AQA Exemplar Answer-Compare how poets present ideas about romantic love in ‘Sonnet XXIX’ and  in one other poem from ‘Love and Relationships’

In ‘Sonnet 29’ by Elizabeth Barratt-Browning and ‘When we two Parted’ by Lord Byron romantic love is presented as an intense emotion which is keenly felt by both poets; Browning’s love is presented as positive whereas Byron’s love brings him only pain and regret.

Form-To begin with, both poets use form to present the intense emotions of their romantic love. In Sonnet 29, Browning uses the sonnet form, a form conventionally used for love poetry, to convey her overwhelming love for her fiancé. The poem follows the conventions of the Petrarchan sonnet form with its rhyme scheme and mostly iambic pentametre rhythm. However, there are moments in the poem when Browning breaks the rhythm for effect. When Browning’s thoughts, symbolised as vines wrapping themselves round the ‘tree’ of her beloved, threaten to cover up and even ‘hide’ her fiancee, Browning uses three stressed syllables ‘out broad leaves’. Perhaps, by breaking the poem’s metrical pattern, Browning is highlighting the overwhelming passion of her love through breaking the sonnet’s metre, her love, like the rhythm cannot be constrained any longer. A further interpretation could be that Browning’s portrayal of her feelings needed to break through repressed Victorian etiquette, especially the restraints placed on Victorian women.

Similarly, in ‘When we two parted’ Byron breaks conventions in his choice of form. ‘When we two parted’ is comprised of four octave stanzas and has the rhythm of accentual verse, where each line contains two stressed syllables and the number of unstressed syllables varies per line. In line five, Byron breaks the rhythm of his poem for effect ‘pale grew thy cheek and cold’. He does this using three stresses: ‘pale’, ‘cheek’ and ‘cold’. This describes the moment in the poem when Byron is rejected by his lover and his heart literally ‘breaks’. Perhaps, Byron broke the rhythm to emphasise his pain or, possibly, to emphasise his ‘broken’ future too: a future without his beloved.


Furthermore, both poets use language to express their intense romantic feelings. In ‘Sonnet 29’, Browning uses an extended metaphor to portray her romantic love. Her fiancé is the tree and her thoughts are the ‘wild vine’ wrapping herself around the ‘tree’ ‘my thoughts do twine and bud’. Perhaps, Browning’s use of Biblically tinged imagery, of the tree and the vine, deliberately creates a reverential tone that mirrors the sacredness of her love. Browning’s imagery of the ‘wild vine’ that calls on her fiancee to ‘rustle thy boughs and set thy trunk all bare’ also has sexual undertones and this alludes to the sexual undertones of the Biblical love story, the Song of Songs, where ‘the vine had budded’.

By way of contrast, Byron uses sensory imagery to describe his ‘secret’ love for a married woman. From sound imagery which describes his breaking heart ‘a knell in my ear’ which makes the poet sibilantly ‘shudder’, to the touch of ‘the dew of the morning/sunk chill on my brow’ and her cold kiss ‘colder thy kiss’ Byron evokes the senses in regard to his lover. Perhaps, Byron’s focus on the sensory nature of his romantic love deliberately highlighted the sexual nature of his love. This contrasts with Browning’s reverential and almost Biblical musings about her beloved, a marriage to be blessed by god, rather than Byron’s secret affair with a married woman ‘your vows are broken’.


In addition, both poets also use structure to present their messages about the intensity of their romantic love and its effect, either positive or negative, upon them. ‘Sonnet 29’ begins with the declaration ‘I think of thee!’ this summarises the whole poem: it is about Browning’s obsessive thoughts about her beloved. The sonnet’s sestet describes Browning’s intense thoughts which cover her fiancee ‘and soon there’s nought to see’. On line 7, the sonnet’s volta line unconventionally appears; it is Browning’s enjambed cry of desire for his real presence ‘Rather, instantly/Renew thy presence’. Possibly Browning breaks the Petrarchan volta convention here because she is still unmarried and her poem is so passionate. In the volta lines, Browning declares the solution to her obsessive thoughts: it is her fiancee’s physical presence, this will cure her lovesick heart (a further allusion to the love sick maiden in the Song of Songs). Browning uses cyclical repetition as the poem’s final line mirrors its first line ‘I do not think of thee-I am too near thee’. There is one difference, the fiancée is with her now, at least in spirit. Another interpretation could be that her fiancée could have entered the room and now be united with her.

By way of contrast in ‘When we two Parted’, Byron begins the poem with a very negative tone ‘When we two parted/in silence and tears’. He then recounts his heartbreak at the end of the love affair ‘sorrow to this’. For Byron, there is no resolution for his pain and regret ‘long, long shall I rue thee’. Byron’s repetition of the word ‘long’ possibly emphasises the enduring nature of his heartbreak, even ‘after long years’. Byron also ends his poem with cyclical repetition in ‘silence and tears’. Byron’s use of cyclical repetition emphasises the circular nature of his pain: his heart won’t heal and is ongoing. Byron’s pessimism about the failure of his romantic love contrasts with Browning’s intense optimism about her romantic love and impending marriage ‘in this deep joy to see and hear thee’.


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