The Speaker's Role in Three Poems by Howard, Wyatt, and Raleigh Essay

The Speaker's Role in Three Poems by Howard, Wyatt, and Raleigh Essay

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The Speaker's Role in Three Poems by Howard, Wyatt, and Raleigh


The speakers in "Farewell, False Love," by Sir Walter Raleigh and "My Lute, Awake!" by Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder have similar motivations, although the poems have differing constructs. Each speaker seeks to unleash his venomous emotions at a woman who has scorned him, by humiliating her through complicated revenge fantasies and savage metaphors. Through this invective, he hopes to convince us of this woman's inward ugliness. Raleigh catalogues a long list of conceits for his false love: she is every horrid thing from a "siren song" to "an idle boy that sleeps in pleasure's lap".

The overtone of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey's "Alas! So All Things Now Do Hold Their Peace!" bears more similarity to that of a soliloquy of lamentation than a libellous study. The speaker seems more preoccupied with his own woe than with shaming his absent love before us, his audience, of whom he seems only peripherally aware. He does not berate the object of his affections for not requiting his love, only regrets that she cannot be with him, drawing a contrast between his heavy inward emotional swings and the peaceful night which outwardly surrounds him.

Several centuries after these poets lived, John Stuart Mill would write an essay called "What is Poetry?" that codified a distinction between what he called "poetry" and "eloquence". He writes:

. . . when he [the poet] turns round, and addresses himself to another person; when the act of utterance is not itself the end, but a means to an end -- viz., by the feelings he himself expresses, to work upon the feelings, or upon the belief or the will of another; when the expression of his emotions, or of his thoughts tinged ...


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...women whom supposedly seduced them in their youthful naivete. The narrator of "My Lute, Awake!" takes a distinct pleasure in conjuring up a future where his lover, not he, lies "Plaining in vain unto the moon." Raleigh's vehement yet affected language are entirely out of keeping with the innocent-schoolboy image of himself he would have us believe. Surrey's speaker does not need to protest that he was beguiled, nor make any excuse for his misplaced emotion, because he is not aware of our listening, and therefore can feel no embarrassment at our knowing he was rejected.

These three poems, then, are written in the voice of the spurned lover. In two of them, this lover is cognizant of our presence and seeks to impress us with his impassivity; but in the third, he pours out his sorrow and minds not whether we think the less of him for his poor choice of women.

 

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