The Development of Woman and Love Theme From the Medieval to the Romanticism Era

Woman and love have always been ones of the most favorite subjects for writing poems. These two themes started to be largely used by poets in the middle age era either for pure-love, politics, or any other purposes. Around 1800 to 1850, the era that has entered the late modern time of the English language, they were the main themes for many literary works and used as the tools for artistic, literary, and intellectual movements. The enormous usage of intense emotion as an authentic source of aesthetic experience, just like woman and love themes at that time gave the era such related name; the romanticism era. The question is, then, how do poems about woman and love differ and develop from the middle age to the romanticism era? To answer this question, we must consider the fact that the English language went through huge changes for hundreds of years before it became the English that we use now.  

Here I will analyze two poems that both talk about a man’s admiration and love for a woman. One is Merciles Beaute written by Geoffrey Chaucer, from the middle age era; the medieval era, and another one is Annabel Lee written by Edgar Alan Poe, from the late modern era; the romanticism era. The first discussion of this essay is the working through of Chaucer’s poem while Poe’s comes second.

Merciles Beaute talks about a woman and Chaucer as her big admirer. This poem originally consists of nine stanzas with different sum of lines each. Chaucer expresses how enormous his love was and praises his woman for her uncontainable beauty. However, the woman rejects him and makes him feel broken hearted, just like what she always does to every men. After his heart was torn into pieces, he gets himself free from loving the woman, then moved on. Different with Merciles Beaute, Annabel Lee that consists of five stanzas had a different conflict in the plot, although both share the same ironies; loosing love and getting heart broken. Poe was not rejected by his woman, instead he was loved as big as he loved. He and his woman had a great time loving each other. Tragically, the woman died while the two were madly in love, which left Poe in a deep desperation for everything reminded him of her. 

After reading and examining Merciles Beaute carefully, I found out that its theme is about love. Love theme was often used by Chaucer for writing poems, just like in his other poems titled ‘Balade to Rosemounde’ and ‘Truth’. Merciles Beaute can be grouped into three parts of story and each talks thoroughly about Chaucer’s intentions and feelings for the woman whose name is not mentioned. The first part (line 1-13) expresses the desire, admiration, and love that Chaucer has for a beautiful woman. Her physical appearance is so gorgeous that makes every men, included Chaucer, kneel down. It is described that she has tempting eyes and that she has become the reason for Chaucer to live and die. Her words calm him down and cure his wound, proved by the line “And but your word wol helen hastily. My hertes wounde, whyl that hit is grene”

Then, the second part (line 14-26) talks about Chaucer’s broken and disappointed heart. He is rejected by the woman he have been admiring crazily for her beauty. The woman is described as an arrogant woman for she realized that she was beautiful. She refuses Chaucer because, probably, he is not suitable enough for her. Chaucer, then, severely warn all men, who love her just like himself and want to win her, that no matter how hard they try to attain the woman’s caring heart, they will never make it. Her arrogance and high taste of men will just leave them in pain.
Lastly, the third part (line 27-39) gives us the information that Chaucer had moved on. From the line “For ever-mo; ther is non other mene. Sin I fro Love escaped am so fat, I never thenk to ben in his prison lene”, Chaucer finally reveals that he has had his heart free from loving her angel-like woman and made up his mind not to get trapped in a jail called love anymore.

The important words in Merciles Beaute are Merciles, Beaute, and Love. According to the Cambridge dictionary, ‘Merciles’ (‘merciless’ in the modern English) means having or showing no mercy. Chaucer chooses this word as the title to emphasize the woman’s uncontainable beauty that made every men beg to have her heart. ‘Beaute’ (‘beauty’ in the modern English) means the quality of being pleasing, especially to look at, or someone or something that gives great pleasure, especially by being looked at. Meanwhile, ‘Love’ means to like another adult very much and be romantically and sexually attracted to them. These three words are the words originally from the middle age era. ‘Merciles’ and ‘Beaute’ went through changes in spelling, but ‘Love’ stayed still without any changes either in spelling or pronunciation.  

Mercile Beaute must be inspired by Chaucer’s experience in the real life. Just like the culture of men in the medieval era, they easily loved a woman by her physical beauty, even if they have only met her once. They would fight and entrust their lives to win the woman although they had not yet got the chance to know her better. It was a kind of men’s way of seeing women in that era. By looking into this phenomena, we can see that it is clearly depicted in this poem that Chaucer was one of those men. However in the end, he gave up loving the woman, and probably moved on to loving another one. 

While Mercile Beaute is from the medieval era, Annabel Lee is a poem, whose theme is woman, love, and death, from the romanticism era in the late modern period. Annabel Lee tells about a man, who is probably Poe as the writer, who falls in love with a woman. The woman loves him too, which makes the poem a perfect love story. Poe describes her as a beautiful maiden whose name is Annabel Lee. However, she dies and makes Poe fallen into pieces. The sentence ‘A wind blew out of a cloud, chillingbeckons the situation of the mourning day when the woman died. It can be understood that the woman died and left Poe broken. In the fourth and fifth stanza, Poe cheers himself up. He imagines as if Annabel Lee is still by his side, with the same love, making everyone jealous of their really powerful love. Although one of them is not around anymore, another one is to stick around as if they are still together. Poe emphasizes that their love is bigger and larger than the love that anyone else has. He also accuses that the reason why Annabel Lee dies is because the angels above are jealous with them; so that those angels take the woman to heaven to make them apart. Finally, he accepts the reality that Annabel Lee has died. In the sentence ‘And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side of my darling- my darling- my life and my bride’ beckons that Poe often comes to Annabel Lee’s grave. 

The important words in Annabel Lee are maiden, seraphs, and sepulcher. According to the Cambridge dictionary, the word ‘maiden’ means a girl or young woman, who, in the poem, is Annabel Lee. Then ‘seraphs’ means the angel of the highest rank. In the poem, seraphs are jealous of the love that Poe and Annabel Lee have. Oh my, how big is their love so that they can make seraphs jealous? The word ‘sepulcher’ means a stone structure where someone is buried which symbolizes the death of Annabel Lee, and the grieves of Poe. These words are the English words from the late modern era. These words are similar with the English we use now, although in the fact, three of them are not particularly often used.

The woman, Annabel Lee, is said to be Poe’s wife in the real life, whom he loved very much and who loved him as well. His wife died and left Poe in a deep grieve. This tragic personal experience must be the thing that inspired Poe to write this poem. Every words in it are probably the expressions of Poe’s true feelings toward his deceased wife. As what we know, Edgar Allan Poe is the first poet that introduced dark romanticism, and Annabel Lee is one of them. This poem talks about love and romantic actions towards the loved one, however, it also talks about death and terrible things about cemetery. Poe gives the poem an atmosphere of sweet love but also with the horror feeling of death.

After analyzing and interpreting Merciful Beaute and Annabel Lee, I can conclude that woman and love theme particularly developed from the middle to the late modern period. The developments are both reviewed from its language and its genre. The language used in the Merciful Beaute is the English originally from the middle age period signed with the words that probably we recognize but spelled or pronounced differently. In contrast, we recognize the words in Annabel Lee very well for it was written in the same period with the English language we use now. Reviewed from the genre, Annabel Lee brings a new genre with the name of dark romanticism. We see that both poems tell about losing love, although in a total different way, but give different atmospheres. Annabel Lee brings more grieve, sadness, and depression than Merciful Beaute that puts a happy story in its ending by moving on from love. Having the same themes does not mean two poems have the same atmosphere and language style – just like these two poems from two different periods of time I just discussed in this limited three-page historical essay.