Listen to the children cry or else they will die. Literally.

Welcome back readers, 

Some of you may think Elizabeth Barrott Browning is a tad dramatic. I like to think she’s emotional. But for the vast majority of people who read her poetry in the 18th-19th century, Browning was a passionate sensation and she was an outspoken advocate for reforming child labor. One of Browning’s most successful poems, “The Cry of the Children” is 13 stanzas with an ABAB rhyme scheme. Browning also utilizes assonance, metaphor, and imagery to force readers to come face to face with the poor child workers who are neglected and overworked as if they were mere pack animals. An even sadder reality is that a vast number of child workers even died from the extent of hard labor their underdeveloped bodies had to perform. 

Readers, I would argue that assonance is the most dominant device here in Browning’s poem. Specifically, the assonance of long “ee” (“ye hear” [line 1], “weeping” [line 1], “bleating” [line 5], “leafless” [line 17], “see” [line 26], “seeking” [line 53], and etc.) and “uh” ( “brothers” [lines 1, 9, 21, 101, and 134], “mothers”[lines 3 and 23 ], “others” [lines 11 and 103] ). I believe one of the purposes of the assonance of such verbs, adjectives, and nouns emphasizes the voice of the speaker who is narrating the atrocities of child labor. In addition, the assonance places attention on certain words carrying emotional significance like “weeping” and “mothers”. I’m not entirely sure about this observation but does assonance also aid in denoting both the poem’s sorrowful mood and the pitiful imagery of the children? 

Take a look at some of the imagery Browning uses: “The young lambs are bleating in the meadows, The young birds are chirping in the nest, The young fawns are playing with the shadows, The young flowers are blowing toward the west:” (lines 5-8) Is Browning asking us to imagine the children as symbols of innocence? Are these lines also meant to contrast and stress the following line “They are weeping in the playtime of the others,” (line 11)? That ALL young beings deserve to exist in bliss without experiencing unnecessary sorrow and hardship? This may be a far stretch but I also wonder if there’s a religious implication with this setting of nature and the symbolism of lambs, as if faith is absent for the children. 



Nice shirt! Guess who died to make it?

Dear readers,

Close your eyes and transport yourself back to the 18th century. Now open your eyes and look at your apparel. Nice, right? Well, that’s blood, sweat, and tears you’re wearing. Welcome to the 18th century where the lower class is forced into hard labor to make a meager living. Thomas Hood, a poet of the Romantic and Victorian movement, wrote “The Song of the Shirt” to raise awareness of this social injustice behind the labor of impoverished factory workers. Consisting of 11 stanzas, Hood’s poem generally follows a ABCBDEDE rhyme scheme and employs elements of meter such as repetition, assonance, and consonance convey the emotional and physical toil of the seamstress who is one of two narrators.

As briefly mentioned, “The Song of the Shirt” surprisingly has two voices: The speaker and the seamstress. Though we really only read from the speaker’s voice in the first and last stanza, it’s important to notice how the first stanza sets a meter and introduction to the seamstress while the last stanza ends the poem with a full circle back to the beginning with a minor change. This change being the line: “ Would that its tone could reach the Rich!—” (Line 88). Though this line is a small detail and still end rhymes with the previous line, “And still with a voice of dolorous pitch,—” (Line 87), is it possible Hood is doing something quite bold here in straying from this otherwise same repetition of the first stanza?? In a socio-economic lens, the upper class are either ignorant or bystanders to the horrible experience in the workplace, due to their privelege. I believe Hood is, what modern slang would say, “straight up” with his message: He wants “the Rich” to finally come face with what’s going on behind the production of the very clothes they wear.

Darling readers, there’s something else I wanted to draw your attention to. This being the meter that I brought up before. Besides creating a musical rhythm which emanates the seamstress’s song, is it possible that the rhyme scheme has another meaning? For instance, take a look at these paralleled lines in separate stanzas: “ ‘Work! work! Work! While the cock is crowing aloof! And work—work—work, Till the stars shine through the roof!” (Lines 9-12) and “ ‘Work—work—work Till the brain begins to swim; Work—work—work Till the eyes are heavy and dim!” (Lines 17-20). Just looking at the repetition of “work, work, work”, I wonder if it’s meant to establish a sense of tedious labor in a never-ending cycle. Furthermore, look at how the stressed and unstressed rhythm of lines 10 and 12 is the same as that of lines 18 and 20. The pattern in rhythm is not only pleasant to read (I confess that I’m guilty of reading these lines out loud multiple times), but it also delivers the physical beat of the seamstress’s labor.

I’d like to leave a few parting thoughts with you all, dear readers. Hood’s poem is deceivingly simple and rhythmically pleasing to read, reminding me of a nursery rhyme or children’s story. Did Hood do this on purpose to appeal to the upper class, his intended audience? That in their privilege of wealth and education, the ignorant and the bystanders find that an easy yet emotional read is a fascination to them and Hood is playing with that knowledge? Personally, it seems Hood is further snubbing the upper class by doing so and I applaud him. What a king. 



The Beautiful Lady (with a high sex drive)

Dear readers, 

John Keats REALLY loves love…and death. They go hand in hand with each other, of course. In his poem “La Belle Dame sans Merci”, Keats presents a classic: A knight is seduced by a fairy because she’s beautiful and falls in love with her. Aw. Then the knight dies. Yikes. Through a dialogue format and a number of other poetic devices, Keats portrays this tragic romance which not only takes on a dark twist but also raises questions over love.

Composed of 12 quatrains, the poem is moved along by iambic tetrameter which is in the first 3 lines of each stanza. Thus, the repeating tetrameter both stresses words and sets up a cadence resembling a ballad of music. Aiding this, we also have end-stopped lines in the form of repeating commas, exclamation marks, question marks, periods, and semicolons. Having established the rhyme scheme, readers, let’s move onto the tone. In the first stanza of the poem, we read: “O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms, Alone and palely loitering? The sedge has withered from the lake, And no birds sing.” (1-4) Here, we get a sense that the knight in question is miserable and the speaker wonders why he suffers in his described paleness and loneliness. After the speaker repeats this question “O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms” in line 5, the knight responds and explains how he came upon a fairy who was “Full beautiful—a faery’s child, Her hair was long, her foot was light, And her eyes were wild.” (14-16) This detailed fixation on the fairy’s beauty, specifically body parts, is further emphasized by the consonance of “f” and “w” and “l”. Readers, is it possible that this section also serves to display the male eye of desire based on the focus on physical beauty and further evidence in the poem.

For one, notice how further in the poem that the knight reveals: “ I set her on my pacing steed, And nothing else saw all day long,..” (21-22). This is a sexual innuendo implying that the knight had sex with the fairy “all day long.” So far, the knight is infatuated with the fairy purely based on how she pleasures his eye and his body. Furthermore, the knights recalls how “sure in language strange she said— ‘I love thee true’. ” (27-28) “Sure in a language strange”?? If the fairy is speaking in a language “strange”, how does the knight understand exactly what she’s saying? Is this meant as love is a universal translator or that the knight is completely disillusioned with his obsession over the physicality of this fairy who can apparently have sex all day?

Another device I noticed was what I thought were allusions to the femme fatale. The first red flag is when the knight characterizes the fairy to have “wild” eyes. Wild beings that are beautiful are often deadly, is my thought. In addition, after the sex part, the knight explains that the fairy “found me roots of relish sweet, And honey wild, and manna-dew,..” (25-26) and she “lulled me asleep” (33) in “her Elfin grot” (29). Following the knight falling asleep, he dreamed of “pale” (37-38) kings, princes, and warriors who cry “ ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci Thee hath in thrall!’ ” (39-40) Hmmm, knight conveniently falls asleep after having sex all day and then being fed roots he somehow knows the names of… Not to mention the dream of the “pale” men who warn the knight that the fairy has him in “thrall”. The repetition of pale and the unionized warning very clearly indicates that the men are ghosts who were victims of the fairy. So now the question remains: Did the fairy kill the night with energy-sucking sex like a succubus or did she poison him with the roots? Either way, I think Keats is warning us… Love can be fatal. It can even end up killing you. 

Sincerely, Alucard

London Bridge is falling down- sorry wrong poem but same river

Dear readers,

Imagine walking down the streets of London. A city that’s been described to be vibrant and bustling with rich interaction and spectacular sights. Would you see it this way? Well, William Blake doesn’t. Sorry (Blake isn’t sorry). Blake’s poem London is organized in 4 short stanzas consisting of quatrains and an ABAB rhyme that aid in the sights and sounds being described in the poem that is a commentary on society and the government.

Through the figure of a traveler and literary lens, Blake describes wandering through his surrounding setting which is “each chartered street” (1) where he sees faces of passing people that have “marks of weakness, marks of woe.” (4) In establishing this bleak setting of streets that are chartered into systems for order , Blake also introduces the poetic voice that has a sorrowful tone in this face of society’s misery that is displayed by the people’s facial expressions as they walk in these streets. I would like to postulate a question to my beloved readers: With this detailed observance, is it possible society is being described as miserably suffering due to the control as imposed upon them by the power hungry upper class/ government?? Because Blake hints at this control through the “chartered” streets. Someone had to charter them and it most certainly wasn’t the lower class who had no money or power to charter streets in the first place. 

In stanza 3, Blake transitions from sight to sound. Curious, Curious. Who is this “chimney-sweeper” (9) that cries? And why is the church “blackening”(10)? How do these two completely opposite subjects relate? Upon research, you will find that a chimney-sweeper during this time period in London was the lowest of lowest in class as being a chimney-sweeper was a low paying and thankless job. Oh and did I mention a lot of young orphaned children were working as chimney-sweepers and churches were responsible for them? We just love exploitation and abuse. But with this background context, I think the chimney-sweeper and church are directly connected due to class and power. Hence, the chimney-sweeper cries from being forced to perform hard labor and the church blackens for its lack of humanity towards the chimney-sweeper. 

Sincerely, Alucard

The sublime soul

William Wordsworth’s “Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey” is such a romantic poem. Literally and periodically. “Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey” is composed of five stanzas in iambic pentameter which adds a natural cadence mimicking regularly paced human speech. Writing from the point of view of a returning admirer, Wordsworth deeply immerses his soul in the calming beauty of this specific setting of nature that in fact, never mentions this “Tintern Abbey”.

Right away in the first two opening lines of the poem, our attention is drawn to the repetition of “five” that occurs three times: “Five year”, “Five summers”, and “Five long winters” (l. 1-2).  This repetition immediately emphasizes just how long these five years felt to him that time has passed in nature’s equivalent to five summers and five winters. Further on, seclusion is also repeated which invokes an image of nature as separate from the world of man in its own wild “secluded” world where everything is untouched. Thus, when the narrator is in “towns and cities”(l. 27) where he experiences “hours of weariness”(l. 28), all he has to do is remember the undisturbed tranquility of the landscape to feel “sensations sweet”(l. 28). In other words, it is like a man being revived by the memory of sensations his lover has ingrained into his heart and brain. 

It’s not just his own mood that changes though. His entire being comes into focus when he is induced into the sublime peace: 

“Until, the breath of this corporeal frame

And even the motion of our human blood

Almost suspended, we are laid asleep

In body, and become a living soul:” (l. 44-47)

As described in these lines, Wordsworth looks within and sees in his mind’s eye that he has transformed into “a living soul” as he has been guided to being free of his “corporeal frame” that bears human burdens previously described as “hours of weariness” (l. 28)  and “the heavy and the weary weight of all this unintelligible world” (l. 40-41)