All relationships are built on the foundation of mutual trust and respect, whether it be a platonic or romantic relationship. However, trust can be broken in a matter of moments between two loving people. This is usually a risk people are aware of upon entering into a serious romantic relationship, although the idea of their trust being broken can loom at the back of one’s mind. No matter what the situation it is, a person betraying the one they claim to love happens more often than it should in this day and age, whether it happens due to a miscommunication or a direct act to hurt another. There are multitude of ways one could hurt their lover by betraying them or breaking their trust, and no way is a positive way to do that. It’s cruel, especially if someone does it intentionally and understands the consequences of their actions, and the repercussions of hurting another human being. No one should actively go into a relationship with the intent to destroy the other person’s heart and soul. However, when entering into a relationship, one should be aware of the potential situation where someone does decide to go out of their way to harm the one they claim to love. It doesn’t always happen, but it is still something to keep in mind. Those who do go out of their way to inflect hurt on their lovers typically do not go into a relationship with that intent; it just happens over time. In Elizabeth Bennett Browning’s poem “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways” and Philipa Soo’s song “Burn”, the shifting tone from love to hatred and the use of metaphors reveals that focusing all attention and energy onto one person can end in anger and betrayal.
Relationships typically start off with a honeymoon phase, where the couple is desperately in love, and in Browning’s poem, she is deeply in love with her unnamed significant other. She “[loves] thee to the depth” (Browning 2), exhibiting how much passion she holds towards them. She even loves them while she “[feels] out of sight” (Browning 3), therefore placing all her trust into her lover. In romantic relationships, people are “vulnerable to taking chances” (Easterling et al, 243), and loving someone is taking a huge chance on them. Within the poem, she loves her significant other very deeply. By the use of a metaphor, she describes her love for her significant other as an “[end] of Being, and ideal Grace” (Browning 4), showing that she views her lover almost as an extension of herself, while also being what she views as absolute perfection. She is in the mindset that her lover is her entire world, and in turn, thinking that way is taking a huge chance on her significant other. While being in love, “vulnerability for taking chances” (Easterling et al, 244) increases, exhibiting how relationships are built on taking risks on another person. Her clear devotion to her lover is a giant risk, as she’s placing all her effort and trust into one person, which can have unforeseen consequences.
Unfortunately, unwavering devotion to another can come with numerous negative consequences. Eliza is completely and utterly devoted to Alexander, and she “thought [he was hers]” (Soo 5), which was proven to be untrue. Through the use of metaphor, Eliza shows that “[his] words flooded [her] senses” (Soo 11), exhibiting how she was swept off her feet by his charm and way with words. Alexander’s “love of liberty” (Rosano 66) outweighed his love for Eliza, but she wasn’t entirely aware of this at the time. She knew how much he fought for the U.S.A., but she didn’t know this would cause him to be driven away from her. Ironically, Alexander identified “good men” (Rosano 63) by reflecting and thinking about choices they made, while he went behind his wife’s back while she was away and slept with another woman in their bed. She “saved every letter” (Soo 1) he sent her, and through doing this, she became enthralled with him, and completely devoted to her husband-to-be. By Eliza being unaware of how deep her love’s passion for liberty ran, she unwillingly set herself up for heartbreak because of her devotion to Alexander.
Passion is a normal, expected emotion to have in a relationship, but such a strong, intense feeling can lead to blindness of the world around the relationship. She “[loves] thee with passion” (Browning 9), while Eliza had been thrown into a whirlwind of a passionate love affair. Alex “built [her] palaces out of paragraphs” (Soo 13), which helped Eliza open up to him, and eventually made her fall in love with him. His “sentences left [her] defenseless” (Soo 12), making her vulnerable but she continued to pursue the relationship anyways. Both the girl in the poem and Eliza have a clear passionate love for their significant others, and this lead them to unintentional blindness. The universal theme in the poem was about how love can cause blindness to the outside world, and both the girl and Eliza exemplify how this is true. By focusing on one person too much, it can cause one’s focus to be shifted away from reality. Eliza was blinded by Alexander’s passionate words, and the girl was blinded by her love for another.
In romantic relationships, and to an extent, any type of relationship, trust plays a large role in it. Placing that “trust in [a] partner” (Bush et al, 844) is a crucial “element of relationship functioning” (Bush et al,844). Without trust, a relationship isn’t strong and the connection between two individuals is weakened, and in some cases, altogether nonexistent. Trust is the foundation of a relationship, but trust can lead to betrayal. The girl’s “love…seemed to lose” (Browning 11) while Eliza began “burning the memories” (Soo 47) of the sweet letters Alexander had written to her. Both of these instances are connected by the loss of trust and faith each woman placed in her respective partner. While the girl seemingly lost her trust in her significant other, Eliza goes as far as to “[erase herself] from the narrative” (Soo 37), showing all her trust in Alexander is gone. The universal theme in the song is how love can lead to broken trust, and both of these instances are examples of how that can be true. In any relationship, the prospect of having trust broken and betraying another is almost always a worry, even if it’s just in the back of someone’s mind.
Both women come to realize that they hold disdain for the one’s they used to cherish. After discovering Alexander had cheated on her with another woman, Eliza is left “with only the memories of when [he was hers]” (Soo 52-53), while the girl aggressively states that she “shall love thee better in death” (Browning 14). While unsure of what her partner did to cause her to feel this betrayed, it is still clear that her significant other severely hurt her. She’s bitter and angry that she had given them her “smiles, tears, all of [her] life” (Browning 13). She gave her significant other her all, and this is how she was treated in the end. At the same end of the spectrum, Eliza is furious and bitter. Alexander had betrayed her trust, and in the process he “[forfeited] all rights to [her] heart” (Soo 49). Eliza wants him to “burn” (Soo 54) for what he has done to her. Whilst both women experienced heartache due to being too trusting, it isn’t necessarily their fault, as the ones they loved were the ones who made the effort to hurt them. The two lovers caused the blindness the two women had about their surroundings to be torn away, leaving them with a view of the world that wasn’t from behind rose colored glasses.
Even though Eliza had automatically placed her heart into Alexander’s hands, there was an outside influence urging her to remain guarded and cautious. Her sister, Angelica, told her to “be careful with that one” (Soo 9) so Eliza wouldn’t become too wrapped up in his charms. Along with warning her to be careful, Angelica called Alexander an “Icarus” (Soo 30), implying that he has now fallen from grace due to his passion and drive. She had the luxury of someone warning her to be careful, while the girl in the poem did not. Eliza didn’t listen to her sister, or take her advice, which led to the breaking of her heart. Angelica could tell something was off about Alexander from the get go, but Eliza refused to believe that her husband could ever do anything bad. Alexander led the girl he cheated on Eliza with into their bed which hurt Eliza even more once she found out. Relationships are built on mutual trust and respect, and when one breaks that mutual trust, all respect for the other person. After the affair, Alexander went on to publish a small paper entitled “The Reynolds Pamphlet” where he admits to sleeping with another girl, and how he ended up being blackmailed into keeping up the affair. Alexander goes on to say that both the “husband and wife [had the] design to extort money from [him]” (Hamilton). Eliza is furious and hurt when she reads the pamphlet, and rightfully so. She goes on to say that “the world has no right to [her] heart” (44) and also “no place in [their] bed” (45). This would be the only contrasting point between Browning’s poem and the song, as it is explicitly stated in “Burn” why Eliza’s heart was broken. In the poem, it’s all speculation to why the girl’s heart was broken and leaves it open-ended.
In any type of relationship, whether it be platonic or romantic, the prospect of someone breaking trust or breaking someone’s heart is always a possibility, as sad as that is. Sometimes the heartbreak will be worse than others, and sometimes it will happen unintentionally. With love comes the great risk of trusting another person with your heart and entire being, and these two works are examples of how sometimes that trust can be abused. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with someone trusting their significant other with everything they have, it’s also not necessarily a poor decision to be apprehensive. Both of these works exhibit the negative side of placing your trust completely in another, but it shouldn’t be discouraging. The universal themes of the poem and song are closely related, and the way the women in both works express the negative consequences of a relationship mirror one another, showcasing how different scenarios can lead to different kinds of betrayal. Neither of the scenarios are good by any means, but it portrays how not all relationships are picture perfect and have a fairy-tale like ending.
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