Elizabeth Bishop has often been linked to the poetical canon of the ‘confessional poets’ of the 1960’s and 70’s. Confessional poetry focused largely on the poet, exposing his/her insecurities and personal vulnerabilities. Bishop, however, was better known for her insistence on remaining outside of this movement. To be called a confessional poet “would have horrified the very proper and obsessively discreet author” (Gioia 19). She seemed to express the view that the tragedies within a poet’s mind should not be found on the page. As Bishop once famously said regarding confessional poets: “You wish they’d keep some of these things to themselves” (Costello 334). Despite her convictions, Bishop’s personal life was so wrought with tragedy and alienation that she sought a way to express her experiences through her work. Poetry, especially during this period of total lyrical exposure, became the perfect medium for her to work through her pain. Her peers had set the standard for audience reception of such personal poetry, and Bishop sought to utilize their idea of self-recovery in her own, much more subtle, way.Importantly, we must recognize both the slight commonality and the distinct difference between Bishop and the confessional poets. Confessional poetry often “dealt with subject matter that previously had not been openly discussed in American poetry. Private experiences with and feelings about death, trauma, depression and relationships were addressed in this type of poetry, often in an autobiographical manner” (“A Brief Guide”). Considering this, we see a connection between Bishop and other confessional poets. Despite her resolution to be known outside of the confessional canon, her work somehow lends itself to expressing personal experiences and emotions. The difference is that Bishop extends herself beyond the label of “confessional” largely by using formal poetic techniques to acknowledge and work through her personal pain. She utilizes many formalistic forms, particularly narrative tone and understatement, to express private experiences in a rather subtle and personal manner. Through her use of these techniques in the poems “In the Waiting Room” and “One Art” we can see how Elizabeth Bishop’s wielding of personal experience functions beyond the bounds of ‘confessional poetry’ and becomes more about reconciling the sense of loss in her life.“In the Waiting Room” is a poem that reads like a personal narrative from the point of view of a young girl. Here we see a child who, while waiting in a dentist’s office for her aunt, has an epiphany about her gender identity. Bishop presents this poem as a scene, giving immense details from the exact location—“Worcester, Massachusetts”—to the time of year—“It was winter. It got dark early” (Bishop 159). This prose-like narrative suggests that Bishop is telling us a story, presumably one about herself as she gives the speaker her own name. If we see this poem as autobiographical, then we can understand how there are two points of view: there is the perspective of the young Elizabeth and that of the adult, and these two points of view function to reconcile Bishop’s sense of identity. This is a poem of a child learning what it means to live in the world as a woman, as well as an adult using this memory to come to terms with her present female identity. While the child sits in the waiting room, reading a National Geographic with photos of women being tortured, she begins to question the identity she once believed she had: “But I felt: you are an I, you are an Elizabeth, you are one of them.” (Bishop 160). She refuses to consider herself one of these women, because to become a woman is to become the other, the oppressed. Her fears are reinforced when the violence the magazine describes against those “black, naked women” in the outside world connects with her own world — as she hears a cry of pain coming from her aunt in the dentist’s office (Bishop 159). She finally sees that the constituents of the gender she must accept are “all just one”, a diminished and oppressed group of women; she feels as though she is drowning under the “big black wave” of responsibilities that coincide with being a woman. As Bishop recalls this memory, we can see how the narrative tone of this work functions as a way to reconcile coming to terms with her own identity. While examining the incident in a story-like quality, she is able to disconnect herself from the experience. She is able to declare that she is no longer that terrified young girl fearful to become marginalized but rather a grown adult that defies being “a foolish, timid woman” by expressing her emotions through her art (Bishop 160). As an adult woman, she has experienced first-hand those responsibilities the young Elizabeth understands to be frighteningly oppressive and harsh. Now that she has lived as a woman, and has written of her personal anxieties, Bishop is able to accept the inevitability of her role in society. She is able to move on through her life, just as the poem, in its final stanza, portrays the world moving on after the young girl’s epiphany.“One Art”, if examined in the context of Bishop’s life, is certainly a much more personal and heartbreaking poem than anything else in her cache. Published in her book Geography III in 1976, “One Art” was written after Bishop had moved from Brazil—supposedly the only place she ever could call a home—and after her ex-lover Lota de Macedo Soares had committed suicide. In the wake of these events, it is not hard to imagine “One Art” as a way for Bishop to master the sense of reoccurring loss in her life. This poem is “distinctively Bishopian in its restraint, formality, classicism. Yet…deals openly with loss and has been rightly called…painfully autobiographical.” (McCabe 27). We see through her repetition a sort of rationalization for the tragedies in her life. By combining losing “a continent” and her lover with things as trivial as “lost door keys” or “an hour badly spent”, Bishop attempts to marginalize her own pain regarding those losses (Bishop 178). In other words, in the poem, losing a lover is as common and mundane as losing a watch. A reader familiar with Bishop’s loss can easily see the ironic disregard of pain she is expressing through the lines “—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture I love) I shan’t have lied.” (Bishop 178). In her offhanded manner, she is using these understatements to force the pain of loss—and by extension her own pain—to become much less significant.Bishop also brilliantly utilizes the strict formality of this type of villanelle poem to work through her emotions. It seems as if the fixed form is trapping the pain within the poem, forcing her to acknowledge and “master” it so she can move on (Bishop 178). Yet the subtle beauty of Bishop’s technique lies in what Kathleen Spivak calls her “surprising irregularity” and how “Bishop, a perfectionist, chose the breaking of metric” as “significant and deliberate” (Spivak 507). Near the final lines, the emotions that are reined in by the strict villanelle form begin to break free. Now, mastering the art of losing has gone from being “not hard” to “not too hard”, suggesting that there is still a feeling of pain and difficulty each time she is forced to deal with loss. This pain can only be concealed for so long, and although “displays of naked emotion are unthinkable” and the cry of grief is ultimately “subdued, suppressed and denied” (Spivak 508), it still manages to find its expression in the last few heartbreaking lines, as the narrator stumbles, repeating words, breaking punctuation, and literally telling herself to “Write it!” (Bishop 178). The beauty of Bishop’s “One Art” lies in her ability to both conceal and reveal her true emotions while attempting to master the art of loss, a pain that the poem itself proves can never fully be controlled. Reading Elizabeth Bishop’s work is like taking part in a great poetic archaeological dig. Both the reader and the poet are searching through the words, digging through the intent, and discerning truths behind the language in order to excavate the poet’s consciousness—her life: “In a confessional and narcissistic age…her poems are more personal than autobiographical (Gioia 26). Bishop’s poetry was about more than revealing her mistakes and pain to the world, and labeling her a ‘confessional poet’ would be simplistic. Rather, her work displays a mastery at “concealing and revealing” the personal (Spivak 496). It carefully subdues personal emotions, yet acknowledges them in a way that reconciles the experiences in the poet’s life. Bishop had the astonishing ability to express these experiences and grapple with her emotions through her poetry, and yet do so while maintaining a distinct sense of conduct and discretion.
Victorian literature, like almost all literature, speaks inherently of the social, philosophical and religious issues which molded the people of the time. The Romantic ideals of the singling-out and celebration of the self are often challenged by Victorian literature, with its focus on putting the self into a social context and examining the relationship which emerges. The statement ‘a sense of crisis permeated every aspect of Victorian society as it struggled to reconcile past ideas and beliefs with progress and modernity’ describes this new aspect perfectly. Many changes caused this shift in Victorian society, but one of the most important and controversial was the increasing prominence of women in the public sphere, and the changing dynamics of male-female relationships. It is this revelation which will be explored in this essay, using Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barret-Browning as its basis. A book and a line number will be specified after each quotation, and due to the length of the poem, this essay will focus mainly on the first two books.
The Victorian ideal of the angel in the house, a term from a poem by Coventry Patmore, described (when analysed) how women were expected to be subservient to men, and their goals considered to be sublimated upon marriage in favor of helping the husband achieve his goals. Certainly, women were not thought to have much purpose beyond that and child-rearing. In Aurora Leigh, however, this is a central theme and is examined from the very outset of the poem. In Book 1, after Aurora’s mother dies, her father has to tend to her and this predominantly female-orientated task seems to weigh more heavily on him than on a woman; according to Aurora, women “know/the way to rear up children” (Browning, 1864, 1. 47) and her father is described as “Contriving such a miserable smile,/As if he knew needs must, or I should die” (Browning, 1864, 1.98). Having been thrust into this female role, Aurora’s father is said to have “through love… suddenly/Thrown off the old conventions” (Browning, 1864, 1.176) and thus sets up Aurora’s similar rebellion again society. The death of her mother is used to highlight the problems with the gender constructs of the time; how, she asks, can a man continue to function in his socially-approved place when his wife dies and leaves him all her duties? In this way, Aurora Leigh pokes holes in society’s then-dominant ideal of women taking care of the children and doing nothing but support their husbands. It is important to note, however, that Aurora’s father’s experience is not good. He is described as being somewhat displaced, being “unmade from a common man/But not completed to an uncommon man” (Browning, 1864, 1.183). Therefore, his departure from social norms left him in a sort of gender purgatory, being neither one thing nor the other.
Her father’s example is one of the ways in which this poem depicts the struggle between traditional values and progressive ones in the individual; her father is thrust unwillingly into a progressive role and doesn’t ultimately fare well in it. Later in the poem, of course, both Romney and Aurora wilfully disregard society’s norms and both fare well, allowing for one minor case of total blindness. So beyond examining tradition versus progression, Aurora Leigh examines the manner in which one comes upon a progressive role, and shows that progression is something of a double-edged sword. Romney ultimately finds love with Aurora but is unable to effect the social change for which he strives, her father becomes a sort of half-mother, caring for his child but uncomfortable with doing so, and Marian Erle becomes a single mother through a horrible experience, but fiercely protects this unconventional status once she has it. Thus, the poem examines not only the crisis in the relationship between the self and society but the internal struggles of progressive change, as well as its pitfalls and the sacrifices which are sometimes necessary.
Upon coming to England, Aurora meets her aunt, who is a perfect example of an angel in the house, having lived a “harmless life, she called a virtuous life” (Browning, 1864, 1.290). Aurora’s view of her aunt is not flattering but nevertheless perceptive, as she notes that her aunt’s hair is held tight, “as if for taming accidental thoughts” (Browning, 1864, 1.275). This could be interpreted as ‘taming her bad thoughts’ but an alternative interpretation – ‘taming any thoughts’ – reveals more about what the aunt symbolises in this poem: she is almost entirely without agency. Her “frigid use of life” (Browning, 1864, 1.277), “eyes of no colour” (Browning, 1864, 1.283) and a mouth which speaks only of “unrequited loves” (Browning, 1864, 1.282) all leave her powerless to act of her own accord. She is an object in the poem, not a subject, never directly given voice by Aurora, and in her entirety constitutes a satirical swipe at the “angel in the house” paradigm.
However, this is not to say that Aurora Leigh is necessarily a feminist work; while it espouses the virtues of female agency, it also contains a large number of hints at a more traditional overarching viewpoint, embodying the Victorian ‘crisis of faith’ within the work itself. One of these hints comes in the mention of “lady’s Greek,/Without the accents” (Browning, 1864, 2.83), an infantilisation of Aurora’s intellect which she doesn’t challenge. She describes Romney’s nature as “godlike” (Browning, 1864, 1.565), saying afterwards that she is “a worm” (Browning, 1864, 1.568) in comparison. Another clue is in the fact that her aunt is not given direct voice but others are, perpetuating the idea that only ‘modern’ women, who have voluntarily entered a male-dominated sphere such as that of Victorian literature, are deserving of a voice. This non-feminist interpretation is explored by critic Deirdre David, who says in Art’s A Service; Social Wound, Sexual Politics and Aurora Leigh that the “novel-poem is an integrated expression of essentialist and ultimately non-feminist views of sex and gender, despite sharp attacks on sexual hypocrisy” (David, 1985). It could be said that Aurora’s desire to become a poet is either an attempt to emulate men, or to beat them at their own game; neither particularly evocative of the feminist ideology of rescinding conventional gender roles. Certainly Aurora’s desire to write an epic poem (such as Aurora Leigh itself), which is a completely male-dominated area of poetry, shows that she wants to prove herself as good as men; not necessarily an ignoble goal, but nevertheless a goal framed within traditional values.
Another point made by David, which could be considered a logical certainty, is that “to speak of a masculine intellect evidently presupposes a feminine one” (David, 1985) and this is exactly what Aurora does when she says that Romney “misconceive[s] the question like a man” (Browning, 1864, 2.468). To be able to generalise about men, one must also be able to generalise about women, and Aurora’s supposition that there is a male mode of thought which always works a certain way implies that there must be a female mode of thought with the same stipulations. Such generalisations are contrary to progressive values and, indeed, to Aurora’s ability to achieve the task she sets herself. Ultimately, the ideas of feminism and progressive gender values were, during the Victorian era, mixed up and unfocused since they required of the believer such widespread upheaval in the ways they defined gender. This ‘crisis of faith’ centres entirely around how people viewed gender, and was a considerable force in the Victorian Era and, especially, on Aurora Leigh.
There are striking contrasts in the text, too, between the poem’s meaning and the poem’s form. The first example is the use of classical mythological references which would be unknown to most women of the time, such as Aurora’s description of her mother as “a dauntless Muse” (Browning, 1864, 1.155) and “a still Medusa” (Browning, 1864, 1.157). This is another device which shows the changing social ideals of the time; the poem having a female protagonist and yet being peppered with such references. It is almost subterfuge, too, for Aurora Leigh to be an epic poem; traditionally associated with heroic acts of national importance, and dating back to the very birth of poetry, the epic poem usually does not concern itself with subjects like Romney’s failed social reformation, and one girl’s decision to become a poet. In a way, it presupposes its own importance in a way which lends it significant self-referential weight, when viewed in context.
The use of the epic poem in particular has additional interpretive relevance; according to critic Herbert F Tucker, in his book Epic, “the splendor of epic, so the lesson runs, is a glory that was” (Tucker, 2008). While Aurora Leigh could be thought of in this way, to do so would be to ignore its social relevance; writing an epic poem about social reformation implies that the reformation has already happened, and it could be concluded that combining these ideas makes the reader think the same. Something which would compound this assumption is that there is evidence that the epic was falling out of favour in the mid-19th century. Alfred Lord Tennyson himself, in a letter to his publisher Ticknor and Fields, said: “I should be crazed to attempt [an epic] in the heart of the 19th century” (Tennyson, 1858). To revive an archaic genre in this manner, and in a sense corrupt it to act as both a Bildungsroman and a vehicle for socially progressive views, is to increase its impact on the reader. The juxtaposition of ‘female’ content (i.e. having a female protagonist) and ‘male’ form, combined with all the hitherto-mentioned elements, induces confusion about the gender gap; why is a story of a girl fulfilling her dream less important than an epic battle? Barrett-Browning’s poem, however, is in many ways the same as classic epics; the use of classical and biblical references. Perhaps the most meaningful of the latter is in the ending: “’Jasper first,’ I said,/’And second, sapphire; third, chalcedony;/The rest in order, . . last, an amethyst’ (Browning, 1864, 9.988). This ending, with Aurora’s and Romney’s synergy and a description of the walls of the holy city, creates a powerfully positive image. In itself, it is the marriage of the progressive (Aurora blossoming as a poet) with the traditional (Christian theology), and a very fitting end to the poem as seeing the holy city almost mirrors entering heaven.
Even this small study of a small portion of Aurora Leigh’s representation of the “crisis of faith” in Victorian society proves it extremely fertile material (much more could be written on this topic alone). The “third gender” created in Aurora’s father sets the tone for the remainder of the novel-poem, which sets out to examine Victorian society’s emerging feminine literary presence and concludes that they are not only capable, but can also be divinely inspired, as suggested by the ending. This naturally leads to a much wider interpretation than is contained within the poem: if women can be poets, and indeed rival male poets in their ‘own’ genres, then why can’t they do anything else? This shift into the foreground for women was a devastatingly fundamental revelation for every member of Victorian society, and the seeds of feminism sown by Aurora Leigh ultimately germinated into their very own school of thought; changes don’t come much more profound than that.
Anonymous, 1857, Our Epilogue on Affairs and Books, The British Quarterly Review Vol. XXV. London, Savill and Edwards Printers Barrett, E. B. 1979 
Aurora Leigh ed. J. Miller, London. Reprinted: Chicago: Academy Chicago Printers Brown, S.A., 1997
Paradise Lost and Aurora Leigh, Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 vol. 37 no. 4. Houston, Texas, The Johns Hopkins University Press David, D. 1985
Art’s A Service: Social Wound, Sexual Politics and Aurora Leigh, Browning Institute Studies, vol. 3. Cambridge, Mass., Cambridge University Press
Stone M. 2010, The Works Of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, ed. Sandra Donaldson. London, Pickering and Chatto Press.
Tennyson, A., 1981  The Letters of Alfred Lord Tennyson, ed. Cecil Y. Lang and Edgar F Shannor, Jr. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press
Tucker, H. F. 2008, Epic. New York, USA, Oxford University Press Weber
B. R. 2012, Women and Literary Celebrity in the Nineteenth Century. Farnham, Surrey, Ashgate Publishing Limited
Zonana, J. 1989, The Embodied Muse: Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh and Feminist Poetics, Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, vol. 8 no. 2. Tulsa, Oklahoma. University of Tulsa
‘The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point,’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, is a dramatic monologue spoken through the voice of a female runaway slave. Browning was an abolitionist. In this poem, Browning deviates from the traditional values of motherhood and creates a narration where the speaker kills her child, who is a product of this oppressive system. The narrator of this poem recounts the details and circumstances under which she murders her child; the speaker depicts the extent to which slavery has dehumanized and deprived her of her maternal instincts.
The narrator’s tone imbues an overwhelming feeling of unease and eeriness in stanza XIX. The structure of the stanza reveals flaws about this mother-child relationship. First, the rhyme scheme in this stanza, ababcdb, is irregular. Although the first four lines have an alternating rhyme scheme, line 131 ends with the word ‘mother’ while line 132 ends with the word ‘child.’ The two words do not rhyme and hence create a jagged flow to the stanza. There is something unique about the narrator’s relationship with her child, but up to and including the phrase, ‘little feet’ (128), the nature of the relationship is unclear. The emphasis on the baby’s feet and the adjective ‘little,’ is a generic and a common description for a mother to use about her child; however, the next phrase, ‘that never grew;’ (128) creates alarm and hints at the baby’s fate. A semi-colon is attached to the end of this phrase, which according to The Poetry Handbook is ‘an intermediate stop’ and provides a means to change topics. The narrator is foreshadowing but does not expand on the brief premonition. The speaker says the baby ‘beat with his head and feet, / His little feet that never grew; / He struck them out, as it was meet’ (127-129). Consonance perforates these lines—the “t” sound is often repeated—forcing readers to enunciate each word carefully. Therefore, even though the phrase “never grew,” is only two words, the narrator makes sure that it is not overlooked. The meter here generates a steady beat, as it is dominated by iambs. This creates an even beat, which juxtaposes against the unevenness of the rhyme scheme. The line ‘He struck them out, as it was meet,’ (129) is in iambs, and this song-like beat contributes to the ominous mood. She uses the phrase ‘like a mother— /’ (131) followed by a dash and a line break. The combination of the punctuation mark and specific lineation displays her inability to complete her thought. The speaker seems to be preoccupied with the word ‘mother,’ and takes time to regain her speech. While the narrator stresses the second and fourth syllables in the beginning half of ‘I might have sung,’ she stresses the first and third syllables in the following phrase ‘like a mother’ (131), which reverses the iambic meter. The noticeable change from iambic meter to trochee creates further friction within the stanza. The notion that the word ‘mother’ distracts the narrator generates unease.  All quotations in this essay are taken from the poem, ‘The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  J. Lennard, ‘Punctuation’, in the Poetry Handbook: A Guide to Reading Poetry for Pleasure and Practical Criticism, John Lennard (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2005), 115-116.
In stanza XX, readers observe the occurrence that makes the narrator irate. When the speaker ‘pull[s] the kerchief close;’ (134) she moves the blanket covering the child. She and the child ‘look at one another’ (139) for the first time in the passage. The colon, located after the word ‘close’ (134), represents ‘the second heaviest stop.’ The colon connects the line with importance, and is significant because it is a warning signal to the reader. She sees the baby’s face when she moves the kerchief. Commas—or short breaks—permeate the line, ‘More, then, alive, than now he does’ (136). The narrator also changes the verb tense in this line, as she transitions from past to present tense. The word ‘then’ indicates the past, while the phrase ‘now he does,’ indicates the present. The speaker is going off on a tangent and becomes distracted. Her mind wanders to the condition of the baby in the present, again warning readers of his tragic fate. The curt question ‘where?’ (137) is a delineation of her original story, but is poignant and further captures the reader’s attention. The dash before the question indicates her temporary distraction, as she goes from recounting details to unguardedly voicing her concerns by asking a question. Still speaking in the present tense, she exclaims, ‘Close!’ (138). The narrator snaps back into reality, shown by the use of the exclamation point, and returns to her monologue in the past tense. There is a line break after the phrase, ‘child and mother,’ (138) and she states that they ‘do wrong to look at one another’ (139). The primary connection between a child and mother is their mutual gaze, so the compunction the narrator feels when looking at her baby is disquieting. At this point, the relationship between a child and mother under slavery diverges from traditional Victorian familial relationships. The line break after ‘a child and mother’ (138) magnifies the contrast between the narrator’s relationship with her son and a free woman’s relationship with her child. The words ‘black’ and ‘fair’ are stressed in the meter of the last line, ‘When one is black and one is fair,’ (140). The narrator’s child is at the centre of the conflict between slaves and masters. Her emphasis on the words ‘black’ and ‘fair’ highlights her frustration for the difference between the two populations—slaves are bound by servitude while masters are free.  See Lennard, the Poetry Handbook, 115
The narrator exhibits various emotions in stanza XXI. She uses the possessive noun in the phrase ‘my child’s face’ (142). This is the first time in the passage where she directly acknowledges that the baby is her child, enabling the reader to perceive a visceral emotion of the maternal connection between a child and a mother, regardless of race. This, in effect, magnifies the horror of the infanticide. The narrator expresses her emotions through punctuation. The speaker says, ‘—I tell you all,’ (142) followed by a dash and a line-break. Characteristic of the rest of the poem, she has to push herself along to get through the hard part. She fights against the urge to either forget or not disclose information, shown by the extensive use of punctuation. She uses commas and compounds it with dashes in this phrase, signifying her hesitation. She emphasizes the word ‘master’ in ‘master’s look’ (144). The italicization underscores the narrator’s sharp and bitter intonation. Her anger towards her master is manifested by the increase in pauses. The caesurae allow the speaker to breath and calm down before continuing. The narrator says, ‘the master’s look, that used to fall/On my soul like his lash…or worse!— /’ (144-145). She gains times to think about the ‘worse’ things the master had done by using an ellipses after the word ‘lash.’ The exclamation point confirms her acrimonious spirit. The enjambment between the line break ‘to save it from my curse / I twisted it round in my shawl’ (146-147) contrasts with the lack of fluidity of the rest of the stanza. After the word ‘Therefore,’ (146) she gathers the courage to fluently and succinctly describe her murder. While the murder makes the narrator seem deranged, her range of emotions displays humanness and vulnerability. She is not intrinsically crazy—her situation has led her to infanticide. While the murder horrifies Victorian society, it also appeals to women—even mothers—in the Victorian period. The narrator’s story illustrates how slavery effectively destroys the bonds between a mother and her child. Her child’s face reminds the speaker of ‘the master’s look,’ (144), and she inevitably becomes spiteful when reminded of her oppression. The most primitive instinct of a mother is to protect her child. Slavery has led the speaker to communicate her frustration in the only way she can, by killing her baby, who represents the bridge between black and white people—a link she cannot accept.
The speaker is not entirely insensitive as a mother, as she recounts the death of her baby with fright. In stanza XXII, she states ‘Till, after a time, he lay, instead, / Too suddenly still and mute. / And I felt, beside, a creeping cold— /’ (150-152). She later says, ‘As in lifting a leaf of the mango-fruit’ (154). The narrator peppers the stanza with alliteration, using phrases such as ‘suddenly still’ (151), ‘creeping cold,’ (152) and ‘lifting a leaf’ (154). She uses consonance to emphasize “t” sounds, forcing the reader to enunciate and acknowledge each word. In the line, ‘I dared to lift up just a fold,’ (153) the meter returns to iambs, restoring the calm after a few hectic lines. She states that ‘he moaned and trembled’ (148). There is repetition with the first line of stanza XIX where he ‘moaned and beat’ (127). While in the beginning the baby fought, he is now too weak. The speaker uses the dash in the end of the lines ‘he shivered from head to foot,’ (149) and ‘I felt, beside, a creeping cold’ (152). The abundance of commas further indicates that the narrator is pushing through both her own and the reader’s horror. Her use of the words ‘shiver’ (149) and ‘creeping’ (152) elicits chills, and the icy mood of this stanza compares to the eeriness in stanza XIX. The narrator is living out a certain logic that is not necessarily sane, but her diction shows that she is affected by her actions. She uses the word ‘dare’ (153) to display her vulnerability and fear. She did not simply kill her child and emotionlessly lift the ‘fold’ (153) to examine the corpse. The speaker feels a ‘creeping cold’ (152) and hesitates during the line break in an effort to gather courage to see the baby. This indicates she is not entirely devoid of reason or the basic maternal connection with her child.
In the final line of the passage, the narrator uses simile to compare the shawl to the leaf of a ‘mango-fruit’ (154). Leaves cover and wrap around mangoes, while the insides are tender. The narrator suggests that her baby was sweet. She does not hate her baby; she is just unable to love him, as the baby is too powerful a reminder of her oppression. The narrator’s reaction to the infanticide forces the reader to re-evaluate whether or not she is simply a madwoman; the monologue reveals her despair and societal frustration to be what drives her to the radical action. The narrator, a black woman, was bound by society and lacked control over her life. She unfurls her tragic monologue with conflict, desolation, and desperation. This abolitionist poem appealed to Victorian society because it conveyed the horror of infanticide, a ramification of the narrator’s hard conditions as a slave-woman.
Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. ‘The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point,’ lines 127-154. Lennard, John. “Punctuation.” In The Poetry Handbook. 2nd ed. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2005.
In her affectionate verse “The Shampoo”, Elizabeth Bishop addresses her lesbian partner Lota, whose great black tresses have begun to bear the signs of grey aging. Her tone is tender and her language contemplative—she marvels at the marks of age with a sigh, not a scowl. Bishop infuses the poem with imagery of lichens and astros, first to observe the marks of aging, then to expose an emotional current that runs deeper than its transient, physical counterpart. “The Shampoo” serves as vehicle for a subtle and sentimental declaration of love, which Bishop asserts even against the faint manifestations of age.In the first stanza, Bishop likens the grey hairs of her partner to marine lichens—insinuating their way through the threads of her hair and spreading forth in “gray, concentric shocks.” (The strands of grey that reveal themselves are “shocks” both in the sense that they are tufts of color and literally shocking to Bishop; they have existed all along but until now have gone unnoticed, and their presence and implications are jolting.) In the opening line of the poem, the grey hairs are termed oxymoronically to be “still explosions.” This is perhaps to say that they grow quietly, imperceptibly—almost as flowers do—until their growth is perceived, at which point the reaction of the observer is an explosion of emotion. Bishop further supports the notion of a silent maturation in line 5 when she mentions the moon, which she employs as a metaphor for Lota’s face. The “rings around the moon” are in fact the lines and wrinkles that have begun to manifest themselves upon Lota’s aging visage. As with the spreading of lichens, the changes in the waxing and waning of the moon can never quite be observed in their movement, but can instead only be detected once the full change is complete. Despite the physical transformations that have occurred and are still occurring, Bishop notes that in memories she and her lover are ever-fresh and still full of the vibrancy of youth.Although the rhyme scheme (abacbc) remains in effect throughout the poem’s three stanzas, Bishop uses her poetic license to tweak it in the second stanza. This is appropriate given the slight shift of her tone, which becomes one of lament for her “dear friend” who has shown aging before her time. Bishop is aware of her own unrealistic wish to preserve a sort of indestructibility—an immortality—which Lota’s wrinkles and grey hairs clearly supplant. Even still, she fantasizes that the “heavens will attend / as long on us,” (Lines 7-8) as they would attend on the moon, which is seemingly an infinity. As Lota has been “precipitate” and appears to have aged suddenly, even earlier than Bishop feels she should have, so has the abstract “Time” been “amenable”—following in tandem with the practical reality of Lota’s maturation.There is a hint of the solemn when Bishop refers to the grey hairs against the black backdrop of Lota’s head as “shooting stars.” Shooting stars do in fact illumine the sky; but shooting stars are also falling stars. Eventually, these stars will flicker out, just as life finally fails. The “shooting stars” are in “bright formation”, which gives them a sense of direction, purpose—as if they were soldiers marching toward the final clash between life and death. Lota’s lines “are flocking where, / so straight, so soon?” (Lines 15-16), Bishop asks, displaying a childlike curiosity which is merely rhetorical. Bishop herself knows the final destination of grey hairs and aging, and recognizes that they are undeniable signs of the irreversible progression of life toward death.Bishop’s final solution to the shadows of aging is the warm and intimate act of washing her partner’s hair—a celebration, rather than a denigration, of the rite of growing old. The act of shampooing is generally thought to be an autonomous task; here, however, Bishop seeks to wash her partner’s hair in an attempt to become one with her. In its tender simplicity, the act evokes a sense of bonding with gentle and genuine caresses; it does not connote sexual love, but emphasizes rather a sincere, almost spiritual love. By washing away the worries and concerns surrounding old age, Bishop celebrates her partner and their mutual love. In the concluding lines of the poem, Bishop beckons Lota to come to the “big tin basin” that is “battered and shiny like the moon.” The moon, with its crevices and craters, is of course Lota’s face—a face that is weathered and lined with age, yet still glowing with life and vigor. That the order of these final adjectives is “battered and shiny” is perhaps significant as the lasting impression is not of the “battered” but of the “shiny”—of the resplendence that still emanates from Lota’s face.
Elizabeth BishopPink Dog (Rio de Janeiro) The sun is blazing and the sky is blue. Umbrellas clothe the beach in every hue. Naked, you trot across the avenue. Oh, never have I seen a dog so bare! Naked and pink, without a single hair… Startled, the passersby draw back and stare. Of course they’re mortally afraid of rabies. You are not mad; you have a case of scabies but look intelligent. Where are your babies? (A nursing mother, by those hanging teats.) In what slum have you hidden them, poor bitch, while you go begging, living by your wits? Didn’t you know? It’s been in all the papers,to solve this problem, how they deal with beggars?They take and throw them in the tidal rivers. Yes, idiots, paralytics, parasitesgo bobbing in the ebbing sewage, nightsout in the suburbs, where there are no lights. If they do this to anyone who begs,drugged, drunk, or sober, with or without legs,what would they do to sick, four-legged dogs? In the cafes and on the sidewalk cornersthe joke is going round that all the beggarswho can afford them now wear life preservers. In your condition you would not be ableeven to float, much less to dog-paddle.Now look, the practical, the sensible solution is to wear a fantasia. Tonight you simply can’t afford to be a-n eyesore… But no one will ever see a dog in mascara this time of year. Ash Wednesday’ll come but Carnival is here. What sambas can you dance? What will you wear? They say that Carnival’s degenerating – radios, Americans, or something, have ruined it completely. They’re just talking. Carnival is always wonderful! A depilated dog would not look well. Dress up! Dress up and dance at Carnival! Unveiling Costumes: The Feminine Body in Elizabeth Bishop’s “Pink Dog”In “Pink Dog,” Elizabeth Bishop recounts a one-sided dialogue between the poetic speaker and a naked canine, shaved to a fleshy pink and prancing for food. Though the dog’s bold behavior captures the gaze of the speaker and a crowd of onlookers, it is the speaker’s account of the event and all its inflected intricacies, which transform the poem from a lightly comical tableau to serious symbolism. From curiosity, to threats and eventually advice, the speaker’s narrative elucidates cultural issues with the bare, feminine figure. Serving as a dehumanized representation of the human body, the brazenly pregnant dog rattles the speaker’s cultural sensibilities, intimating the closely guarded social view of the female form as well as challenging its intelligence and legitimacy.Bishop’s dog may appear to bystanders to be a common, mangy street animal; however, to the speaker and within the poem it is a devolved representation of the female body. Throughout the poem, the speaker conflates the identity of the mutt as both dog and woman. The title, “Pink Dog,” is a premier constitution of this combination. By describing the dog as pink, the speaker attributes not only the literal color to the animal but also the important connotation of pink as the essential shade of femininity. The speaker’s continued preoccupation with the female aspects of the do g’s form compounds this evidence. For example, there is the vulgar description of its “hanging teats” and the reference to the dog as a “poor bitch.” Both of these choices in diction are even brought to the forefront of the poem by syntactic and rhythmic details. The former is set off by the only parentheses in the poem. The latter is found on a line, which breaks away from the typical iambs of the poem in favor of anapestic triple meter; further compounding this metric and rhythmic anomaly, “poor bitch” receives a double stress that disrupts the already distinct meter. “Bitch” is also a near rhyme between “teats” and “wits” and it comes after a completed stress group, forcing it to stand in its own group, erect in all its grotesque glory. The speaker also shows no hesitation in placing the dog in uniquely human contexts, creating more evidence for the mutt’s personification as an embodiment of the female form. For instance the speaker equates the dog to a human beggar, suggesting that she will receive the same punishment- or perhaps even worse- for her actions as all the common “idiots, paralytics, and parasites” or “anyone who begs.” This commonality of punishment reflects a perceived similarity of character between dog and human. Even referring to the dog as “naked” in the first and second stanzas is an act of personification, because it ascribes human diction to the animal; dogs are not referred to as “naked,” only humans- dogs are always “naked.” “The speaker also suggests the dog would fit in better if she dressed up for the carnival: “the practical, the sensible,/ solution is to wear a fantasia” and “no one will ever see a/ dog in mascara this time of year.” But wearing costume garb would only help a person fit in. Putting on makeup would only help a real woman. For a dog these actions would only heighten the grotesque, would only abject it further.Yet, then why does the speaker extend such advice? The answer is that the act of costuming is not meant for the dog, rather it is intended for what the dog represents: a female body. Its nakedness and femininity is what is most alarming, most disturbing, and that is what the speaker wishes to shroud. Consider the initial introduction of the dog, “Naked, you trot across the avenue.” At this point her bodily form is ambiguous; it cannot be ascertained whether it is an animal or woman or anything specific. So in the earliest reaction what first captures the speaker’s eyes is not the form of this creature but that it is “naked” and “trotting” boldly. These two words also gain heightened stature by the initial inversion of the line which breaks away from the iambic pentameter of the first two lines; “naked” gets a stark first stress and beat; two offbeats rise up to a climax at “trot,” making its stress and beat more powerful. This pattern is even duplicated in the fifth line with “Naked and pink,” a repetition of diction and form that also intensifies the bare womanliness of the dog. Because of this emphasizing, it is clear the speaker’s advice to “dress up” is a call to cover the flaunting of the naked female body and not just a hairless dog. The figure is unsettling. The speaker wishes to cover and contain it.To this end, the entirety of the speaker’s dialogue can be viewed as an intimation of the extent to which society is captured by and uncomfortable with exposed femininity. In the second stanza this is illustrated beautifully as, “Startled, the passersby draw back and stare [at the dog].” The bystanders are simultaneously attracted and repelled by the sight, just like the speaker, who dedicates a large amount of attention to the dog- though this consideration is impelled by disquietude. Indeed, the lengthy, abstruse threats of beggars “bobbing in the ebbing sewage” and the advice on Carnival costumes can be interpreted as misguided attempts to relieve the speaker’s anxiety over the uncovered female form; by addressing the dog’s poverty and fashion sense, the speaker deftly avoids that which is really an “eyesore”- the startlingly naked, the brazenly pink, the overtly feminine body of the dog. In the final stanzas, the degradation of the speaker’s advice into forced and contrived pedagogical exclamations also indicates how strikingly she clings to these ideas. The affirmation of Carnival against a skeptical “They” who believe it’s degenerating is lackluster and desperate: “They’re just talking./ Carnival is always wonderful!/… Dress up! Dress up and dance at Carnival!”In this context, the speaker’s attempts to convert the dog to the festivities of Carnival- to its elaborate clothes, ravishing makeup, and jaunty sambas- do not represent the encouraged embrace of sexual and bodily expression usually associated with the pre-Lent carnival season, but rather a distinct veiling and repression of those very ideals. To put clothes or “mÃ¡scara” on the dog would only shroud its symbolism as a fertile feminine form, would merely detract from its naked purity. To attend carnivals and dance “sambas,” the canine would have to quit begging, abandoning her traditional womanly duty to gather food for her babies. These inherent flaws with Carnival’s costuming are best explicated through the event’s characteristic habiliment: the “fantasÃa.” This choice in diction speaks to a double meaning; the “fantasÃa” is both a disguise and a failed illusion. It is a masquerading fantasy. It only hides what the dog represents, and in the process, sullies that symbolism.The unsound logic of this faÃ§ade is further flawed due to its propagation by a simple-minded and inconsistent speaker. Throughout the poem, the end-rhymes of each tercet often come across as hokey or juvenile, especially because of their reliance on simple, monosyllabic rhymes. The speaker has trouble retaining a steady rhythm, meter, or even number of syllables within each line; there are anapests, iambs-four and five beat lines- lines with nine, ten, or eleven syllables. These formal incongruities amplify the inherent absurdity of treating the dog like a human beggar or dressing her up in mascara because they contribute to a view of the speaker as informal and comical which betrays the otherwise serious subject of the poem. This disparity between the objective content and subjective observer within the verse amounts to a self-satirizing speaker that is undeserving of reader’s respect. And, in turn, neither is the viewpoint expressed. In Elizabeth Bishop’s “Pink Dog,” the depth of cultural aversion and disgust towards the naked feminine form, as represented by the fleshy, pregnant canine and intimated through the speaker’s narrative, is exposed and objected to through the elucidation of its contradictions and absurdities. Its greatest incongruity, that which lies between the supposedly prized value of sexual expression and the actual environment of repression, is evidenced in the speaker’s costuming advice for Carnival. That which will supposedly make the female body more palatable- clothes, makeup, jovial sambas- is in actuality what makes it a masquerade, what veils the pure womanliness and motherhood of the bare dog. Perhaps this is the reason “They say that Carnival’s degenerating.” “Radios, Americans, or something” have degraded the otherwise traditional Latin concepts of beauty, so that even a pink little dog is too alarming- too brazen- too feminine.
Both ‘How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 116’ explore the ideas of love and romance in the traditional form of a sonnet. Whereas Browning writes about the intense love she felt towards her husband-to-be in Sonnet 43, which was part of a series of sonnets written in secret, Shakespeare depicts what he believes the true qualities of love to be in a reflective attempt to define and understand what it is in its purest, and somewhat most idealized, form.
Both Browning and Shakespeare present love in an overtly romanticized manner, employing enjambment to create flowing rhythms which suggest the boundlessness of their love, and the continual joy it brings. Shakespeare metaphorically proposes that love ‘is an ever-fixed mark’ which ‘looks on tempests, and is never shaken’. This use of sea imagery illustrates Shakespeare’s belief that true love is immortal, ‘ever-fixed’, and once established can never be lost. The praising tone indicates that he strongly believes love defies all ‘impediments’, thus insinuating that it can and will survive the most severe of obstacles, even a ‘tempest’. Shakespeare perhaps intentionally draws our attention to the line ‘o no; it is an ever-fixed mark’ by making it only 9 syllables; the shortest of the whole sonnet. This particular variation in meter, along with the use of the exclamatory ‘o’, highlights Shakespeare’s conviction that love is eternal, which is the overriding message of ‘Sonnet 116.’ Browning similarly conveys her belief in everlasting love, adopting the repetition of ‘I love thee’ to reinforce her utter devotion to and complete infatuation with her beloved. She suggests that she loves him ‘to the depth and breadth and height [her] soul can reach’, demonstrating the spiritual level of her love and how it will continue ‘after death’. The internal rhyme of ‘depth’ and ‘breadth’ forges a natural rhythm, embodying how pure and preordained their relationship is, and also serving to create a sense of harmony and balance within the line, complementing the equality of their love. This idea is similarly explored in Anne Bradstreet’s ‘To My Dear and Loving Husband’, which declares ‘that when we live no more we may live ever,’ which emphasizes the indestructible nature of love. All three poets appear convinced that perfect love is imperishable and will endure ‘even to the edge of doom.’
Furthermore, both Shakespeare and Browning utilize the sonnet form in order to further idealize and elevate their perceptions of love to higher levels. However, whilst Browning’s words are aptly encapsulated by a variation of the Petrarchan sonnet form, which involves an ABBA, ABBA, CD, CD, CD rhyme scheme, Shakespeare’s sonnet uses an ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, GG rhyme scheme. Browning’s choice causes us to focus upon the differences between the octave and the sestet, whilst Shakespeare draws our attention to the final rhyming couplet. The octave of ‘How Do I Love Thee?’ expresses the extent to which she loves her future husband, ‘to the level of every day’s most quiet need’ and ‘by sun and candle-light’, which illustrates her pure devotion to him and her love’s ceaselessness. She clearly will love him by night and day and will provide for his every ‘need’. The sestet, on the other hand, draws analogies between the intensity of love she felt while writing the poem and the love she experienced earlier in her life, stating that she loves him with her ‘childhood’s faith’ and the ‘breath, smiles, tears, of all [her] life’. This raises her love for him to religious levels, suggesting that she loves him just as she had loved her ‘faith’ and the ‘lost saints’ of her childhood. Moreover, the cumulative effect of ‘breath, smiles, tears’ depicts her love as all-consuming, suggesting that she will give everything to him and remain loyal, even through difficult times. This selflessness draws parallels with Robert Burns’ ‘A Red, Red Rose’, in which he expresses his utter devotion to his love, whom he will always be there for ‘tho’ it were ten-thousand mile’, which emphasizes how he will do anything for her. Whilst Browning and Burns are evidently deeply in love with their respective partners, Shakespeare explicitly appears in love with love itself as opposed to a person. The final rhyming couplet asserts that if all he has said about love thus far is ‘error and upon me proved’, he ‘never writ, nor no man ever loved’, reaching a conviction that love is immortal and has the ability to defy all else. The initial sense of assurance and security that these words elicit could be questioned upon further examination, however, as the alliterative ‘n’ sound creates a negative undertone and the half rhyme of ‘proved’ and ‘loved’ could perhaps be representative of his desperation to believe what he is writing. The incompleteness of the rhyme could suggest that deep down he is not entirely convinced that his words are realistically true.
Tucker Brooke says Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 116’ is a poem ‘which has about it no strangeness whatever except the strangeness of perfection’, notably regarding the predominant use of iambic pentameter, which he often favored and which is also embraced by Browning. Both poets suggest that their love will endure and the use of iambic pentameter reinforces this theme by creating a measured certainty, reflecting their assurance in love. Browning utilizes this meter when claiming ‘I shall but love thee better after death’, highlighting the importance of the belief in Christianity and the after-life in the Victorian society she lived in, which illustrates her hope that ‘if God choose’ her love will only continue to grow ‘after death’. She seems to think that only God’s power over the body and soul in death is more powerful than the love she has for her husband-to-be, but God willing her love will be eternal. Shakespeare similarly believes that ‘love alters not with his brief hours and weeks’, depicting his confidence in the unmovable nature of genuine and perfect love, accentuated by the use of iambic pentameter which again creates a measured and certain rhythm. These references to the passage of time and love’s ability to triumph it are also used by Donne in ‘The Sun Rising’, in which he declares that love knows ‘no hours, days, months, which are the rags of time’. This is indicative of his belief that love is immortal and exists out of time, no matter what ‘hour, day’ or ‘month’ it is. Donne is clearly exploring the philosophy of love, as a Metaphysical poet, minimizing the importance of ‘the rags of time’ in order to understand what love truly is. This is more similar to Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 116’ than Browning’s ‘How Do I Love Thee?’ which focuses on her feelings of being in love as opposed to what love actually is, perhaps influenced by the differing periods in which they were writing.
To conclude, it is apparent that both Shakespeare and Browning utilize the sonnet form, along with a number of structural techniques, in order to aptly convey their feelings towards love and its power. Whilst Browning adheres to the sonnet’s traditional purpose of being a love poem about another person, Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 116’ strays from this in that it is about being in love with love itself. Nonetheless, both poets present an incredibly romanticized view of love, suggesting that love is both eternal and all-consuming.
 Shakespeare, William. Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Ed. Tucker Brooke. London: Oxford UP: 1936
In “Cape Breton,” Elizabeth Bishop describes a landscape for the rigid cliffs and water that compose it, but also for its representation on a grander scale. The landscape is a representation of the peaceful world and how it is inevitably interrupted by human presence, affecting its ability to be natural. To Bishop, the landscape is intriguingly mysterious but is constantly awaiting on the arrival of civilization, proving that we cannot always have just nature, but rather we must have nature in relation to humans. Bishop describes a landscape not as a world of things, but rather as a laying down of ideas and hidden meanings.
Bishop paints a mysterious landscape, one with a wall of mist that “hangs in layers among the valleys and gorges of the mainland” and “the ghosts of the glaciers” (Bishop 16, 18). The landscape is ominous and almost nervous, as if waiting on the arrival of something or someone. Bishop describes each feature of the landscape at more than just face-value. She describes each part of the landscape as having feelings rather than being lifeless and emotionless, suggesting that the landscape’s meaning goes beyond the water and rock it is composed of. The glaciers are described as ghost-like and the edges of rock are irregular and nervous. Bishop paints a more abstract scene that is difficult to read at times, focusing not on the physical features per se, but the mind’s ability to turn them into ideas. The image presents the idea that landscapes and natural in general, are most natural and peaceful when they are left alone, untouched by man. If Bishop painted the image of trees, water and all other features as individual components, it would be straightforward without any underlying meaning. But it is here, where Bishop’s description of the landscape and the physical features that compose it, work together to create emotions of mystery and magic. It allows the mind to contemplate the underlying meaning of the landscape, as something more than its physical qualities.
The mysterious landscape Bishop has described is interrupted by human presence. There are “occasional small yellow bulldozers” and “miles of burnt forests, standing in grey scratches / like the admirable sculpture made on stones by stones” (25, 37-38). The landscape that was once quiet is now dead and grey. The only sources of light are the yellow bulldozers and the yellow school bus that drives down the abandoned road. The bus is full of people and lets off a man and his baby who go through the meadow, to a house by the water. Bishop describes the physical qualities of the landscape and how they relate to human life. Once the man and baby travel from the bus to the house on the water, the landscape is no longer the same. The landscape is no longer quiet and mysterious, as if human presence has tainted this world. It is now meaningless and dead: “Whatever the landscape has of meaning appears to have been / abandoned” (31-32). Bishop does not focus specifically on the water or the mountains, but focuses on the landscape; how it feels and what themes it invokes. The landscape is not a world of things, but is rather a laying down of ideas and concepts. It is ironic how when the landscape shifts from lonely to inhabited, despite only being inhabited by two people, the tone of the landscape immediately changes. Humans, who are normally considered as being full of life and noise, make the landscape quieter than ever: “And these regions now have little to say for themselves” (39). The landscape is more than what can be seen by the eye; it is a representation of the world’s mysterious nature and how it becomes dark and dead when attempting to co-exist with humans.
Bishop’s description of a landscape focuses not on the physical parts it is composed of, but how these features allow the mind to turn them into concepts and themes. The landscape relates to a bigger picture in relation to humans; how the world will always be best when it is alone. Landscapes will always be tainted by human life, or waiting upon human arrival. Bishop describes a landscape that is ominous and mysterious, that quickly changes into a dark and dead as a response to the presence of human life. The landscape is not about the water, the cliffs or the animals, but the work of these parts to create an image that goes beyond what meets the eye.
In Sonnet 13 of Sonnets from the Portuguese, Elizabeth Barrett Browning skillfully manipulates the sonnet form to construct what is essentially a love poem, albeit an unusual one that paradoxically eschews the rote sentimentality associated with these works and emphasizes separation rather than blissful union. The poem’s variations in syntactic structure, rhyme scheme, and diction all contribute to developing the theme of detachment and impossibility that pervades the first two quatrains. Although laden with allusions to suffering not as an archetypal symptom of Petrarchan romance but as something that disables the rites of courtship and delays the admission of love, the poem does not present a wholly hopeless and futile situation for the two lovers. Following the turn that occurs in its final sestet, Sonnet 13 ultimately concludes on a note of possibility and empowering self-introspection: while the sonnet revolves around the complicated relationship between Browning and her future husband, it is the poet herself who emerges in the final lines of the poem, self-conscious of her roles as sonneteer, invalid, and woman in love. Browning’s exercise in poetic variation and virtuosity, then, can be viewed as an apt reflection both of the paradox and the power that arises from the intertwining of these differing identities.
The first quatrain of Sonnet 13 consists of a single question, enjambed across four lines. Browning’s use of enjambment here creates the lingering effect of prolongment and technical difficulty, indicative of the very arduous task that it describes: that of having to “hold the torch out, while the winds are rough.” Conventional tropes of love poetry are thus twisted for use in a different context: it’s not love itself that is being compared to fire or stormy weather, but the exacting articulation of it. Her suitor demands of Browning that she find “words enough” to “fashion into speech” a declaration of love by which she can illuminate their relationship, to which she replies in the second quatrain that she cannot. Previously, the feeling of prolonged suffering and disability was developed through the use of enjambment; now, the problems faced by the speaker are carried over in the second quatrain (or, the second half of the octave in the Italian sonnet) in the form of rhyme. The rhyme scheme created by the pairing of “speech” and “each” remains in place with the continued phonetic presence in the words “teach” and “reach.”
Browning’s reply to her lover in the second quatrain of the poem is not one of loverly acquiescence but of refusal and resistance. There is a bold statement of rejection: “I drop it at thy feet,” which is paralleled in the variations that Browning introduces in poetic form. The suitor originally demands of Browning her poesy (as a stand-in or rather, extension, of love); here, Browning paradoxically declares herself the consummate poet even in denying her ability to “bring thee proof / In words, of love hid in me out of reach.” In contrast to the smooth, continuous flow of the first quatrain, the second quatrain is more explicitly and structurally reflective of the obstacles faced by the poet: caesuras are enacted through the period in the first line of the quatrain as well as through hyphens and a comma in the third and fourth lines. Her resistance is also exemplified in the fact that “off” and “proof” don’t quite rhyme, and their forced pairing with one another in the rhyme scheme evokes Browning’s refusal to exactly match the expectations created both of her suitor and of the poetic tradition.
Where the first quatrain implied the fundamental divide between Browning and her suitor, the second quatrain similarly presents the theme of division but presents it not as an externality but as an internal conflict within the poet herself. Reflected within the abundance of personal pronouns (the multiplicity of “I.” “my.” “myself” and “me”) is the implication of the sonnet form as something more psychological and depthful in nature. The difficulties that arise in Browning’s relationship, then, are less amorous than they are personal and individual dilemmas: “I cannot teach / My hand to hold my spirit so far off / From myself.” With “love” and “spirit” presented as irreconcilable concepts, the quatrain ends on a somber note and the future of Browning’s relationship seems bleak.
The turn that comes at the beginning of the sestet, then, is one of power regained. The decisive action of disposal that opened the second quatrain is mirrored in words: this time, the poet declares “Nay.” Variations in meter invoke Browning’s newfound sense of strength and ability as she uses trochaic feet to deliver decrees of her own accord, departing from all the previous lines of regular iambic pentameter: “let the silence of my womanhood / Commend my woman-love to thy belief.” She declares that her silence will be the answer to her lover’s proposal, “Lest one touch of this heart convey its grief.” Her suffering, like her love, must be kept hidden beneath the “garment” of her life (according to the Oxford English Dictionary, a garment can refer to an “outward dress or covering in which anything is seen or manifested”): these self-imposed restrictions mirror the limitations of the sonnet form. So too, are the divisions of the sonnet (quantified into discrete, identifiable units) then reflective of the divisions faced by Browning with her suitor and within her own soul, recalled by the usage of the word “rend” in the sestet.
The ending paradox that arises from “dauntless, voiceless fortitude” is intriguing: Browning as poet finds strength in her words, Browning as lover is empowered by silence. As a sonnet written by a woman for a man, the poem is ultimately subversive at its core in its reversal of the writer-muse paradigm. With its abundance of poetic variation, Sonnet 13 is ultimately an exercise in self-consciousness, its focus developed on the writer’s psyche rather than on her ; the uniqueness of its creator’s identity is recollected and reconciled in the gendered terms with which Browning declares her “womanhood” and “woman-love.” The intertwining of poetry and romance implicit in the sonnet form is thus inherent not only in the actual, historical love affair between two renowned poets, but in the complex, intertextual relationship that Browning has with paradox, functioning both as power and paramour.
“The Farmer’s Children” by Elizabeth Bishop reveals her outlook on the children’s actions through literary techniques such as characterization. Upon being sent out to guard the barn’s machinery on a winter night, Cato and Emerson did not question their stepmother, but obeyed her. There was an unhealthy filial relationship between the boys and their stepmother which led to physical and emotional damage in them. Their alcoholic father and neglectful stepmother lacked love and attentive care for their sons which ultimately resulted in the boys’ deaths. Bishop incorporates the theme of a child’s pure, unwavering compliance to their parents’ requests. Her use of allusion, characterization of parents, and characterization of the children reveal this theme. In this narrative, Bishop contrasts the pureness of Cato and Emerson’s hearts and the evil characterization of their parents to convey the theme of how blindly obeying orders can be treacherous.
Using allusions, Bishop applies striking similarities between classic fairy tale elements and her characters to expose the brothers’ blind faith in their parents. Upon confronting his step sister about his missing gloves, the stepmother scolds Cato when, in reality, Lea Leola was to blame for stealing them. The stepmother rebukes, “Now Cato, see what you’ve done!… you boys hurry up and get out of here. I’ve had enough trouble for one day” (Bishop 289). This quotation alludes to Cinderella and her relationship with her stepmother. In “Cinderella,” she didn’t criticize her daughters when they tore Cinderella’s dress for the ball; she was more devoted to her own children than to her stepdaughter. Similarly, the characterization of the farmer’s wife aligns with the evil stepmother archetype since her daughters enjoy the warmth of a loving mother while her stepchildren, Cato and Emerson, face the cold. Even with such unsupportive, unaffectionate parents, Cato and Emerson fail to confront their stepmother on the dangers of traveling down the icy road on a frigid winter night, ultimately contributing to their own deaths. Meanwhile as Judd’s replacements, Cato and Emerson were oblivious to their father and Judd’s drinking habits. The narrator explains, “Then he began to think of his father and Judd, off in town… he loved him dearly” (Bishop 292-293). This quote illustrates how Cato puts faith and trust in his father, unaware of the farmer’s true motives. While Cato is loyal and faithful to his father, the reverence is not mutual. Another allusion in “The Farmer’s Children” is the closely knit relationship between a father and his children which was also present in “Beauty and the Beast.” In “Beauty and the Beast,” despite his failing career, Belle constantly motivates her father to invent. Ironically, Bishop describes the father-son relationship when Cato recalls his admiration for his father as he and his brother freeze to death. The innocence within Cato and Emerson never doubted what their father claimed he did in town, but rather, mindlessly accepted his word. Thus, allusion is used in Bishop’s “The Farmer’s Children” as a technique to add meaning to the children’s blind acceptance of their parents’ attitude and orders to them.
The literary technique of characterization, used by Bishop to describe the parents, is effective in the story as it presents how undeserving the parents are of their children’s obedience. Contrary to Cato’s assumption, “[the father and Judd] went on ‘business,’ something to do with selling another strip of land, but probably mostly to drink; and while they were away Emerson and Cato would take Judd’s place in the old barn” (Bishop 287). As previously stated, Cato revered his father, but the father downplayed his parental role and thus, the same devotion was not returned. It never occurred to the boys that their father was not selling property; instead, they consistently took Judd’s place without complaint. As for the stepmother, “she went to find an extra quilt to put over Lea Leola, Rosina, and Gracie Bell, sleeping in one bed in the next room. She spread it out and tucked it in without disturbing them” (Bishop 291). This proves the favoritism she has for her own children. After whisking the boys out the door without gloves or blankets, the stepmother returns to her beloved daughters with an extra quilt while they remained in the comfort of their home. These examples of the cold-hearted characterization of the parents reflect the resolution of the story when the children’s dedication to their parents’ wishes prompt their deaths.
Bishop also incorporates a characterization of the children’s purity throughout the story to demonstrate their oblivion to the true nature of their parents’ behavior. For example, the stepmother reminds the boys of their duty: “‘I suppose you boys forgot you’ve got to get over to the barn sometime tonight,’ she said ironically. Emerson protested a little” (Bishop 289). Emerson is not especially confrontive to his stepmother, rejecting her reminder or criticizing her for suggesting such a trip out in the merciless cold; instead he joins his brother in accepting their fate. Additionally, when Cato and Emerson exit the house, they “[try] to warm their noses against the clumsy lapels of their mackinaws, the freezing moisture felt even worse, and they gave it up and merely pointed out their breath to each other as it whitened and then vanished” (Bishop 289). This shows that despite the bitter winter, the boys dutifully proceeded with their task. The purity and cliche of the children cost them their lives. Therefore, Bishop differentiates the characterization of the parents and the children through the parents’ unreliability and the children’s virtue.
Ultimately, the conflicting characterization between the couple and their children emphasizes an overall theme of how mindlessly following orders ends with adverse consequences in Bishop’s “The Farmer’s Children.” By highlighting comparisons and contrasts between the two, the character portrayals and allusions to fairy tale elements help illustrate the theme. Bishop inspires the reader to question seemingly logical decisions and behaviors of their parents. Overall, by highlighting these instances of fairy tale comparisons and opposite characterizations, the story accentuates the importance of sensible decisions in the real world.
Both the poem The Cry of the Children by Elizabeth Barrett Browning and the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley portray acts of cruelty in an attempt to arouse pity from readers. The victims in each case feel bitter self-pity and respond with resentment towards those who wrong them. The working class children in the poem and the Monster in Frankenstein are pitiful characters because of how they are treated, but they are not completely helpless. They still can exercise free will and choose how to react to their treatment. There is a great difference in their outward dispositions even though their initial sentiments are similar. Both authors create characters that suffer injustices and desire pity, but their characters’ responses to their challenges determine whether or not they deserve the readers’ sympathy. The children in Browning’s poem feel sorrow and general despair towards their lives. They look forward to death, saying, “It is good when it happens” (Browning, line 51). The children are brave abou something that is universally feared. Browning uses the children’s unexpected outlook to show how they cope with hardships. They tell those who suggest that they should leave their work and play in the countryside to “Leave us … from your pleasures fair and fine!” (Browning, lines 63-64). The work never seems to end, as Browning stresses by using the phrase “all day” three times between lines 73 to 77. Browning emphasizes the childrens’ misery by showing how they do not even want to think of running and playing: “If we cared for any meadows, it were merely/To drop down in them and sleep” (Browning, lines 67-68). The children are resentful towards those who do not sympathize with them, but they do not dwell on things they cannot have. In contrast, the Monster in Shelley’s novel allows himself to be consumed by his sorrow until it turns to anger. Early in the story, he is similar to the children in Browning’s poem. When he is alone and cold in the forest he sits down and weeps (Shelley 68). However after being rejected by the family he tries to befriend, he says,“despair had not yet taken possession of me; my feelings were those of rage and revenge” (Shelley 92). The family rejects the monster, but they do not force any further hardships on him. His sorrow is justifiable, but his anger is not. The Monster continues, saying, “I did not strive to control them; but, allowing myself to be borne away by the stream, I bent my mind towards injury and death” (Shelley 93). The Monster willfully builds up hatred in his heart. Shelley wears away the pity that the audience may feel for the Monster by slowly revealing his cruelty.Meanwhile, in Browning’s poem, the children’s response to the injustices they face is that they lack goodness, not that they should embrace evil. They have no faith, for they have received no religious instruction, as is shown in stanza 10 when they say that they only know two words of a single prayer. They also lack faith in God’s benevolence. They say, “grief has made us unbelieving” (Browning, line 131). Browning’s readers would have seen faithless children as a tragedy. Browning, however, shows why her young protagonists think that God does not hear them. They say, “the human creatures near us/Pass by, hearing not, or answer not a word.” (Browning, lines 107-108). It is their simple reasoning that makes them doubt God, rather than any sort of innate cruelty. The Monster’s reasoning is selfish and biased. He attempts to portray himself as innocent and striving for goodness but contradicts himself on multiple occasions. He claims that he “felt the greatest ardour for virtue rise within me, and abhorrence for vice” (Shelley 87). However, he also admits that he feels a “bitter gall of envy” (Shelley 87) when he sees the happiness of the family he watches. He feels entitled to a share in their happiness. He views the scientist, Frankenstein, as a God-like figure for having created him, but curses the man for leaving him alone (Shelley 88). The Monster cannot blame anyone for needlessly inflicting such emotional pain on him, but feels wronged because he sees pleasures in the world that he cannot access. Even the children in Browning’s poem do not claim a right to happiness or curse God for their misery. All the children desire is peace. The Monster is capable of sustaining himself without aid and could be free from oppression, but could not be satisfied with this kind of life. Regarding the family he observes, he says, “my heart yearned to be known and loved by these amiable creatures” (Shelley 89). The monster’s desire for love is not a crime, but the resulting anger and plans for revenge make him guilty. He imposes himself on others and is angry when they reject him. Like the Monster, the children feel that their Creator does not love them, if He exists (Browning, lines 125-135). Their reaction, however, is only weeping. The Monster soon determines that Frankenstein is his enemy, referring to him as “him towards whom I have sworn eternal revenge” (Shelley 97). He blames Frankenstein for all the suffering he experiences. Frankenstein, meanwhile, is not guilty of directly harming the Monster. He admittedly does not love or care for the Monster either, but this does directly connect to the hatred that the Monster feels towards him. When the Monster captures a boy and learns that he is related to Frankenstein, the Monster strangles him out of hatred for Frankenstein. He even relishes this murderous act, saying “my heart swelled with exultation and hellish triumph” (Shelley 97). The Monster believes that he is justified in seeking revenge because of his unsatisfying existence. He says, “I am malicious because I am miserable” (Shelley 98), implying that misery is sufficient justification for murder. He talks as though he is a victim of far greater injustices than those he was endured. He asserts that he will not submit to “abject slavery” (Shelley 98), yet there are none who wish to enslave him in any way. He demonstrates that he is capable of deep thought, but persists in trying to justify his crimes in ways that far exceed any committed against him. Unlike the Monster, the Children are forced to work in slave- like conditions. They are oppressed and suffer much greater physical hardships than being unloved. Yet, even as small children, they have more strength of character and forbearance than the Monster. They do feel resentment with their sorrow; “the child’s sob in the silence curses deeper/Than the strong man in his wrath” (Browning, lines 159 -160). Even in this state, they do not harbour thoughts of revenge and murder. Browning wrote her poem in order to arouse pity from her audience. Her characters maintain a certain level of virtue despite their youth and the cruelty they experience, and therefore would have won her readers over. Shelley’s Monster inspires pity at first, but it soon turns to disgust. Shelley’s work has more depth because it is more than a tragedy or a horror story. It is an example of behaviourism. The Monster tries to claim that his actions are the result of his surroundings and the actions of others; “Shall I respect man when, he contemns me?” (Shelley 98). He ruins his chances of pity or sympathy by making the choice to inflict suffering on others who can’t or won’t give him love. His crimes are premeditated. He says, “I will watch with the wiliness of the snake, that I may sting with its venom” (Shelley 116). Browning’s work forces her readers to face society and understand the victims of hardship, while Shelley’s work makes readers consider the reasons for unhappiness within themselves. Works Cited:Browning, Elizabeth. The Cry of the Children. Norton Anthology of English Literature. 8th ed.Eds. Julia Reidhead et al. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2006. 1922-1925. Print Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. 1996. 68- 116. Print.