, Catullus is saying that the woman should write her love for him in the wind and on the water (Catullus). He uses this imagery because a person can try to imagine trying to write in the strong wind and on the crazy flowing water. What he means is that her words will not hold up. This poem is very old, it is older than Jesus, but it is very similar to Andrea Hollander’s poem Betrayal, which was published in 2009. In her poem, she depends mostly on her use of grammar and shift of tenses. Her poem is not that long, it is only 5 stanzas. In the first two stanzas, Hollander focuses on the beginning of the betrayal and then later, closer to the end of that second stanza, she shifts from the past to the present tense. And her shift in tenses is what gives off the theme of struggles with trust. The main struggle is of the couple not knowing of how one cheated on the other and of not really wanting to know, however deep down, they want to know but they are scared because they are not sure if they will be able to handle the truth. This brings about a lack of faith or liability; one cannot always believe or trust what the other says.

Both poems appeal to pathos because they both relate to the same thing that many people go through today. There are hundreds of people that go through relationship problems daily. Also, both poems are very short. However, 70 by Catullus is shorter than Betrayal by Andrea Hollander. Although Catullus’s poem is shorter, it still makes a great impact on people still today.

There are a lot of old love poems that have dated back centuries. Some poems can be found in the Old Testament of the Bible. The Song of Songs (sometimes called The Song of Solomon), which can be found in the Old Testament of the Bible, was once believed to be the oldest love poem. This was the oldest love poem until an archaeologist named Samuel Noah Kramer translated it and talked about it in his book, “History Begins at Sumer”. The poem, The Love Song of Shu-Sin, was discovery in a Mesopotamian region. The poem is believed to have been used as part of a sacred ritual in which the king symbolically married a goddess named Inanna, a Sumerian goddess of love. The idea was that this would ensure fertility and prosperity for the year. But before Kramer’s discovery, The Song of Songs, was believed to be the oldest. The focus of that poem is the celebration of romantic and sexual love between two lovers. Various religious interpretations look at it as an allegory of the love between God and his followers. (New York Public Library).

Religion clearly played a strong role in these older poems, which indicates its importance to ancient people. But romantic love also had a level of importance. So that begs the questions, “How have love poems changed over the years?” They never ceased to exist but have evolved.

In his article, “The Chemistry of Love Poetry,” Tim Hancock describes how in love poetry, “…different civilizations will each offer their own culturally determined perspective on love…” (Hancock). So, the concept of love never changed but how we talk about it and our view about its does. (New York Public Library).

Some love poems are written so differently than other poems because of the time periods in which they were written. Poetry has changed so much in the last century alone that it is almost near impossible to compare any poetry of the late 1900s and 2000s to any of that pre nineteenth century poetry. (thoughtcatalog.com)

Seventeenth century poetry is what is known as metaphysical poetry. Metaphysical poetry can be seen with the frequent use of paradoxes, the juxtaposition of complexity and subtlety of thought, among another devices. William Shakespeare is the most common poet of this era. (thoughtcatalog.com)

Eighteenth century poetry is what is typically referred to as classical poetry. The early eighteenth century saw the birth of Romanticism, which included poets like William Wordsworth, Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, and although surprisingly dark in his poetic nature, Edgar Allen Poe. Classical poetry is defined by its emphasis upon form and meter. Something that has been left behind in the evolution toward postmodern poetry. (thoughtcatalog.com)

One of the best ways to gain perspective on the vastness and richness of a poem, particularly a poem from yesteryear that still commands attention today, is to read from within and outside the poet’s cultural context. Learning more about a specific poet’s life, interests, home, circles of friends, and his or her social and cultural setting gives you hints so you can more clearly interpret the work. For instance, a study of Walt Whitman’s life indicates that he lived at the onset of the Industrial Age, he was an ardent naturalist and a lover of America, he believed in individual freedom of expression at all costs, and he suffered from blindness as an older man – all of which come out in the keen inner observation, wonderful tomes on nature, and alternating periods of conflict and co-existence between nature and industry in his poems. O Captain My Captain, perhaps Whitman’s most famous poem, is a salute to a man he admired above all – Abraham Lincoln. It was written after Lincoln’s assassination. (thoughtcatalog.com)

Now that the centuries are understood, maybe people will be able to understand why love poems then are different from love poems now. Although some poems are different in structure and style, they still are similar in the meaning. Because no matter the age, everyone has relationship problems.

The main difference between love poems now and then is the way people see love, their beliefs and values. People’s beliefs and values shape the way that they see things. Many people back then had a very strong connection with God and they stuck by the Bible, since they did this, their love poems bounced more off like a connection with God, like mention earlier. However, with people in this society, they are not very in touch with God like people were back then. Many are consumed by lust and emotions, so many love poems that are written in this time talk about betrayal and lust, much like Andrea Hollander’s poem Betrayal.

Love poems have evolved over the past decades. Many poems are shaped and styled different that one’s now. They are shaped and styled by our beliefs and values. As we go across the ages all of those beliefs and values change or alter. Like in older poems they show a deeper connection with God, while newer poems show more of emotions like lust and feelings. There are many poems that have evolved throughout the decades of our world. So, the question is, how have love poems changed over the decades? Can people tell the difference between old and new love poems? Do they know what is different between old and new love poems?

Works Cited

1.“29. The Song of Songs.” 29. The Song of Songs | Bible.org, https://bible.org/seriespage/29-song-songs.

70 by Catullus

2.Hancock, Tim.  The Cambridge Quarterly, vol. 36, no. 3, Jan. 2007, pp. 197–228., doi:10.1093/camqtly/bfm004.

3.Hollander, Andrea. “Betrayal by Andrea Hollander.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/53464/betrayal-56d232c49d940.

4.Kramer, Samuel Noah. History Begins at Sumer. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988.

5.“O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman – Poems | Academy of American Poets.” Poets.org, Academy of American Poets, https://poets.org/poem/o-captain-my-captain?page=5.

6.https://blog.prepscholar.com/romantic-poetry-era-definition

7.http://www.webexhibits.org/poetry/home_movements.html

8.https://www.nypl.org/blog/2019/05/03/evolution-love-poem

9.https://thoughtcatalog.com/emma-doherty/2017/07/modern-poetry-is-much-different-than-it-used-to-be/ 

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