Compare and Contrast the Poems “My Last Duchess” and “Salome”
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The poem “My Last Duchess” was written by a famous 19th century poet called Robert Browning. “Salome”, on the other hand, is a modern 20th century poem written by Carol Ann Duffy. Both poems focus on the topic of killing lovers, but the two poets take different attitudes towards this. The narrator of Browning’s poem tries to justify his actions throughout the poem and is trying to convince someone. Carol Ann Duffy writes the poem about Salome and what she has done, and does not try to explain her reasoning behind her actions. Both poems are dramatic monologues aimed towards different people.
Robert Browning’s poem is about a man, who has given orders to have his wife killed because he thinks that she is having an affair. The title “My Last Duchess” suggests that his wife is dead or gone. This is because it talks about her in the past tense using the word “last” to create emphasis that makes this point more noticeable. These three words are repeated in the first line to give further emphasis and give the reader a clue that this will be important to remember throughout the poem. There is an immediate sense of his attitude towards women and his attitude towards marriage because he says “My Last Duchess”. He treats her like she is his property, almost like a piece of furniture, or a painting just to be looked at. The fact that “My” is the first word suggests that he is a very possessive man, and would possibly go to extreme lengths to keep this person as his property. The word “last” could also suggest that this wife was just the latest of many that have suffered the same fate. This gives the reader a clue to what is to come, maybe that he wants another wife. A lot of questions are raised by this line and it makes the reader want to find out what has happened to the “Duchess”.
In the second line it says, “Looking as if she were alive”. This gives us a clue that perhaps she isn’t alive. It is constantly giving us hints that she is dead but in the poem it never actually says this. It leaves hints throughout the poem but leaves it up to the reader to interpret these hints to see what he really means. The words “as if” are used to create doubts about her life or existence for the reader. Again, it uses past tense with the word “were”, which implies that her life is past tense and that she is dead.
Towards the middle of the poem there are pauses. These show that he is starting to get angry by her smiling at other men. He says “She ranked my gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name with anybody’s gift”. Here he is saying that his name is very valuable and any woman would be privileged to have a gift such as this. He is also saying that he views himself as more important or more valuable than any other men that his wife came into acquaintance with. This further backs up the idea that he owns her and that she is his belonging. This line could also mean that she treated other men with the same likeness as she treated her husband. This could cause him to get angry and it could possibly motivate him to kill her. This relates back to the clues that she is dead and the hints that she was murdered. This gives the reader a better idea of what the “Duchess” was like and what happened to her.
After he had given the commands, which the reader would assume were to kill her, he said “Then all smiles stopped together”. This could be interpreted to mean either the Duchess’ smile stopped because she was killed, or it could also mean that the smiles of everyone who worked for him “stopped together” because the woman that had been pleasing them was dead. The smiles could also have stopped because they know that he gave orders to have her killed and they are scared because they might be killed for what he thought they did with her. There is emphasis on the word “all” because it is meant to show how her infidelity was known and enjoyed by all men.
Carol Ann Duffy’s poem is a woman speaking specifically to the reader about murdering men. The title is very relevant to this poem because it is a name in a famous Christian myth. “Salome”, who supposedly seduced her own step-father and murdered a saint, is the title of this poem because Salome allegedly cut off St. John’s head and then kissed his lips. In the poem she is talking about a head on her pillow that she kissed. The head is assumed to be from a dead man because he had cold lips. The monologue is from Salome’s point of view but has been set in modern times. The title suggests to anyone who is familiar with this myth that the poem is about killing.
The first two lines, “I’d done it before (and doubtless I’ll do it again)”, show that she knows what she has done and almost acknowledges that it is wrong but knows that she will do it again. It is very significant that these are the first lines of the poem because they give the reader or audience a lot of questions like “What has she done?” which will make people want to read the rest of the poem to find out what it is that she has done. It seems like she is saying something completely normal, and that what she had done wasn’t very shocking or outrageous. We later find out that she is talking about getting drunk and killing a man by chopping his head off. This is very shocking and is not something that the audience would see as being normal.
The biggest clue that she has killed someone is when the narrator says, “Which I kissed… colder than pewter.” This is because she is kissing a mouth which is as cold as metal. As humans are warm-blooded, the only way a man’s lips could be this cold is if they were dead. This would shock the audience because she says it in a very calm and relaxed way. She says “Which I kissed”, which is her saying that she kissed a dead body. This is a form of necrophilia. The writer did not put any emphasis on these lines. This shows that it is normal to this person. Another reason for this could be that if the reader is not reading it carefully, then this line might not stand out.
The narrator shows no regret or remorse for killing a man. The line “Come like a lamb to the slaughter” shows this. This is saying that it was very easy to lure them in to be killed. This makes the men sound vulnerable, which makes her sound very powerful and controlling. It also has a biblical reference as sheep or lambs were sacrificed. It is a simile for men being led to be killed. This would make the audience assume that the men were innocent and didn’t deserve to be murdered. This would make the narrator sound like an inconsiderate person that only cares about herself.
There are a lot of similarities between these two poems. The most important of these things in common is that they are both dramatic monologues. I think that it is important that these poems are dramatic monologues because it gives the reader more of a sense of familiarity, like they know the narrator. It makes the audience feel like they are in the room with the narrator speaking. This is because it makes the poems flow more and makes it sound more fluent. When a poem is fluent, it is easier to read, which makes it more dramatic that the poems are about murder. It also makes the narrator’s emotions more visible so that the reader knows how they feel and why.
Another similarity between “My Last Duchess” and “Salome” is that both the narrators are murderers that have had sexual contact with their victims. Both murderers appear to be in a continuous cycle of killing that has no ending. This point is made obvious in “Salome” by the line “I’d done it before (and doubtless I’ll do it again)”. This clearly states that she is in some sort of cycle, but we later find out that this cycle is killing people. In “My Last Duchess” this is less obvious because it does not actually say that she is dead, but we get this impression throughout the poem and he is talking to a Count about marrying his daughter. This tells us that he could be paranoid, which could be a reason for him killing another wife.
Both of the poems are biased because we only see the situation from the killers’ point of view. This affects the opinions of the readers because it is only a one-sided argument, which would make the reader take a particular view of the murder. In both of the poems the focus is on the female character. Salome is shown to be an evil character, but the woman in Browning’s poem is more ambiguous. She could be completely innocent of any wrong doing but if she did do something wrong it is not a good enough reason to be killed. The reader’s attitudes towards the male characters are different. For example, the Duke seems without any mercy and the men killed by Salome seem to be innocent. Neither of the murderers shows any signs of regret or remorse. We get this impression because of the cycle they are in. As they have killed more than one person, the reader or audience would feel that the murders were deliberate and very carefully planned. Both of the narrators are trying to be in control throughout their lives. We can tell this because in “My Last Duchess” he says “I gave commands”. Here he is in control because he is telling someone to do something. In “Salome” she says “rang for the maid”, which is showing that she controls people, and she can call on them whenever she wants to.
The narrators of both poems have a high status in society. This means that they both have servants and maids. We can tell that they both value themselves higher than a common man. The line “My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name” from “My Last Duchess” is proof of this. He is saying that his name is more valuable than anybody else’s. The lines “rang for the maid” and “like a lamb to the slaughter” in “Salome” also prove this. She is saying that she is of a high status and can lure any man into bed. Both of the people have something to offer to the victims. In “My Last Duchess” he gave the victims his surname and in “Salome” she seduced the victims.
In both of the poems, the victims are described but the reader never finds out their names. This gives the impression that the victim’s identity was not important in either of the poems. In “My Last Duchess” it constantly refers to the victim as “she” or “her”. This could mean that he is destroying her identity, just as he destroyed her life. In this poem it only describes her personality and attitudes, but in “Salome” it only describes the victim’s appearance. An example of this is “beautiful crimson mouth”. This is showing that she does not care about a man’s personality – she only cares about how he looks. Neither poem describes killing someone as a difficult thing. This is to show how much power these people had and how it can affect the people around them.
Similar poetic techniques are used in both poems, such as similes, metaphors and alliteration. These techniques are used to create a cold atmosphere in both poems to try to appeal to the reader. It also creates tension which will make the reader want to find out more information about the situation. Both of the poems have mythical references. “Salome” is based around the myth with Salome in it and “My Last Duchess” refers to Neptune, the god of the sea. This shows that the poets have done a lot of research and that they have thought about the content of their poems. There are pauses in both of the poems which show the narrators’ emotions and fully portray their feelings about their actions. This helps the reader understand the killers’ motivations and reasoning for what they have done.
There are a lot of differences between these two poems. The most obvious difference is that “My Last Duchess” is a man speaking to a Count, but “Salome” is a woman talking to the reader or herself. It is quite unusual for a woman to act in a dominant or commanding way. This would mean that the reader’s opinion would be different depending on their sex. A female could feel quite liberated, whereas a man could feel threatened by a domineering woman. Either way, the two poems would make the reader feel very opinionated on the role a woman should play in society. I think that this works effectively at engaging the reader, because it alters their opinion on the situation.
Another difference between these two poems is the sentence structure. In Robert Browning’s poem there are mostly long sentences with pauses, but Carol Ann Duffy’s poem has short and abrupt sentences to reel the reader in. Both poems sound fluently spoken, and the short sentences or pauses sound as if someone is speaking to you. There is a difference in language and vocabulary between the poems because they were written in two different centuries and written as differently behaved people. ‘My Last Duchess’ uses language common of the higher class whereas ‘Salome’ uses colloquialism.
The two poems are dramatic monologues written in two different centuries. Robert Browning’s poem is about a man having his supposedly unfaithful wife killed, and Carol Ann Duffy’s poem is about a woman who kills a man, then puts his head on a platter for no apparent reason. Both poems focus on the central theme of death but try to create a different reaction from the audience.