English Anthology

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Poets often use their work to explore the strong emotions that surround relationships and the writers of ‘Sister Maude’, ‘Praise Song for My Mother’ and ‘Nettles’ did this exceptionally well. In my opinion, I consider these poems to be the most inventive as they have used a variety of different techniques in the use of genre and form, that are unique and engaging.

‘Sister Maude’, was the first literary heritage poem that I read, it is a dramatic monologue in the form of a ballad, which is a very old traditional form for telling stories. The details of the poem are not clear, but it soon becomes apparent that the narrator had a secret lover and her sister found out and she told their parents, perhaps out of jealousy. In Victorian times when Rossetti was writing, this would have been considered shameful hence why shame is a reoccurring theme in her poetry.

The poem’s structure is regular in that all but the final stanza are quatrains; the last stanza has six lines, which allows Rossetti to comment of the fate of her parents, her lover, herself and finally her sister. The rhyme scheme follows the pattern ABCB for the quatrains. However, the last stanza follows the rhyme scheme ABCBDB; because the first and third lines have no rhymes this allows Rossetti to have more freedom in her choice of vocabulary.

I found the first stanza of the poem to be the most powerful as it starts out ambiguously with details of what has occurred slowly introduced. Rossetti engages the reader straight away by beginning her poem with two similar questions, asking who told her parents about her ‘shame’. The questions are answered by the narrator in the first quatrain, ‘Oh who but Maude, my sister Maude’ she makes it clear by repetition of her sister’s name that she was the culprit who told her parents what was happening. The quatrain ends with the narrator’s comment that Maude was spying on her sister; the word ‘lurked’ conveys the feeling of furtiveness and slyness, this makes us sympathetic to the narrator. ‘Oh who but Maude’ suggests that no one else would have betrayed the narrator in this way therefore Maude was a despicable sister.

The second quatrain focuses on the narrator’s secret lover. The word ‘cold’ is emphasised by its position as the initial word, and also by its repetition in the simile ‘as cold as stone’ in the first line. The phrase ‘Cold he lies’ suggests that he is now dead however it is not clear how her lover died, this makes the poem seem mysterious. In the second line of the quatrain, Rossetti uses alliteration in ‘clotted curls’, the description infers that his once beautiful hair is now possibly congealed with blood. Also, the juxtaposition of beauty and death highlights her sense of loss. Again, in this quatrain the third line there is more alliteration of hard ‘c’ sounds in the phrase ‘comeliest corpse’, this emphasises the strong rhythm which makes the poem sound more energetic and angry.

In the third quatrain the narrator speaks directly to her sister wishing that Maude had ‘spared his soul’. It is now clear that Maude murdered the man, maybe by hitting him over the head referring back to his ‘clotted curls’. This quatrain makes it obvious that she was jealous of the narrator as she appears to be more attractive, this idea is conveyed through the final lines of the quatrain ‘Though I had not been born at all, he’d never have looked at you’.

The narrator turns to the fate of her family in the fourth quatrain. ‘My father may sleep in Paradise’ and ‘my mother at Heaven-gate’ this infers that her father is at peace in heaven, whereas her mother might have just recently passed away as she waits at ‘Heaven’s gate’. However, the narrator knows that Sister Maude will never make it to heaven due to committing murder; instead she will ‘get no sleep’. The phrase ‘either early or late’ concludes the quatrain as it infers that Maude is still alive, but her conscience of guilt in life (early) or in death (late) will...
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