Poetry and Melancholic Love – by India Roberts

by Feb 10, 2021Article, How to, India Roberts, Poetry, Writing0 comments

Picture by Rakicevic Nenad


Poetry and Melancholic Love by India Roberts


Love poems, the genre that can make hearts shake and coax tears from weary eyes. The classic, universal subject matter has been explored since language could be played with, and new generations bring new elements of romance, cynicism and naivety to the table. But how do poets turn their words about love into shadowed, sombre lamentations? In my exploration of three love poems, let’s discuss what makes them turn from gushingly sweet, to hauntingly melancholic.

 Love’s Philosophy, Percy Bysshe Shelley

 The most traditional of the poems with an AB rhyme scheme and two brief stanzas, Love’s Philosophy is hopelessly romantic and feels like desperation and slow, lilting beauty. The rhyme scheme is pivotal in creating the melodic rhythm. The poem, packed with natural imagery, compares love with nature, insinuating that the magnificence of nature is nothing without love. Only two lines out of sixteen reference love, and the subtlety and simplicity of this makes the two lines more impactful. Subtlety is frequent in this poem, with miniscule techniques meaning that love is apparent throughout. “And the sunlight clasps the earth / And the moonbeams kiss the sea”. The use of adoring language such as “kiss” and “clasp” with the personification of nature infuses romance into the poem. The grandeur of nature mentioned conveys the devotion behind the last question “What is all this sweet work worth / If thou kiss not me?” It isn’t until this point that the melancholia sets in and despair seeps through the paper into the reader’s thumbs as we realise that the love may be unrequited.

 I Have Gone Marking, Pablo Neruda

 Neruda is renowned for his bewitching love poems. Many are infused with lust and many are peppered with sadness and a morose undertone. I Have Gone Marking is a blend of everything Neruda is known for. It starts off romantically, with a basis of sensuality and imagery of bodies and fire. Doubt sets in in the second stanza as he references a “sad and gentle doll” that drives a wedge between the couple. The poem is laden with natural imagery and potent metaphors, and Neruda flip flops between images that are light and zesty, and ones that are heavy as stone. “Between the lips and the voice something goes dying.” This image introduces the beginning of stanza three when sadness begins to dominate the page. The feeling of words unable to break the barrier of lips is one everyone surely knows, and this feeling is further intensified by the parting line “my heart closes like a nocturnal flower.” The juxtaposition between the beginning foundation of lust and the stunted ending of the inability to communicate is bitter and leaves the reader with the feeling of a barren chest, especially as the use of second person narrative addresses it to the reader, immersing us in sorrow.  

 When a Boy Tells You He Loves You, Edwin Bodney

 The most contemporary poem is one I found on YouTube, and the spoken word element magnifies the melancholic effect of the harrowing words. Much like the other poems, When a Boy… starts with amorous imagery and metaphors that made me think of bright summer when fruit is sweet and fragrant. The metaphors that we think are enchanting ideals are then undermined by one single line “just distant”, that makes us think of the ‘boy’ as someone fickle and ingenuine. Sly, enigmatic metaphors continue until Bodney strays from metaphoric ambiguity and says, “when a boy tells you ‘I love you’ he means I am getting ready to be inconsistent with you now.” This unusually telling narrative does not mince words or try to disguise itself as pretty, but instead hits the reader with a sledgehammer of a statement. The message in this poem is warning and guarded, and when listening to it spoken aloud the beguiling words feel relatable and pull from us memories of adolescent love.  

 A technique these poems use, is a question. The questions are always towards the end of the poems, when the reader is engrossed in a love on a steady decline. The questions beg the reader to remember heartbreak and sadness, and it makes us feel melancholic ourselves to think of love as unsuccessful. The questions bundle up the poems, scrunch them and wring them out so that the love is left circling the drain or waiting at a heart’s locked door. The questions create the moment where readers are ripped from the escapism they thought they were hiding in. To find out what the questions are, read the enticing poems from the links provided.





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