Analysis of 3 of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Poems

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Step 1- first impression
Step 2- contrasts
Step 3- purpose of the author in writing the poem
Step 4- line-by-line analysis of the literary devices used in the poem Expository paragraph

Sonnet from the Portuguese V: I lift my heavy heart up solemnly by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I lift my heavy heart up solemnly,
As once Electra her sepulchral urn,
And, looking in thine eyes, I overturn
The ashes at thy feet. Behold and see
What a great heap of grief lay hid in me,
And how the red wild sparkles dimly burn –
Through the ashen greyness. If thy foot in scorn
Could tread them out to darkness utterly,
It might be well perhaps. But if instead
Thou wait beside me for the wind to blow
The grey dust up,... those laurels on thine head,
O My beloved, will not shield thee so,
That none of all the fires shall scorch and shred
The hair beneath. Stand further off then! Go.

Step 1
It seems like Elizabeth Browning is angry at someone who sounds to me like her ex. He breaks up with her and she is threatening him to go before she does something in a fit of rage, like burn him. Then she is so sorrowful, she feels worse than ashes trampled on the ground (Line 7-8).

Step 2
Some contrasts used by Browning are:
Line 6-7 “And how the red wild sparkles dimly burn Through the ashen greyness.” The sparkles
are wild but dim at the same time, and the grey and the red are contrasting colors, the red standing out against the grey.
Line 13 “That none of all the fires shall scorch and shred” even though throughout the whole poem she refers to herself as ash.

Step 3
Elizabeth Browning’s purpose in writing this poem is to express her feelings, meaning her doubts, insecurities, and even hope, toward her relationship with this man. She has very conflicted feelings toward him, whether she hates him or loves him. She’s trying to work out her feelings towards him on paper.

Step 4
Line 1: I lift my heavy heart up solemnly, -metonymy. She is actually offering him her “heavy” and “solemn” feelings, not literally her heart
Line 2: As once Electra her sepulchral urn, -this is an allusion to death and cremation and ashes Line 3: And, looking in thine eyes, I overturn -visual imagery. Both her looking in his eyes and her overturning something can be seen literally in the mind’s eye. Line 4: The ashes at thy feet. Behold and see - tactile imagery. The ashes are soft on the hardness of the ground.

Line 5: What a great heap of grief lay hid in me, - personification of her grief. Line 6: And how the red wild sparkles dimly burn -visual imagery of the wild red smoldering through the grey ash

Line 7: Through the ashen greyness. If thy foot in scorn -synecdoche. His foot is not scorning her, but she thinks that his whole body is
Line 8: Could tread them out to darkness utterly, -allusion. His foot treading out the red sparkles helps us to understand the metaphor of what she thinks he feels. Line 9: It might be well perhaps. But if instead -She is transitioning to hope that he won’t scorn her. If you stretched the meaning of this word (a lot), it could be like paradox. Line 10: Thou wait beside me for the wind to blow –tactile imagery. She makes me feel the cold wind and the body heat radiating from him standing next to me. Line 11: The grey dust up,... those laurels on thine head, -visual and olfactory imagery. She paints a clear picture of sprigs of plants as a crown on his head and grey dust rising from the wind. Also, the dust whipping around and the plants close by make a realistic scent. Line 12: O My beloved, will not shield thee so, -She seems to have genuine concern for him and the laurels are an allusion for the shield

Line 13: That none of all the fires shall scorch and shred -tactile and visual imagery. I feel the heat and pain of the scorching and shredding.
Line 14: The hair beneath. Stand further off then! Go. –The author’s voice seems to be spiteful toward the man to whom she is...
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