The Expression of Love In Victorian Age Poetry

Expressing Love Through Victorian Poetry

The Expression of Love in the Victorian Age

Love has always been a popular subject within literature.  To document one of the strongest of human emotions is almost deemed a necessity for an artist.  The medium of poetry has always been a popular means of expressing love for someone; thusly it was used for that purpose in The Victorian Age.  Victorian poets used an assortment of techniques and styles to express love through their poetry.  Many used pure originality in their narrations depicting love.

            Dante Gabriel Rossetti expressed love in his poem “The Blessed Damozel.”  Instead of expressing love in a traditional way, he created a narrative in which a woman who has died, longs for her lover in heaven.  This shows how deep Dante Gabriel Rossetti viewed the power of love.  A woman had died and gone to paradise, yet she can’t allow herself to enter the kingdom of heaven unless her husband was with her.  Upon originally entering the kingdom of God, she sits and waits for him, looking down at earth “The blessed damozel leaned out from the gold bar of heaven. (Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1443  lines 1-2)” The woman is more concerned for her husband than she is God. 


“The Blessed Damozel” also depicts the fact that Rossetti views love as something immortal.  The fact that the woman is still concerned for her lover after death, displays the ideology that love is infinite.  She is not happy while she is dead, because she is separated from the love of her life (even though she’s in heaven).  Her extensive sadness is illuminated through the fact that she is crying in heaven (“And laid her face between her hands, and wept. (I heard her tears.)(1447 lines 143-144)). What also displays the bond of love, is that her lover that she is missing while in heaven can hear her tears while he is alive on earth.  This exemplifies Rossetti’s view of an eternal love, not even hindered by the drastic powers of death.

  The love exemplified in the piece is a Victorian love, one that is elegant and extremely important, so much so that the woman is putting God on hold for her humanist affairs.  The love reigns high and she needs ‘her man’ with her before she can enter eternal piece inside of heaven.  This lightly touches on the woman question, and shows the woman’s complete devotion towards her husband.  It also displays the importance the wife has on her husband, almost to a mutual degree (however the poem focuses moreso on the woman’s depression in heaven).

Christina Rossetti (the sister of Dante Gabriel Rossetti) also wrote frequently about the subject of love within her poetry.  In her personal life, she had been engaged twice, yet decided against marrying each person due to religious reasons (Greenblatt 1460).  Through her poetry, she displays how she longed for love.  In her poem “After Death”, Christina Rossetti expresses how she loved someone who did not return love to her while she was alive.  She also expresses a sense of love for him even though she is dead when she states: “and very sweet it is to know he still is warm tho’ I am cold.” (Christina Rossetti 1461 lines 13-14).  The fact that she is happy that he is still alive while she is trapped in her lifeless body shows Rossetti’s depiction of a strong love.  She is thankful that the person she was in love with (who did not love her while living (11)) was alive, even though she was alive no longer.  This sense of being happy for someone else, though her life is completely gone, shows Rossetti’s view of the strength love can obtain.  The fact that this could also exist through a love that is not mutual, but completely one sided is also insight into the wild forms that love can take.  The fact that she would rather the person she loves be alive than herself (even though he does not love her) may be viewed as insane, yet the speaker in Rossetti’s story has gotten this way due to the power emanating from her love.

Within the poem “An Apple-Gathering”, Christina Rossetti also expresses her longing for love and its importance.  In the poem, the speaker becomes jealous when she sees her neighbors have grown apples and she is left with none, because she had picked the apple blossoms (Christina Rossetti 1464).  She becomes even more jealous due to the fact that she notices the fact that men are starting notice girls who have apples (“Plump Gertrude passed me with her basket full, a stronger hand than hers helped it along. (1464 lines 13-14).  She notices that a boy is helping Gertrude carry her basket of apples, and she also seemingly puts down Gertrude due to her weight, by calling her plump.  This is obviously due to jealousy, and how she yearns for love.  The value of love is expressed in the poem when the speaker states “I counted rosiest apples on earth of far less worth than love” (1464 lines 19-20).  Even though she is down about the apples, she views love as what is most important overall.  Love is the meaning to everything, the apples in particular are not what’s important.

Christina Rossetti defied what seemed typical for a Victorian woman, and stood up for herself in the wake of her engagements.  “An Apple-Gathering” exemplifies this independence when she doesn’t follow the same course of path as the other people who grew apples and reaps the sorrow of lack of love due to her actions.  This relates back to her own life, and how she ended up breaking up with her fiancé’s because of her strong religious conviction.  Normally a Victorian woman would have settled on the beliefs of her husband and submitted to what he wanted, however Rossetti stood up for her beliefs and integrity and walked alone because of her decisions.  (Greenblatt 1460)

Victorian 1

While the examples listed have displayed a sense of straightforward romanticism during the Victorian Age, Robert Browning expresses love through a psychologically twisted viewpoint in “Porphyria’s Lover”, showing just how strong of an impact love can have on someone, making them go insane.  In the poem, the speaker is so captivated by his lover, that he kills her so as to cement the feeling he had forever (Browning 1252-1253).  His insanity made him want to hold onto the feeling he had in somewhat of a time capsule created by winding her own hair around her throat and strangling her.  The speaker is not angry with the woman, in fact, he feels the opposite: “Be sure I looked up at her eyes happy and proud.” (1252 lines 31-32). 

Though there are many different directions one can take on why the speaker murdered his lover, one can infer based on the statement “Made my heart swell and still it grew while I debated what to do.” (1252 lines 34-35) that his love grew so immense that he went insane.  This shows Browning’s wild vision on what the power of love can cause someone to do.  Browning’s expression of love being something so powerful that it can cause someone to snap and loose sense of all normalcy and reality, portrays just how magnificent he views love to be.  It can cause someone to do something absolutely insane, and not even regret doing something monstrous because of it:“And yet God has not said a word” (1253 line 60).  The speaker in the poem is stating that it must be ok, because God has not yet punished him shortly after he committed the murder.  Browning views that love has the power to make someone disillusioned with all practicality in normal life.  Simply put, Browning believes that love can drive people crazy.

The loss of love has always been a popular subject in poetry.  Some argue that you never fully appreciate what you have until it’s gone.  In Matthew Arnold’s poem “Isolation. To Marguerite” he expresses his damaged heart caused by the distancing and eventual fade of love that someone had for him.  Arnold expresses how he believes that she no longer loves him, when he states “Thou lov’st no more- Farewell! Farewell!” (Arnold 1354 line 12). 

At the beginning of the poem Arnold gives history into the story, how they were originally distanced yet he wished himself to only love her (“I bade it keep the world away, and grow a home for only thee.” (1354 lines 3-4)).  This love turned out to fade slowly amongst both of them due to the distance (“The heart can bind itself alone” (1354 line 9)) highlighting the contrast between what he hoped to happen (stay together) and what actually happened (fell apart).   He goes on explaining his loneliness and heartache due to the events that happened, displaying Arnold’s raw sense of honesty, expressing his sorrows of a failed love that he wanted to badly to withstand the separation.

Love was expressed in a variety of ways throughout the Victorian Age, yet the popularity of the concept of love relays its importance in human life.  It is a key subject, covered and expressed differently (and similarly) amongst each poet.  Whether it is through a true account (such as Arnold’s case in “Isolation. To Marguerite”, or the fictional account of love driving someone crazy (such as Browning’s “Porphyria’s Lover”), the true voice and impact that love has had on the poet seeps through each verse.  




Work Cited

Rossetti, Dante Gabriel. "The Blessed Damozel." The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The                                                                                             Victorian Age. Comp. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.,                    2005. 1443-47. Print


Greenblatt, Stephen. "Christina Rossetti 1830-1894." The Norton Anthology of English      Literature: The             Victorian Age. Comp. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W.           Norton & Company, Inc., 2005. 1459-60. Print.


Rossetti, Christina. "After Death." The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Victorian                   Age. Comp.             Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2005.      1461. Print.


Rossetti, Christina. "An Apple-Gathering.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The         Victorian Age. Comp. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton & Company,             Inc., 2005. 1464. Print.


Browning, Robert. "Porphyria's Lover." The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Victorian Age. Comp. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.,    2005. 1252-53. Print.

Arnold, Matthew. "Isolation. To Marguerite." The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The     Victorian Age. Comp. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.,     2005. 1354-55Print.