How does John Clare effectively use imagery to express the emotions of the speaker in "First Love"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the poem “First Love” by John Clare, the speaker describes his first love and the emotions she evokes in him. Clare uses imagery effectively to express the speaker’s emotions. We learn in the first two lines that the speaker experiences love at first sight when he says that the love is “so sudden and so sweet.”

The subject of the poem, this beloved person, steals his heart away completely. The poet compares her to a sweet flower. Seeing her, he goes weak in the knees. He says,

My face turned pale as deadly pale,
My legs refused to walk away...

Then, “The trees and bushes round the place seemed midnight at noonday.” He creates the imagery of nature and plants being out of their proper time sequence. In other words, it seems like midnight, even though it is the middle of the day. Everything is topsy-turvy for the speaker. His love for the object of his affection blocks out all his other thoughts, thereby making his life chaotic, in an exhilarating way.

The aspect of exhilaration is furthered when he says that his blood rushes to his face and takes his eyesight away. This is analogous to being breathless with love—many people may tell their love, "you take my breath away." Then he again reiterates that he "could not see a single thing.”

He cannot see anything but his love, and he uses his eyes to communicate with her. Words come from his eyes, as he silently speaks to her and tells her of his love. In other words, he looks at her so lovingly that his eyes essentially tell her how he feels. The words from his eyes “spoke as chords do from the string.” This is very lyrical way to say that the look he gives her conveys his love and therefore is almost like music. The “blood burnt round [his] heart,” which implies that his pulse quickens.

In the second stanza, he mixes up time sequences—specifically midnight and midday, as noted. In the third stanza, he mixes seasons when he asks if “flowers [are] the winter’s choice." The reader knows that flowers generally do not blossom during the winter, but this continues the theme of the poet's life being topsy-turvy because of his deep feelings for his first love.

When he says, “She seemed to hear my silent voice,” he is again communicating with her silently with his eyes. His “heart has left its dwelling-place and can return no more.” He has given her his heart, and it will never be free for him to give to another.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team