Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 747
Now seems the language heard of Love as rain
To make a mire where fruitfulness was meant.
The golden harp gives out a jangled strain,
Too like revolt from heaven’s Omnipotent.
In the first sonnet in his sequence, George Meredith takes the opportunity to introduce the prevailing theme of his work, namely the satirisation of courtly love. He uses juxtaposition of natural imagery—“mire where fruitfulness was meant”—and of music—“the golden harp lets out a jangling chord”—to achieve this.
In our old shipwrecked days there was an hour
When, in the firelight steadily aglow,
Joined slackly, we beheld the red chasm grow
Among the clicking coals. Our library-bower
That eve was left to us; and hushed we sat
As lovers to whom Time is whispering (Sonnet 16).
In this flashback to the honeymoon period of their relationship, Meredeth presents a picture that seems on the surface yet which, with the benefit of hindsight, seems doomed to fail. The fire dominates the setting and is at once symbolic of the firey nature of romantic passion, but it also has an ominous quality. The “fire light steadily aglow” suggests the eternal warmth and comfort of love, yet the “clicking coals" of the fire imitate a clock counting down the hours of their happiness, an idea that the poet reiterates explicitly with his comment on time’s “whispering.” The image of the “red chasm” moreover, though it has its literal reading in the fire, might in fact indicate the beginning of a rift between these two people.
Went the feast ever cheerfuller? She keeps
The Topic over intellectual deeps
In buoyancy afloat. They see no ghost.
With sparkling surface-eyes we ply the ball (Sonnet 17).
Meredith here reiterates the image of the “shipwreck” from the previous sonnet in his metaphor of his partner keeping the dinner conversation and the couple’s pleasing bourgeois image afloat above dangerous depths. The sense of superficiality, of the couple’s positive appearance being skin-deep is reiterated by a furthering of this nautical metaphor in “sparkling surface-eyes.”
And with that softest dream of blood she glows:
Mild as an evening heaven round Hesper bright!
I pluck the flower, and smell it, and revive
The time when in her eyes I stood alive.
I seem to look upon it out of Night.
Here's Madam, stepping hastily. Her whims
Bid her demand the flower, which I let drop.
As I proceed, I feel her sharply stop,
And crush it under heel with trembling limbs (Sonnet 45).
Here, the poet produces a powerful contrast between his mistress, “lady” and his wife, “madam.”
The mellow language with which he recalls his lover and the simile comparing her to “Heaven round Hesper bright!” in particular elevates her in accordance with the feminine ideals of Victorian romance. However the language he...
(The entire section contains 747 words.)
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