The Poem

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Book 1. The speaker, prepared to sing of heroic deeds, arms, and war, is struck by Cupid’s arrow. He turns to the poetry of love. The speaker tosses sleepless at night, enthralled by love and suffering. He prays that the lady will favor him; he in return will immortalize her in verse. A monologue addressed to the lady explains how at a party she can dupe her husband and send signals to the speaker.

The first assignation of the lovers, on a sultry summer afternoon, takes place. There follows a sorrowful complaint as the speaker spends a long solitary night outside the locked door of Corinna’s house. Next he feels guilt and remorse for a moment of anger in which he dishevels her hair. He overhears a conversation between Corinna and Dipsas, a bawdy old hag who gives the lady cynical advice on milking her lovers of gold and gifts. The speaker scolds his lady for her cupidity and tries to persuade her that love can only be given, never sold. He sends a letter to her, in hopes of a meeting, and feels despair when it is returned with a refusal.

Next, the lovers spend a night together, and the speaker complains of the inexorable coming of day, when they will have to part. A crisis happens: From too-frequent applications of the curling iron, Corinna’s hair falls out. The poet chides and commiserates with her.

Book 2. Opening with a stout denial that he will be a better poet if he tries more serious subjects, the speaker harangues Corinna’s guard about how easy and profitable he might find it to smuggle the speaker past the door and into her house. A similar plea is made to her eunuch. The speaker boasts about his ability to love any woman in town; but as if for punishment, the next poem relates his agonies when he suspects a rival.

Accused of dallying with Corinna’s slave girl, the speaker denies the charge vehemently, with injured dignity, and in the next poem chides the slave for having blushed at the accusation, proving it true. A general complaint to Cupid comes next, on the theme that love is hell but heaven too. The lover boasts to a friend of his great capacity for lovemaking; he hopes he might die in bed.

When Corinna goes on a voyage, the lover bemoans their separation, charges the seas to be calm, the winds favorable, the trip safe and short. The lover then...

(The entire section is 960 words.)