The Love Poems of Rich, Marvell and Campion

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The Love Poems of Rich, Marvell and Campion

Adrienne Rich’s “Twenty-One Love Poems,” which explore the nature of lesbian love, differ strikingly from classic love poems written by a man to a woman, such as Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” and Thomas Campion’s “There Is a Garden in Her Face.” Rich’s poems focus on the “us” aspect of love, the concept of two strong, yet imperfect women facing all oppositions together, while the love poems written by men are far more reverent, almost worshipful of their subjects. The lesbian poems have a sense of love being “real”, a connection based on far more than physical attraction, whereas the men’s poems focus on an idealized view of the woman: beautiful, pure, distant. The women in Marvell and Campion’s poems are lovely façades, storybook figures without any real depth or imperfections. Perhaps the lesbian love poems could be seen as less eloquent, or less flawlessly romantic, but the romance in them is found in the genuine nature of the love. Rich is doubtlessly writing about experiences she has had, real people she has loved, whereas Marvell and Campion could ostensibly be writing about any beautiful, but otheriwse characterless, woman that they’ve seen.

The stress that Rich places on the two members of the couple as equals is a striking contrast to Marvell’s and Campion’s poems, in which the female subject is placed on a pedestal and kept at a distance. There is little sense of a real-life relationship between the man and the woman. The men’s poems are mere descriptions of the woman and their love for her, with little discussion of how they interact, or how they may feel about her personality. Rich, however, creates an atmosphere of “us against the world”, writing “I touch you knowing we weren’t born tomorrow, / and somehow, each of us will help the other live, / and somewhere, each of us must help the other die” (Rich 237). Certainly, this discrepancy is at least partially a product of the different eras in which the poems were written; Campion and Marvell were writing in the 16th and 17th centuries, respectively, while Rich’s “Twenty-One Love Poems” was written in the mid-1970’s. Victorian and Elizabethan culture dictated that the woman be far more removed from the often vile realities of life – revered, but not seen as an equal partner in a relationship. Sexuality would not have been a topic to be openly discussed.
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