What are the themes of Aphra Behn's "On Her Loving Two Equally" and Charlotte Smith's "At the Close of Spring," and how do they compare?    

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The theme of Aphra Behn's lyric poem in three stanzas may be expressed as the fervent passion of the spring of youth that yearns for more than one youth may bear. The lyric speaks of how the female poetic persona cannot choose between Damon and Alexis. She says that Alexis spoke out for Damon and helped Damon win her heart. But havoc was wrought when Damon spoke in gratitude of Alexis and thus helped Alexis gain her heart. This is a conundrum of Cupid's arrows! At the end of the lyric, the persona cries out to Cupid, "the mighty winged god," to take back one of his arrows, then frets over which one:

One golden-pointed dart take back:
       But which, O Cupid, wilt thou take?
       If Damon's, all my hopes are crossed;
       Or that of my Alexis, I am lost.

The theme of Charlotte Smith's fourteen line English sonnet with ending couplet may be expressed as a lament for the loss of youth and youth's potential through the Romantic period emblem of Spring. The female poetic persona speaks of the fading of flowers of spring as spring fades to the next season. She laments that "no more shall" blossoms of spring be seen until the next spring comes again and calls "forth every bell" once more. Her final lament is for humanity that is frail like the flowers and thus past its metaphorical spring (youth) so soon. She bemoans that there is no second chance at the happiness of spring for humanity. The really interesting point is that she suggests that early and poorly chosen marriage is the cause of lost opportunity, lost dreams, lost hopes, and lost joy:

Ah, poor humanity! so frail, so fair,    
 And the fond visions of thy early day,            10
Till tyrant passion and corrosive care    
 Bid all thy fairy colours flee away!    

Another May new birds and flowers shall bring;    
Ah! why has happiness no second spring?

When compared, it is pretty clear to see that the two themes speak of opposites: one regales love and youth's spring, the other laments the loss of youth's spring and blames it on love ("tyrant passion ... / Bid all thy fairy colours flee ..."). The comparison is more interesting because Behn's poetic persona is in the very condition that Smith's laments the loss of and blames for distress and "corrosive care."