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Shakespeare Poetry vs. Contemporary: Brisbane Audience

Since the dawn of time man has asked the perpetual question what is love? Over the ages, this question has been answered by different people, in different times, who expressed a different view from the last. (1) Historically, the method of answering such was typically through the use of poetry. Ladies and gentleman of the Brisbane Writer’s festival, today I Michael Erian, a senior student from Anglican Church Grammar School, hope to shed light on this philosophical point by comparing and contrasting two poems, and by doing so, to prove that poetry, both local and canonical is meaningful to you – a Brisbane audience. 2) As aforementioned, people from different eras have different views on the proposition what is love? Therefore to answer this question properly it will be necessary for us to deconstruct two poems from contrasting eras. Poetry about love has a long history, but when it comes to this discourse, there is no more prominent wordsmith than William Shakespeare. Like most romantics, he favoured the conventional form of the sonnet, which demanded great poetic skill. I have chosen Shakespeare’s love sonnet number 116, written in the renaissance era, entitled Let Me Not to the Marriage of True Minds. 3) In this sonnet Shakespeare states that true love is unfaltering- line 3: love is not love which alters when it alteration finds – in other words, you just don’t fall in and out of love. Shakespeare’s invited reading is that Love is everlasting, as can be seen in line 5 – (Love is) an ever fixed mark. In line 6, Shakespeare writes Love looks on tempests and is never shaken, meaning Love can overcome any obstacle; love will always pull through adversity. In Line 7 Shakespeare writes – it (love) is the star to every wandering bark. Signifying that love is to a person as the North Star was to early seamen.

If you couldn’t find the North Star you were lost. Shakespeare therefore held the thought that without love, one was lost. Finally, Shakespeare gives us the ultimate power of love in lines 11 & 12, which is, not to be time’s fool (love) alters not with his brief hours and weeks, but bears it out even to the edge of doom. In other words, love lasts after death. Love to Shakespeare was eternal. (4) Shakespeare delivered these invited readings through many poetic devices namely metaphors, personification, rhyming couplets and vivid imagery. 5) Shakespeare brilliance shines through, when he valorises the ideology of eternal love through his emphatic statements. Shakespeare uses no personalisation; consequently there is no empathy between Shakespeare and the reader. The foundation to the sonnet is Shakespeare’s use of binary opposition, as can be seen in line 2 Love is not love… Shakespeare uses naturalisation to privilege the ideology of eternal love. Thereby, marginalising divorce and separation – He doesn’t write to the people who have lost or can’t find love. 6) (7) Brisbane poet Gwen Harwood’s modern day take on love entitled Suburban Sonnet: Boxing Day opposes Shakespeare’s view. Harwood was born in Brisbane in 1920. Her mother was a strict feminist and this them is evident is most of her poetry. (8) (9) The only similarity between the two poems is that they are both written on the discourse of love. Harwood tells the story of a modern day mother, cleaning up on Boxing Day. The mother goes on to reminisce about a former lover who promised to love her, but instead slept with her and then left her to raise their children. 10) Harwood’s invited reading is that this is a common occurrence in modern times. So common that in line 5 a magazine recognises this fact by publishing an article entitled how to keep your husband’s love. This directly opposes Shakespeare’s ideology that love is everlasting. Shakespeare would ask how could these wives lose the love of their partner when love is an ever fixed mark? To Shakespeare these two were never in love. The fact that the story Gwen Harwood has played out in her poem is a scenario that many modern adults find themselves in, suggests that modern day society is confusing lust for love.

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This can be seen at the beginning of stanza 2, ‘O where’s the demon lover, the wild boy who kissed the future to her flesh beneath’ which can be interpreted that her companion was a wild lover and she seemingly justified her love for him accordingly. Instead of viewing love as an everlasting bond between two people as Shakespeare did, modern day society sees love as something that can be achieved through making love. (11)Suburban Sonnet: Boxing Day is a sonnet in the narrative form of poetry and as can be seen it uses far less poetic devices than Shakespeare’s piece.

Although Harwood shows technical incompetence through the use of limited poetic devices, the underlying themes of her poem is still easily understood by a modern day audience. Therefore poets don’t need to be technically competent in structure to create an effective poem. (12)Critical Literature analysis, power point. As a consequence of confusing love with lust, the mother has seemingly no love for anybody else – including her own child. As Harwood writes – A child stretches above her and, laughing, crowns her with a tinsel wreath.

She gathers up a new, dismembered toy. She shows no affection to her own flesh and blood – Delegates of the Brisbane Writer’s festival; What have we come to as a society, when a mother won’t even show affection to her own child – when her child is clearly asking for it? (13)The two conflicting ideologies of love come from the beliefs, values, knowledge, experience and assumptions of their times. In Shakespearian times there was a strict belief of God, possibly where Shakespeare’s notion of one love stems from.

However their knowledge and experience were limited compared to today. A definite assumption of the 16th century was to love, marry and have children, how now there is an assumption of playing the field before settling down. (14) So, delegates of the Brisbane Writer’s Festival, let’s return to the central question underlying my presentation today. Poetry in the modern era has developed into increasingly less structured forms. Perhaps we are all conditioned to believe that poetry from previous centuries is ‘old fashioned’.

Where the formal structure of ‘old fashioned’ poetry, has given way to free verse in which modern poets don’t restrict themselves via the traditional poetic structure. Hence modern audiences find today’s poetry more simplistic and understandable. Canonical and local poetry is meaningful to a Brisbane audience because the poems can be used to compare the views held by society at contrasting times. Local, modern poetry can be used as a gauge of what is happening today in our society.

In this instance it was used to compare and contrast two poems within the discourse of love, one from the 16th century and another from the 20th century. After comparing and contrasting the two poems, it is evident that the two respective ideologies of love – are certainly conflicting. It has also been established that modern day relationship will fail more often than not, as they are confusing love with lust. However, if the people of Brisbane had an understanding of Shakespeare’s love sonnet 116, would they not realise that love can be neither made, nor broken but is an ever fixed entity.

Modern day audiences would be able to differentiate between lust and love. Therefore, if this concept was understood more throughout society, there would be more genuine love and less divorce. (15)Thus the importance of poetry for a Brisbane audience is significant. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 and Gwen Harwood’s Suburban Sonnet Boxing day prove to us that poetry, both canonical and contemporary, remains extremely relevant and meaningful to you – the Brisbane audience.


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