Class Blog

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 oysters and the giving tree

When I read the nonsense poetry of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear, I was struck by their similarity to Shel Silverstein – particularly The Walrus and the Carpenter and The Giving Tree. Both these poems have slightly absurd, fantastical or unrealistic concepts, but they also hold an underlying meaning, one that a child reader will eventually pick up on as they grow older, enjoying the poems at first because of their simplistic and entertaining language. 

Both of these poems have themes of sacrifice and encroachment. The giving tree’s flaw is in her name – she sacrifices too much to the boy because she loves him, and the oysters, dazzled by the conversation that their older would-be companions provide, are coerced into being their unwitting meal, sacrificing themselves. Both of the receivers of the sacrificers are either unaware or ungrateful of what they are receiving, to the downfall of the giver: “And so the boy cut down her trunk/and made a boat and sailed away./And the tree was happy/… but not really.” At the end of the poem, the tree laments that she has nothing left to give the boy: “‘I wish that I could give you something…./but I have nothing left./I am just an old stump./I am sorry….’” (Silverstein). The boy does not apologize to the tree for what he has taken, only sits upon her stump. In contrast, in Carroll’s poem, the Walrus “deeply sympathizes” with the oysters as he sorts them out by size, yet his empty apologies mean nothing as he does not even realize he has eaten them all until they do not respond. The Walrus and the Carpenter hold an air of entitlement throughout the poem, as they complain about the sand on the beach and expect it to be swept for them. 

The Sonnet, Sappho, and Phaon

Mary Robinson’s “Sappho and Phaon” is a series of sonnets, in order of a story that chronicles Sappho’s love and poetic voice for Phaon. Each focuses on a different aspect of Sappho’s thought process, rather accurately depicting the ups, downs, and complications of being in love. Each sonnet bleeds into the other a bit for the purpose of continuing the story and depicting the changing mental state and racing thoughts of someone in love despite each sonnet being separately titled. Additionally, more opportunity arises within each sonnet to depict racing trains of thought since each sonnet allows for a turn, or volta, within them, where the subject changes slightly (such as in a shift of feelings, thoughts, style, or otherwise). For example, in Sonnet IV (or “Sappho Discovers Her Passion), the volta signals a slight shift in subject from Sappho, the poetic voice, realizing and thinking through her romantic feelings and desires. In the beginning octave, the sonnet begins with “Why, when I gaze on Phaon’s beauteous eyes, / …each thought in wild disorder stray?”. This initial questioning of why her thoughts become disorganized and messy when she sees Phaon’s beauty is answered by the end of the octave, when she states that “stung with hopeless passion,—Sappho dies!”. After the octave comes the sestet, as is typical for Petrarchan sonnets; the volta also commonly occurs here. In Sonnet IV, this is the case: in the following sestet builds upon the dramatic exclamation that Sappho’s passion and love is so strong that she feels she must die, beginning to describe a hypothetical scene of her death. 

If the sonnets were Shakespearian in their format, I believe that the compilation of sonnets wouldn’t have the same natural flow that they have as Petrarchan sonnets. Shakespearian sonnets consist of three quatrains and then one rhyming couplet as the final stanza, giving a clear sense of finality. The stark contrast between the repeated quatrains and a tiny conclusion of two lines, both containing rhymes one after the other, often gives a sense of the poem being well-contained within itself. Petrarchan sonnets, on the other hand, do not have as drastic a contrast between their two rhyme schemes, the octave and sestet, which both endure for more equal amounts of time despite the sestet still being shorter by two lines. Additionally, in Shakespearian sonnets, the volta occurs closer to the end, often right before the final couplet. “Sonnet IV,” by being Petrarchan, affords itself much more time to play with the aftermath of the volta, exploring each turn and twist in thought fully—before concluding not with a couplet, but with a slightly more open line that follows the rhyme scheme of the lines above it. Not only does the volta have more time to be explored in this sonnet, “Sonnet IV” flows more easily into another sonnet of the compilation, starting up again as if it were yet another volta, simply starting off with the next octave. The transition between sonnets IV and V reads as such:

“And, as the soft vibrations float on air,

Let pity waft my spirit to the blest,

To mock the barb’rous triumphs of despair!”


“O! How can Love exulting Reason quell!

How fades each nobler passion from his gaze!

E’en Fame, that cherishes the Poet’s lays,

That fame, ill-fated Sappho lov’d so well” …

In An Artist’s Studio … Lay the Lady of Shalott

Christina Rossetti’s “In an Artist’s Studio” struck me for multiple reasons: first and foremost, the haunting line of “he feeds on her face”. The imagery alone was enough to draw me in, but I became more interested in the poem going over it with peers in class, learning the context of Christina Rossetti’s life and how it may have influenced this posthumously published work. The poem can easily be related to her being the model for many of her brother’s paintings: after all, the woman in the poem is only “one selfsame figure” though she looks out from “all his canvases”. She is portrayed “not as she is”, but as many different fictional figures, in only a perfect, curated pose. Looking at some of the images of the paintings Christina Rossetti modeled for, I was reminded of the poem and subsequent paintings of “The Lady of Shalott,” and one of my classmates brought up the same association. The beautiful, yet often tragic, female figures of the paintings surrounding the Lady of Shalott reflect not only Christina Rossetti’s own experiences, but the more generalized experiences she describes through “In An Artist’s Studio.” “A queen in opal or in ruby dress, / A nameless girl in freshest summer-greens, / A saint, an angel” are all possible paintings done of the same female model. The painting of the Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse embodies multiple of these: the lady is dressed in a white, shining dress, similar to opal—she stood beside the water “queenly” as well. At the same time, she is beautiful yet nameless, known only as the “Lady of Shalott.” And as for being saint or angel-like, one could interpret the moment the painting depicts from the poem as her saint-like moment—sailing off to her death, a sacrifice she makes, “sick of shadows”, “chanting” as she drifts along the water to the light of Camelot. Finally, it is worth noting that both the poem and the painting of the Lady of Shalott depict her death as rather serene, also saintly in nature—it brings to mind the line of “In An Artist’s Studio” where Rosetti states that she, a model, is painted “not as she is, but as she fills his dream”. Both the painting and poem depicting the Lady of Shalott—nameless, queenly, angelic—were produced by men. Rossetti’s poem invites an interpretation of the poem and painting that looks at how the figure of the Lady of Shalott is represented, and why.

Intimacy through anapests

She walks / in beau/ty, like / the night (8)

Of cloud/less climes / and star/ry skies; (8)

And all / that’s best / of dark / and bright (8)

Meet in / her as/pect and / her eyes; (8)

Thus mel/lowed to / that ten/der light (8)

Which hea/ven to gau/dy day / denies. (9)

I guess it’s the sounds in Michael Field’s “Cyclamens” that reminds me of the first stanza of “She Walks in Beauty.” What first struck me about Michael Field’s poetry is the intimacy in the poetic voice, which is quite absent in many of the love poems written from the male lover’s prospective (thinking of Romantic and early modern poets). There are a lot of factors at play in regard to this difference, but I would like to focus on meter in this blog post. I have given my scansion on both texts. “She Walks in Beauty” is in iambic tetrameter, so it consists mostly of iambs. While “Cyclamens” consists of both iambs and anapests. Iambs have a skippy rhythm like the beat of a song, which serves the purpose of the poet praising, idolizing the beloved. Mixing anapests with iambs, “Cyclamens” reads more like natural speech. This poem resists patterns and regularity. Anapests do not give the satisfaction of balance and rhythm like iambs. The rhymes also seem casually in place. There is not a clear rhyme scheme. This poem is inching towards free verse.

By rejecting regular metrical and a rhyme scheme, “Cyclamens” is rejecting the idealization of the beloved and stating that such idealization does not truly capture human intimacy. Byron’s beloved contains “all that’s best of dark and bright,” has the tenderness of “cloudless climes and starry skies.” But there’s a bit of tension, even violence in “Cyclamens.” The flowers are “terribly white,” “chiselled white”; the sky is “cut” by the light. And the speaker is unimpressed by what Byron praises, the sky, the moonlight, the snow. The lines become longer as the poem goes on except for the last line, as if purposefully refusing to give any closure.

Where The Color Green Fits Into Childhood and Murder at Sea

I wanted to put “The Echoing Green” by William Blake and “The Haunted Beach” by Mary Robinson in conversation with one another. Although both poems’ themes and ideas differ greatly from one another– with “The Echoing Green” focusing on the contrast between youth and growing old, and  “The Haunted Beach” focusing on a Fisherman’s guilt for committing a murder– both poems do have a key connection: the color green. 


Both poems use the color green as sanctuary from loneliness. In “The Haunted Beach” we are brought through the journey of a Fisherman’s guilt. It is a chaotic guilt that is described in each stanza, but every stanza but one end with the line “Where the green billows played”. This line tells the readers that all of this guilt and turmoil – along with the actual murder itself– takes place in front of the sea. As the moon reflects of the Ocean’s waves, the water looks green. This green is the only consistent thought that the Fisherman has. The ocean is an aspect of nature that the Fisherman is dependant on guiding him in his guilt. The Fisherman is isolated in complete solitude as he deals with his guilt alone. The repetition of the “green billows” displays the fact that nature provides sanctuary from loneliness. Although he cannot grasp fully what he has done, the one thing he can grasp is that this big aspect of nature lies in front of him, almost alive, as it is radiating the color green. This personification of the Ocean in describing it as “playing” is similar to the personification of nature in “The Echoing Green”. Both poems utilize green as this anchor point, a sort of symbol of consistency. The only thing that is consistent in both of these poems, despite everything else changing in the poem, is the color green. 


The echoing green is described as the land that the characters and animals are playing on. However, by putting both poems in conversation with one another, we can begin to understand this “echoing green” as nature as a whole. Similar to the Haunted Beach’s repetition of, “Where the green billows play!”, the Echoing Green’s repetition of “On the echoing green” at the end of each stanza produces the same affect of consistency and a sense of comfort for the speakers in the poems. 


I think the most significant place that this conversation impacts “The Echoing Green” is in the very last line, when the speaker says, “On the darkening green” instead of “On the echoing green”. As an individual poem, this line is understood as describing the grass at the end of the day, after the children have finished playing and the sun is slowly setting to cause the green to become darker. However, in conversation the the green in “The Haunted Beach”, this line emphasizes the human connection to nature as they grow old. This is brought out by comparing the way that the Fisherman utilizes the human connection to nature to guide him through the chaos of his guilt. The echoing green speaker uses nature to find comfort in the chaos of growing old. 


Viewing the “echoing green” as nature (as a whole) is saying that nature grows old with you. This emphasizes how the Earth is growing old alongside of the speaker. It represents the comfort by Nature against the loneliness of old age. This is shown by the lines, “Many sisters and brothers/ Like birds in their nest, / Are ready for rest,” Everyone around the speaker is ready to leave. Nature, although still growing old with the speaker, is still there. Despite Nature also growing old with you it will always remain green.

“Introspection” Vs. “In an Artist’s Studio”

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.


What is Love? Echoes of Love’s House

In William Morris’ Echoes of Love’s House, the unique form and poetics work to create a fascinating discourse of what the narrator defines as “love” and how love functions, as well as its reciprocal effects with humanity. The form present, as stated, is unique, providing opposing, or contradicting statements adjacent to each other throughout the eight stanzas of two lines. For example, a contradictory statement is present in the first two lines of the poem, as the author writes:                                                                                                                     “Love gives every gift whereby we long to live
‘Love takes every gift, and nothing back doth give'” (Morris 1-2).

This contradiction, followed by others throughout the poem, works to establish the narrator’s working definition of love and how it functions. In stating opposing functions of love while using similar language, such as love “gives” every gift and love “takes” every gift, the narrator establishes the propensity to which love can affect people, given that while it can do one thing, it can do the complete opposite.

The personification of love is definitely substantial in this articulation by the narrator as well, given that because love can “give” and “take” it is almost something of a whole other person aside from one and their desired lover. An interesting question to pose would be that if the personification of love in this instance is reflective upon the desired lover of the narrator and the taking and giving comes from the lover, or, that love is somewhat of a whole other thing in itself that functions outside of the relationship of two people. I almost think that this question is referenced towards the end of the poem, when the author writes: “Ah! I praise thee, Love, for utter joyance won!
‘And is my praise nought worth for all my life undone?’” (Morris 15-16).

This interesting contradiction of the effects of love points towards the question I have raised in that because the narrator says, “I praise thee, love” the place of love can be replaced by a person. Is the narrator referring to love as something manifested through their lover, or simply an emotion that holds power over humanity in our shared ability to have feelings and emotions?

The Problem with Long-Distance Relationships

Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s “The Blessed Damozel” is a poem about star-crossed lovers – literally. The titular damsel pines for her lover, waiting for the day he will join her in heaven so they can enter paradise together. Throughout the poem, the damsel is characterized as both spiritual and earthly, which emphasizes the divide between her place in heaven and her still-living lover’s place on Earth. She is described as holding three lilies, which represent purity and the Holy Trinity, and in her unbound hair are seven stars, which are a direct biblical reference. The only adornment on her dress is a white rose, which the Virgin Mary gifted to her (page 458). Each of these details establishes the damsel’s purity and innocence, as well as her unearthly nature.  

The poem has three distinct voices: the omniscient narrator, who describes the damsel; the damsel herself, who speaks out to her lover from heaven; the damsel’s lover, whose brief remarks occur within parentheses. In a way, this poem is a conversation between the heavenly damsel and her Earth-bound lover. Her lover’s parenthetical responses indicate how far removed he is from her, though their imagined communication emphasizes the extent of their love. When the damsel calls down to her lover, it is doubly emphasized that her voice “was like the voice the stars / Had when they sang together” (page 459). She is no longer an Earthly creature, but a celestial being.  

However, her lover imagines that he can hear her voice: “Even now, in that bird’s song, / Strove not her accents there, / Fain to be hearkened?” (page 460). He imagines feeling her presence as well, saying “Surely she leaned o’er me – her hair / Fell all about my face… / Nothing: the autumn-fall of leaves” (page 458). The lover’s imagination of the damsel in the natural world contrasts with her celestial description and highlights the distance between them. He is incapable of imagining her as something he doesn’t know – something unearthly. The only remaining Earthly trait of the damsel’s is her hair, which is “yellow like ripe corn” (page 458). This agricultural comparison is inextricably linked to Earth, and it contrasts with the other celestial descriptions, potentially representing her remaining tie to the Earth.  

When the lover’s responses are read separately from the narration or the damsel’s speech, the poem becomes about grief as well as star-crossed love. The damsel, having seen heaven, knows that they will eventually be reunited, though she wishes she didn’t have to wait. Her lover, however, has no such certainty. Ten years have passed since the damsel died, and while she still feels as though she just arrived in heaven, time has been passing as usual on Earth. Her lover has spent ten years mourning her death, and he still imagines her presence, which highlights the extent of their love and gives hope that their relationship will survive death.