Sir Thomas Wyatt’s poem beginning “The long love” and Henry Howard’s poem beginning “Love, that doth reign” are highly similar, mainly because both translate poem 140 from the Rima sparse (“scattered rhymes”) sonnets by the Italian poet Francesco Petrarca (known in English as “Petrarch”). Nevertheless, despite all their similarities, the two poems also reflect the distinctive styles of their respective authors.
The basic “plots” of the two poems are the same: Love (that is, Cupid, the god associated in the Renaissance with selfish physical desire) has taken over the speaker’s heart, where he now lives and reigns. Cupid is compared to a great general who sometimes sets up his banner in the speaker’s forehead – a metaphorical way of saying that selfish yearning causes the speaker to blush. Like many Petrarchan lovers, the speaker in this poem blames his sufferings on the woman he desires. The woman encourages the speaker to control his desire by reminding himself to be reasonable, to consider the shame he should feel about his desires, and to revere God. In the meantime, she is angry about his obsession with her. In fact, her anger terrifies Cupid, who quickly retreats like a coward. At the conclusion of the poem, the speaker proclaims that he, nevertheless, will be loyal to his lord – a ironic conclusion since loyalty to Cupid means disloyalty to God.
Wyatt’s poem resembles Howard’s in a variety of ways, including the following:
- Both poems depict the speaker as subservient to Cupid, the god of false love, instead of being loyal to the Christian God, the god of true love.
- Both speakers ironically accuse the woman of causing their suffering, when in fact ithe men themselves are responsible for any pain their selfish desires provoke.
- Both poems imply that the virtuous woman is far more powerful than Cupid; her mere displeasure terrifies him and quickly sends him scurrying off the field.
- Both poems end on highly ironic notes in which the speakers proclaim their continued faithfulness to Cupid. Wyatt’s poem, for instance, ends by proclaiming,
. . . good is the life ending faithfully.
Similarly, Howard’s poem ends by asserting,
Sweet is the death that taketh end by love.
Both assertions would be true if such faithfulness and love were proper faith and proper love (directed toward God, not Cupid). As it is, however, both lines bring their poems to strongly ironic conclusions, for if Cupid is a coward, the speaker who remains loyal to him is a fool.
Nevertheless, differences between the two poems definitely exist. Howard, for instance, is usually said to write in a smoother, more predictably iambic meter than Wyatt does, and this difference in the poets’ styles can be seen, for example, in line 3 of each poem. Wyatt’s third line scans as follows (with accented syllables indicated by boldface type):
Into my face presseth with bold pretense (or possibly even “pretense”)
In contrast, Howard’s phrasing is much more regularly iambic, in which the even syllables are stressed:
Oft in my face he doth his banner rest.
The rhyme schemes of the two poems differ considerably. Interestingly enough, neither English poet follows the Petrarchan rhyme scheme for a sonnet's first eight lines: abbaabba. Yet the two poems have far more similarities than differences, mainly because they are both imitate the meaning of the same Petrarchan model.
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