Compare and contrast the two poems "To be in Love" by Gwendolyn Brooks and "Love song: I and Thou" by Alan Dugan.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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  • While the two poems are similar in their themes of the precariousness of love, they certainly differ in their presentation of theme. Indeed, there is a marked difference in the tone of each poem. For instance, in "To Be in Love," the tone is romantic-- 

To be in love
Is to touch with a lighter hand....
You look at things
Through his eyes--

and hopeful in the woman's anxiety,

His hand to take your hand is overmuch....
You cannot look in his eye
Because your pulse must not say

  • On the other hand, the tone of "Love Song: I and Thou" is caustic and relentless in its self-criticism, with no mention of the woman until the end of the poem. the speaker curses and compares his nails to "maggots." His home is built by himself:

             ....I built
the roof for myself, the walls
      for myself, the floors
for myself.....

  • There is a self-absorption in Dugan's poem--"This is hell,/ but I planned it"-- in contrast to the "you" of Brooks's poem who sees herself through the lover's eyes: "You look at things/Through his eyes." Of course, the speaker is removed from Brooks's poem while the speaker is very much at the front of Dugan's poem. Nevertheless. there is the expression of uncertainty in both poems. For, the "you" feels a "ghastly freedom"; she is the "beautiful half/Of a golden hurt." 
  • In both poems, there is the use of imagery and metaphor; for instance, Brooks writes, "You are the beautiful half/Of a golden hurt,"and Dugan writes, "I danced with a purple thumb....Oh I spat rage's nails." In style, however, Dugan's poem is much more direct than is Brooks'.
  • In structure, "To Be in Love" is more like a traditional poem with balanced lines and thoughts and capitalized beginnings. There is no enjambment of lines as in Dugan's poem; however, both are free verse. Brooks's poem ends with a conclusive thought that she wishes for a more reliable world whereas Dugan's verse introduces a new idea as for the first time, the speaker mentions, let alone, addresses his wife.
  • There is a direct style in both poems, although in Dugan's poem the speaker indicates a self-absorption while Brooks, although direct, has her speaker reflect upon someone else.
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