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Chapter 4 Poetry about love Love poetry through the ages

ឣ Love poetry through the ages Questions Further reading
The ballad AO1: Developing an informed response to the text Traditional ballads (try searching for
these on the internet):
At the end of the 17th century, the novelist Sir Walter Scott began to ឣ Describe what happens in the poem.
ឣ Childe Maurice
collect ballads and publish them in his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. ឣ What are the thoughts and feelings presented in it?
The ballad has been a popular form with poets and writers of song lyrics ឣ The Wife of Usher’s Well
ever since. The reason for starting this chronological survey of love poetry AO2: Understanding how structure, form and language shape meaning
ឣ Lord Randal
with ballads is because, although it is very difficult to give them precise ឣ What do you notice about the ways the writer uses form, structure and
ឣ Barbara Allen
dates of composition, they were originally an oral form of poetry. A language in this ballad to tell the story?
ឣ Tam Lin
typical ballad is a mixture of storytelling and speech rather than writing. AO3: Exploring connections, comparisons and the interpretations of other
Its popular themes are love and the supernatural, often woven together in ឣ True Thomas / Thomas the Rhymer
readers
the narrative of some dramatic event. The poetic form is simple – usually ឣ Compare this ballad with others of a similar period, or with a modern lyric Using the ballad form:
a four-line stanza – which tells the story clearly and directly, often in or folk song. ឣ Cold is the Earth by Emily Brontë
dialect. Dialogue, rhyme, repetition or a refrain is used to make the verse
ឣ How do you respond to the view that a ballad can only tell a simple story ឣ The final chapter of Wuthering
more accessible and memorable.
because its form and language are so simple? Heights by Emily Brontë
AO4: Understanding of the significance and influence of contexts ឣ The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
ឣ What features of this ballad can help you to establish some sort of
historical or cultural context for it? ឣ La Belle Dame sans Merci by John
Keats
Helen of Kirconnell (or Fair Helen) ឣ * As I Walked Out One Evening by
The Middle Ages: the 14th century W.H. Auden
I wish I were where Helen lies, O Helen fair, beyond compare!
ឣ * Ballad of the Bread Man by
Night and day on me she cries; I’ll make a garland o’ thy hair Geoffrey Chaucer Charles Causley
O that I were where Helen lies Shall bind my heart for evermair Geoffrey Chaucer (1342–1400) is a major figure in English literature. ឣ * Timothy Winters by Charles
On fair Kirconnell lea! Until the day I dee! Professionally he was a courtier, a diplomat and a civil servant during the Causley
reigns of Edward III and Richard II. He travelled widely in Europe
urope as a ឣ * The Shooting of Dan McGrew by

T T
Curst be the heart that thought the len lies
O that I were where Helen lies! young man, read French and Italian texts, and was the first poet to show Robert Service

F F
thought, ght and
Night nd day on me she cri
cries; that English was just as appropriatee a language for poetry as French or ឣ * The Ballad of Rudolph Reed by

A A
And curst the hand that fired the shot, Latin. His best-known work is The Canterbury Tale Tales.. Many of the stories
Tales Gwendolyn Brooks
Out off my bed she bids me rise,
ris

R R
told by Chaucer’s
haucer’s pilgrims on their way to the shrine of St Thomas à
When in my arms burd d Helen d
dropt, Says,
ys, ‘Haste, and come to me!’ * in The Rattle Bag eds Seamus
Becket at Canterbury deal with love, sometimes tragically, sometim
sometimes

D D
uccour
our me!
And died to succour comically and sometimes to deliver a moral message. Chaucer inclu includes Heaney & Ted Hughes (Faber)
O Helen
elen fair! O Helen chaste!
c
two women among his storytellers: the Prioress and the garrulous Wife
O think na ye my heartart was sair, If I were with thee I wer
were bblest, of Bath, who gives the other pilgrims the benefit of h her views on love
When my Love dropt optt down and spa
spake Where th thou lies low and takes thy rest, and marriage in her Prologue, befor telling her story, which answers
before tel
nae mair! the question ‘What thynge is it that women moost desiren? (‘What do
On fair Kirconnell lea.
I laid her down wi’ meikle car
care women rereally want?’).
On fair Kirconnell lea. I wish my grave were growing green, The answer is:
A winding-sheet drawn ower my een,
As I went down the water-side, Wommen desiren to have sovereynetee
And I in Helen’s arms lying, As wel over hir housbond as hir love,
None but my foe to be my guide, And for to been in maistrie hym above.
On fair Kirconnell lea.
None but my foe to be my guide (In other words, power over their husbands!)
On fair Kirconnell lea; I wish I were where Helen lies!
In the following extracts from The Miller’s Tale, Chaucer presents
Night and day on me she cries; the competing lovers of Alisoun, an old carpenter’s young and sexy
I lighted down my sword to draw,
And I am weary of the skies, wife. The story is set in Oxford, and the first extract is preceded by the
I hacked him in pieces sma’ Miller’s detailed description of Alisoun’s many physical attractions.
Since my Love died for me.
I hacked him in pieces sma’ Not surprisingly, Nicholas, the university student who is lodging in the
For her sake that died for me. Anon carpenter’s house, can’t resist her.
Using your own knowledge of chat-up lines, and the ways people behave
in this sort of situation, see how much of Chaucer’s racy narrative you
can understand.

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Chapter 4 Poetry about love Love poetry through the ages

Whan that the firste cok hath crowe,anon
Up rist this joly lovere Absolon,
And hym arraieth gay, at point-devys.
But first he cheweth greyn and lycorys,
To smellen sweete, er he hadde kembd his heer.
Under his tonge a trewe-love he beer,
For therby wende he to ben gracious.
He rometh to the carpenteres hous,
And stille he stant under the shot-window –
Unto his brest it raughte, it was so lowe –
And softe he cougheth with a semysoun:
‘What do ye, hony-comb, sweete Alisoun,
My faire bryd, my sweete cynamome?
Awakeeth, lemman myn, and speketh to me!
Wel litel thinken thee upon my woe,
That for youre love I swete ther I go.
Figure 4.1 Part of a medieval manuscript No wonder is thogh that I swelte and swete;
Modern language
I moorne as doth a lamb aftger the tete.
Ywis, lemman, I have swich love-longynge. swelte: faint.
So bifel the case
That on a day this hende Nicholas That like a turtle trewe is my moornynge. turtle: turtle dove, emblem of true
Fil with this yonge wyf to rage and pleye, I may nat ete na moore than a mayde.’ love.
Whil that hir housbonde was at Oseneye, ‘Go fro the wyndow, Jakke fool’ she sayde;
pa: kiss.
As clerkes ben ful subtile and ful queynte; ‘As help me God, it wol nat be ‘com pa me’.
And prively he caughte hir by the queynte, I love another – and elles I were to blame –

T
Modern language And sayde, ‘Ywis, but if ich have my wille, Wel bet than thee, by Jhesu, Absolon.’

F F
rage: flirt. For deerne love of thee, lemman,
mman, I sp
spille.’

A A
The Mil
Miller’s Tale
Tale,
e, liness 368
3687–3711
And heeld hire ree harde by the haunche-bones,
haunche-b

R
queynte: cunning.
And said, ‘Lemman, love me al atones,

D
trave: a wooden frame to keep a Or I will dyen, also God me save!’
horse still. Questions
And she sproong as a colt dooth in the trave
tra
leyser: leisure, chance. And withith hir heed she wryeth fast awey, AO1: Developing
AO loping an informed response to the tex
text
And seyde,
eyde, ‘I wol nat kisse thee, by my fey
fey! ឣ What happens in the two extracts
extracts?
Why, be, Nicholas,
hy, lat be,’ quod she, ‘lat b ឣ What
hat attitudes to love are p
presented in them, through Nicholas and
Or I wo
wol cry ‘o‘out harrow’ and ‘allas’! Absolom?
Absolo
Do wey youre handes, for youre curteisye!’ AO2: Understanding how structure, form and language shape meaning
This Nicholas gan mercy for to crye,
ឣ What do you notice about the ways Chaucer uses form, structure and
And spak so fair, and profred him so faste,
language in these extracts to create characters and tell the story?
That she hir love hym graunted atte last,
And swoor hir ooth, be seint Thomas of Kent, AO3: Exploring connections, comparisons and the interpretations of other
That she wol been at his comandement, readers
ឣ Do these extracts remind you of other more modern texts that you have
Further reading
Whan that she may hir leyser wel espie.
read, heard or seen? ឣ The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and
‘Myn housbonde is so ful of jalousie
Tale
That but ye wayte wel and been privee, AO4: Understanding of the significance and influence of contexts
ឣ The Clerk’s Tale
I woot right wel I nam but deed’ quod she.
Chaucer is writing in the 14th century. The context in which you are reading ឣ The Merchant’s Tale
The Miller’s Tale, lines 3268–3296 The Miller’s Tale is the 21st century.
ឣ from The Canterbury Tales: verse
ឣ As a reader, would you agree that Chaucer’s comedy is universal, or do you translation by Neville Coghill
Alisoun’s other admirer is Absolon, the parish clerk, much the same age feel that too much of it depends on its period context?
as Nicholas, but a very different sort of lover. Poets writing about love (Penguin) or The Canterbury
ឣ As a reader, what makes Chaucer’s comedy accessible to you, and what Tales: prose translation by David
during the Middle Ages were influenced by the ideals of courtly love.
makes it inaccessible? Wright (Panther Books).
The literary convention of this kind of love is that the lady is seen as
the object of male worship, rather than of sexual desire, and the lover
presents himself as her servant. In this extract he tries to attract Alisoun
by dressing in his best clothes and singing romantic songs under her
window, completely unaware that she is in bed with Nicholas.

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