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Song – ‘Love Armed’ By Aphra Behn

Notes and Glossary
bleeding heart: rejected in love,
amorous world: lustful people,
deity: idol, god.

Introduction

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This poem that we are going to discuss belongs to the seventeenth century when the women did not enjoy much prominence. Subsequently, their works, too, were treated to be minor among the prolific careers of the male writers, and soon went into oblivion. Later, the awareness of the unique poignancy of women writing made critics look into these works as some of the early specimens of women writing in English literature. The poems jointly confront the problematic situation of the women writers at that point of time and discuss their views and aspirations at length. In the twentieth century, when the global literary scenario is often getting flooded by feminist waves, these poems serve their purpose, though as period pieces, properly.

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Summary and Critical Analysis

The poem ‘Love Armed‘ is an epitome of the love-lover relationship where love stands alone surrounded by the bleeding hearts of the lovers. It depicts how the lovers fall prey to the almighty in order to make the love perfect in the truest possible sense. It is a poem about the greatness of the love itself which is nothing but a form of aesthetic, that aesthetics which is very much part and parcel of that abstract, designated as the almighty. Both the male and the female lovers donate something precious in order to make the love reach its highest esteem. Thus the ‘poor heart alone is harmed’. Finally, it is that almighty gets the victory through the victory of the purest form of emotion. Thus there is in the poem a passage from the human subject to the supra-human, love being the vehicle for it.

Janet Todd, the biographer of Aphra Behn once wrote; ”Behn has a lethal combination of obscurity and secrecy which makes her uneasy fit for any narrative, speculative or factual”.

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So when a woman like her writes a poem of love, the theme certainly turns a little confusing and a shade controversial too. At a very first reading especially of the first stanza, it seems as if the poet as a devotee of love goes on adoring the Love itself and describing the story of the lover’s sacrifice for the sake of love. The first two lines stand for the aesthetic rather eternal value of love. As the purest form of emotion, love can only be relished for the cost of sufferings it bequeaths on the lovers. As the poet bows her head down to that almighty she says how that omnipotent creates so many obstacles on the way and takes away all those shields one after another, preventing the harm, to attain that love in its purest form. But as the poem develops, a certain question crops up. Is it simply an idealisation of love? No, not at all.

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Shortly after her supposed return to England from Surinam in 1664, Behn may have married John Behn, who may have been a merchant from Hamburg. He died, or the couple separated soon after 1664. So in her personal life, Behn was already very much offended and hurt by the failure in her love. May be in order to overcome her grief, she surpasses all those materialistic shortcomings and sees that entire event as a failure in the lovers’ meeting. But as the poem develops, it no more stands as this mere binary but the gender issue adds a little extra icing to the cake. Aphra, who had a Catholic upbringing and announced herself as ‘designed for a nun’ may have had a different outlook to love, which denies the common binary of men dominating the love affair. It might also be that to her a successful love stands as a juxtaposition of some truest holy emotions. Afterall she belonged to the age just after that of the Elizabethan when love got its highest esteem through the concept of metaphysical love- a love beyond the very physical virtues.

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In one of her famous poems ‘The Disappointment ‘ (referred to earlier), she depicts the story of a sexual encounter told from a woman’s point of view that may be interpreted as a work about male impotence. Lysander, the male lover is shown here to be torn between his sexual desire and immense control. The battle between the mere physical urge and a sublime form of it is the primary motive of the poem. But later it turns out into some different issue altogether.

The question now is why she chose such a pessimistic title? Was she really disappointed in this theme of love? She may have tried her best to overcome her grief and got no better way than to hope for something aesthetic and eternal beyond these mundane realities. In her work ‘The Unfortunate Happy Lady’ she claims success in love as a combination of forgiveness, intense passion and endangered but inviolate virtue. The woman voice here is repeatedly seen to speak for herself in the latter part of the poem. All those polite, lovely forms of emotion like ‘sighs and tears’, ‘languishments and fears’ are taken away from the lady lover. While those chauvinistic virtues like pride and cruelty have been a part of the male soul throwing all those sharp darts towards the pure female heart, making it deserted, harmed. So when the poet writes in the last line ”Whilst thine the victor is…”, does she refer to the male lover here? Or is it a victory of that almighty or love itself as emotion as its purest form which always lies in its unrequited form? After all, the female virtue wins the battle in terms of human feelings and ethics here.

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