appearance versus reality poetry analysis

            “She Walks in Beauty”, “Sex Without Love”, and “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” are poems written by different authors in different time periods.  “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” is a poem written by Christopher Marlowe written in the 1500s.  The poem describes a Shepherd speaking to girl he is romantically interested in.  “Sex Without Love” by Sharon Olds’ is a free verse poem written in 1984 by Sharon Olds.  In the poem Olds’ describes the physical act of intercourse.  She asks the question “How can people have sex without love?”.  In “She Walks in Beauty”, written in 1815, Byron describes a woman and her feminine features.  He compares these features to naturally occurring beauty found in the environment.  Each poem depicts different events, through different eyes, and expresses a different tone.  However, through the use of simile and strong images these poets create and explore the theme of appearance versus reality.

            Olds uses many similes in “Sex Without Love”.  The first example of simile is in line 1-3, Olds writes “the ones who make love / without love? Beautiful as dancers, / Gliding over each other like ice-skaters / over the ice”.  She compares the two people who are having intercourse to “beautiful dancers” and “ice skaters”.   Olds continues with

inside each other’s bodies, faces

red as steak, wine, wet as the

children at birth, whose mothers are going to

give them away. How do they come to the

come to the come to the God come to the (Lines 6-9).

The redness of the faces are compared to steak and wine.  Their bodies moistness is compared to the wetness of a newborn child.  In line 18, Olds compares the physical lovers to “like great runners.”   The use of similes creates strong physical images in the reader’s mind.  Olds compares several physical activities to the act of intercourse to allow the reader to understand the solely physical nature of the act.  Olds uses simile, and strong physical images to explore the theme of whether there can be sex without love.  Olds concludes that there can be sex without love but the people who are having intercourse “know they are alone” (Line 19-20) and everyone is “alone in the universe / against its own best time” (Lines 23-24).  Brian Sutton, of The Explicator, agrees and writes in his analysis of the poem that the theme is “a contrast between emotional coldness and physical heat” (Sutton 1).  This relates to the larger theme of appearance versus reality because while the two people may be participating in the  physical act of love making, they are not in love.

            “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” appears to be about a shepherd and his love for a girl.  However, there are several lines in this poem which make it clear that shepherd may not have honorable intentions.  In line 2, the shepherd says “And we will all the pleasures prove”.  He speaks about finding physical pleasure but not love.  The shepherd wishes to make the girl “beds of roses / And a thousand fragrant posies” (Lines 9-10).  He wishes to make her a bed to lie down in, but never mentions the house they will live in.  The shepherd wants this girl for physical pleasure not for marriage.  The poem describes what the shepherd will give this girl, if she agrees to be with him.  In line 16, Marlowe writes that the shepherd will give his girl “buckles of the purest gold”.  He continues “and I will make thee beds of roses / And a thousand fragrant posies” (Lines 11-10)  and “Thy silver dishes for thy meat / As precious as the gods do eat, / Shall on an ivory table be” (Lines 22-24). All the things the shepherd wants to give the girl are impossible and extreme.  Marlowe uses nonsensical  images to create a satirical poem that investigates the theme of illusion.  The general theme here is appearance versus reality of the shepherd’s motives.  The “parody and burlesque, from whatever motives directed” (Maclure 6) of the exaggerated words of the shepherd are not used to express the great love for a girl but in courting her into his bed, not into his life.

            Simile is also a  literary device that Lord Byron uses in his poem.  Lord Byron writes “She walks in beauty, like the night / Of cloudless climes and starry skies;” (Line 1).  He compares the woman’s physical features to a  starry sky at night.   In line 3, Byron places the words “dark and bright” together.  This creates a contrast of two opposing images in the reader’s mind.  Byron contrasts light, “one ray”, and dark, “One shade the more” in Line 7.  Lord Byron uses simile and imagery to create the theme of  internal and external  female beauty from a male perspective.  He uses simile and contrast “to support the concept of ideal beauty” (Stabler 43).  This relates to the general theme of appearance versus reality because inner and outer beauty is often mutually exclusive.  A person may appear to be beautiful from the outside and in reality is a bad person.  The reverse can also be true.  A person with little outer beauty can have an inner radiance very few people are able to see or experience.

            Simile and imagery are literary devices that poets use to create, and display the theme of their poem to the reader.  This is true in “She Walks in Beauty”, “Sex Without Love”, and “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love”.  In each poem, each author uses simile and strong images to promote the general theme of appearance versus reality.  Marlowe’s poem not only describes the appearance of love that is in reality lust.  Also,  “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love”, appears to be a love  but in reality it is a satirical poem making fun of the poetry written during the 1500s.  Olds wrote “Sex Without Love” to share her own inner struggle with the concepts of love, and sex.   Byron wrote “She Walks in Beauty” to memorialize the perfect woman in words.  His idolized woman it the perfect combination of “smiles that win” (Line 15) and “A heart that is  innocent” (Line 18).  Appearance versus reality is a timeless theme which can be found throughout history and therefore throughout literature.

Works Cited

Byron, George Gordon. “She Walks in Beauty.” Literature and the Writing Process. Ed. Elizabeth             McMahan. New York: Prentice Hall, 2000. 487.

Maclure, Millar, ed. Christopher Marlowe: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge, 1995. Questia.    11 Feb. 2006 <>.

Marlowe, Christopher. “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love.” Literature and the Writing Process. Ed.             Elizabeth McMahan. New York: Prentice Hall, 2000. 558.

Olds, Sharon. “Sex Without Love.” Literature and the Writing Process. Ed. Elizabeth

            McMahan.  New York: Prentice Hall, 2000. 547.

Stabler, Jane. Byron, Poetics, and History. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2002.             Questia. 11 Feb. 2006 <>.

Sutton, Brian. “Olds’s ‘Sex Without Love.’.” The Explicator (1997): 1.


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