Erin’s Key Passage Analysis on Mary Tighe’s “Sonnet, March 1791”

“Thou gentle stream of soft consoling peace

O’erflow this heart, and all my tears shall cease,

Cleanse my repenting soul at mercy’s shrine,

And then, adorn her with thy grace divine.”

Page 779, lines 12-14.

This sonnet as a whole describes death and the acceptance of dying. Mary Tighe wrote this sonnet in 1791, which was thirteen years prior to her diagnosis of tuberculosis, and nineteen years prior to her death, which occurred in the same month. It is eerie that she would write such a poem when looking at her life as a whole.

This excerpt from her poem consists of the last four lines. This culminates her idea of the frail speaker’s death and acceptance of it. Tighe’s view of death is not necessarily negative. Instead, she focuses on the peacefulness found in death and the act of dying. This reflects her own untimely death. While Tighe herself fought death while she was sick, she ultimately gave in to it, and did not struggle when it was her time. She viewed death with “a cheerful desire to depart,” contrary to that of other romantic poets’ views on the subject (Feldman, 757). The overarching tone of this sonnet is solemn, but accepting, of the speaker’s ultimate fate.

The first two lines of this excerpt serve as a prediction for God’s actions upon the speaker’s death. The speaker, who can perhaps be interpreted as female, if one is comparing this passage to Tighe’s life and the use of the pronoun “her” in the final line, finds solace in the fact that God will take her away into a “stream of soft consoling peace” and that her “tears shall cease” promptly upon doing so. This sense of peace can only be attained by letting God “O’erflow [her] heart…” before she dies, which is exactly what Tighe did as she was dying. These lines are not only a prediction of God’s role in death, but also for how Tighe will deal with her own death in less than two decades.

The final two lines still connect to God, but describe the actual death of the speaker and what happens afterward in a religious sense. The speaker will be cleansed and adorned with grace and mercy, a very Christian idea, which was usually challenged in the Romantic era by male writers, such as Percy “The Atheist” Shelley. Tighe, however, finds comfort in the presence of God, and does not question the existence of Heaven. She anticipates it, which will ultimately make her own death easier to accept spiritually.

Mary Tighe predicted her own unfortunate circumstances with her sonnet “Sonnet, March 1791.” However, her view of death is anything but negative, and she instead focuses on the release that death brings and its benefits both during and after the experience of death itself.

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