Exceptional Student Samples
In response to "When my Love Swears She is Made of Truth:"
Insecurities between lovers and the role of truth in romance are concerns that have plagued mankind for centuries. With wryness and perhaps even some self-satirizing, Shakespeare takes these issues head-on in “Sonnet 138: When my love swears that she is made of truth”. In this brief poem, The Bard gives you an unfiltered glimpse of his inner dialogue as he grapples with his romantic relationship with an unnamed woman.
“When my love swears that she is made of truth, / I do believe her, though I know she lies,” (Shakespeare lines 1-2). Shakespeare voices his concern that his lover attempts to deceive him. It is apparent to him that she is not honest, contrary to her claims. He is not so naive as to not understand the ways of the world. And yet, fascinatingly, her lies become a form of flattery to him. “Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young, /Although she knows my days are past the best,” (Shakespeare lines 5-6). The poet allows you to glimpse the sequence of his inner thoughts: she thinks me naive; I was naive as a youth; oh! she thinks me youthful. Deceit is typically detrimental to relationships. However, in Shakespeare's case, his lover’s dishonesty matches his insecurity about growing old. In the ultimate plot twist, he delights in her flaws.
While acknowledging that this relationship is a fundamentally flawed one, the Bard gains a sense of peace about the state the relationship. “Therefore I lie with her and she with me,/And in our faults by lies we flattered be.” (Shakespeare lines 13-14). His use of the word “lie” is fascinating because of its double meaning. Previously in the poem, Shakespeare utilized “lie” to be understood as “not-truth”. But in line 13, "lie" can also be understood as “to lie with a person”. Both meanings accomplish the poet's intent; it is a masterclass showcase in diction.
The brutal honesty of the poem’s writer draws in the audience. You cannot help but to empathize with the poet because he is able to vocalize this inner anguish in a far more sincere and eloquent way than any other person could. The reader is left nodding in agreement, and delighting in the beauty of the poem in the same instant; that is the brilliance of great poetry.
In response to "Ode on a Grecian Urn:"
A Frozen Forever
Our history is evident in our writing and in our art, recorded only for the purpose of being remembered, and without a storyteller to convey the passion with which history was made it is left to the interpretation of the beholder. The vase described in “Ode on a Grecian Urn” lets us see its stories, and Keats’ description of it leaves us to wonder at what it’s really trying to say. Our curiosity peaks at the unknown, who are these strangers on the vase and what are they doing?
We see there is a lover's affair on one side with music we assume is sweet for it is silent to our ear. A beautiful girl sits beneath trees with leaves that will never fall and listens to the song that will never end and awaits her lover who she “never, never canst thou kiss” (Keats line 17). The scene is stuck, frozen in time, and will never come to a conclusion. Keats marvels at the idea of an eternal happiness with the one you love, but I wonder if a happy life with no end is more desirable than an ending that is happy. Most would see an eternally joyful life as a sort of paradise, or even heaven, but would that still hold true if that eternity was frozen?
I believe it would be a pained and torturous joy if one could see and be so close to their lover but never touch, share a kiss, or whisper words of endearment. The love and adoration would be there, in that moment, but could never be expressed or grow to its full potential. But perhaps that is the beauty of a frozen forever, the love and lovers will never flourish but at the same time “she cannot fade.../forever wilt thou love” (lines 19-20). Their love is enviable yet pitiful, everlasting yet forever stunted.
While Keats longed for a life like that I think the idea of eternity is much more desirable than the reality. To yearn for eternal youth is selfish in itself and to obtain it requires sacrificing your fate, leaving behind the question of what could have been to plague your thoughts forever. I do not envy the lovers. Given the proposition of living a full life or living life to its fullest I would choose the latter.