It’s no secret that Christina Rossetti’s life was made difficult by her brothers’ use of her as a painting subject, after all her poem, “In an Artist’s Studio,” illustrates the plight of an artist’s subject. I feel as though many could point to this poem as best portraying her struggle, yet I believe Rossetti’s poem “Introspection” is what truly captures her feelings on the matter. Rossetti begins the poem with the blunt statement “I wish it were over the terrible pain,” (1) plunging the reader into the deep end of her own mind and trauma. By using first-person view, the text seems incredibly personal, as if Rossetti is relaying her feelings to the reader as a friend. It is incredibly obvious that in this poem the speaker is Rossetti, recounting her life thus far and how even through incredible pain she was able to stay standing. She even writes of said pain saying, “Let it come tenfold if it must, / But I will not groan when I bite the dust” (20). She is revealing how deeply the objectification of her face and body affects her, and how no matter how long she must endure it, she can.
“In an Artist’s Studio” certainly also illustrates Rossetti’s perspective on her life so far, but uses a third-person view when discussing the “nameless girl” (6), the subject of the portrait. It is still obvious to anyone aware of Christina Rossetti’s history that it is about herself, but Rossetti refers to her as this other being, separating herself from said subject. She even goes as far as to have the speaker refer to themself as a part of a “we,” extending the distance Rossetti puts between herself and the subject. This seems to be almost a form of dissociation for Rossetti, as one would dissociate to deal with trauma, she dissociates through her poetry. “In an Artist’s Studio” also addresses the cruelty of the artists’ gaze directly, while “Introspective” moreso deals with the resulting psychological effects dealt with by Rossetti. Both are integral to Rossetti’s story, yet “Introspective” certainly paints the picture of Rossetti’s suffering clearer.
Letitia Elizabeth Landon’s poem “The Marriage Vow” approaches the concept of marriage in what one could perceive as an attack on the institution, using the idea of language and words to illustrate the funeral Landon thinks a wedding to be. Landon makes this thought clear immediately, with her first line being “The altar, `tis of death!” (1). After all, the altar is where so many young women lay their dreams to rest, burying their hopes and desires to instead pledge fealty to a man who will never let her follow her heart. At the altar, a young woman is forced to “… sacrifice of all youth’s sweetest hopes” (2), is forced to give up so much of what makes her her – it makes sense that Landon would view a wedding as an occasion of sorrow and death, as something is dying, it’s just not a human being that’s being lifted into a coffin. This idea of the woman’s wedding being her funeral is also indicative of Landon’s own relationship with marriage and the way the institution was held in the Victorian era, as a woman would become her husband’s “property” in a sense after the marriage was sealed.
The power of words is a theme repeated in a lot of Landon’s work, and this theme is prevalent in “The Marriage Vow” as well. Landon writes, “It is a dreadful thing for woman’s lip / To swear the heart away” (3-4), indicating that it is the words of the marriage vow uttered by the woman that seals the heart’s fate and dooms her heart to death. This is Landon’s proof for the amount of power words hold, as the simple words of her vows are what put the woman to death, or at least condemn her heart to death. These words are binding, and are stronger than the woman’s passions, will, and dreams, strong enough to kill her.
Bridgewater State University Virtual Commons – Bridgewater State University. (n.d.). Retrieved March 31, 2023, from https://vc.bridgew.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1420&context=honors_proj
What is love? Is it an obsession? An addiction? What constitutes the rush of endorphins felt upon seeing your beloved? How passionate, how deeply does first love truly feel? While these questions may never be able to be answered fully, Mary Robinson’s “Sappho and Phaon” illustrates the intense attraction felt on behalf of Sappho and provides insight into what all-consuming love is like. The introduction provided for the reader by Robinson introduces this idea right away, saying sapphic love is “… enlightened by the most exquisite talents, yet yielding to the destructive control of ungovernable passions” (41). This sets the tone for the poem immediately – cluing the reader in that the story that ensues is one about wild, uncontrollable passion and emotion.
This theme of passion is consistent throughout the entire poem, yet it is in the sonnet “Sappho Discovers her Passion” that it really runs wild. This sonnet is describing Sappho’s first encounter with the excitement that comes alongside intense attraction, and the intensity of her feelings is matched with the intensity of the parallels in the first three lines of the sonnet, each a question beginning with the word “why.” Why, Sappho pleads, does she feel this wild attraction to Phaon? “Why does each thought in wild disorder stray?” (44) She asks, the question immediately followed by another “why” question. The repetition provides an auditory intensity akin to how one would passionately speak about the subject of their attraction when read aloud, lending an idea to how fierce Sappho’s feelings are toward Phaon.
While intense passion is a constant theme throughout the sonnets, it’s also contrasted with harsh reason in the sonnet “Invokes Reason,” in which Sappho calls upon reason to assist her with the wild nature of her attraction. She begs reason to “Lull the fierce tempest of my feverish soul” (86), and while Sappho is speaking to reason, the style of the poem changes. Words such as “wisdom” and “philosophy” gain capitalization, indicating that Sappho is placing value on these two things in contrast to her passion, yet Robinson capitalizes the word “passion” as well, showing that passion has as much a stake in the fight occurring within Sappho’s mind as wisdom and philosophy.
What has humankind done to the natural world? What crimes have been committed in the name of man against the flora and fauna of our natural home? The speaker in William Wordsworth’s “Lines Written in Early Spring” ponders questions similar to these as they observe the simple pleasures of nature whilst relaxing in a grove of trees. It is here that the speaker ponders the natural landscape, noting budding flowers and birds hopping about. Wordsworth writes about the flowers and flora of the natural scene in front of him as if they have conscious minds, lending a level of personability to the inanimate objects and indicating that every part of nature takes pleasure in its home.
After observing this scene, the speaker then questions on two occasions, “What man has made of man.” (8, 24). The first time, the speaker is enjoying thoughts so pleasant in response to the beautiful grove he is sitting in, that worse thoughts begin to come to mind. These thoughts, in conjunction with the intense connection to nature the speaker experiences whilst sitting in the grove, are those of humankind, particularly how it has destroyed itself and parts of the natural world. The speaker then quickly moves on and begins taking note of the illustrious natural portrait painted before them, and realizes that each living piece of nature they can see is taking pleasure in the simplicity that is their natural environment.
The speaker then begins to wonder again, why couldn’t mankind take pleasure in that simplicity? Why has humanity come to, and how have we put ourselves there? If there is such pleasure found in the natural world, why has mankind destroyed so much of it? The speaker quickly realizes how sad it is that they must ask these questions and begs the reader to understand – “Have I not reason to lament / What man has made of man?” (23-24). This is the second time the speaker is pondering this idea, this question of what mankind has done to itself and the natural world, emphasizing the concept. This time around, however, the idea is shrouded in sadness, whereas the first time it was more of an observation. After all, the speaker has by then spent quite some time surrounded by the natural world that mankind is hell bent on destroying, and has developed a sense of empathy toward each aspect of the natural scene before them.