Virginia Lucas Poetry Scrapbook

Formal Description of "Love" by Charles Swain

Just as America was undergoing many industrial and cultural changes in the nineteenth century, literature also evolved and developed over time; the literate world was rapidly expanding, and soon poems became conduits to tell stories of loss, happiness, and hardship. As these writers were appealing to the average person at the time, there was an emphasis on incorporating certain principles into their work, such as a focus on American nature romanticism. In the lyrical poem, “I Will Tell Thee What It Is To Love” Charles Swain conveys the beauty of nature while describing the phenomenon of falling in love. Swain’s uniquely-structured, romantic piece accentuates the passionate and thoughtful tone. 

Swain creates an idyllic illustration of true love by structuring his poem into two Spenserian stanzas; each Spenserian stanza is a fixed verse that consists of eight iambic pentameter lines, followed by a single alexandrine line in iambic hexameter. In the case of Swain’s piece, his two Spenserian stanzas follow the rhyme scheme of ABABBCBCC and DEDEEFEFF. Forementioned, Swain also constructs his meter to fit the form of iambic pentameter, emphasizing every other syllable; for example, when the speaker states that “Yes, this is love, the steadfast and the true,” there is a natural heavy stress on all the even beats and a light stress on all the odd beats (10). The only exception comes on the alexandrine lines of 9 and 18, as Swain switches the meter to iambic hexameter, adding an extra metrical foot. 

In addition, many of Swain’s lines are self-enclosed, meaning they end in complete thoughts, yet the line “Love? I will tell thee what it is to love!” contains a caesura following the question mark (1). The interjection establishes the subject of the poem, and the pause following it allows the audience to reflect on the word and idea of “love.” He emphasizes the significance of love through the use of anaphors by claiming that love is “all tastes, all pleasures, all desires combine” (5). Swain continues to employ the use of repetition by consistently reiterating words such as “love” and “sweet.” For instance, he writes that love is “like a beauteous dove,” using the bird’s beauty to convey delicacy and innocence (3). Swain also reaffirms the principle of liberal Christianity by equating love to paradise; the speaker states that “if there’s heaven on earth, that heaven is surely [love]” while describing a myriad number of feelings and scenes of being infatuated with someone (9). 

Through his two Spenserian stanzas, Swain conveys the feelings of love and adoration through lyrical meter and idyllic imagery.