In reading Tighe’s “Sonnet, March 1791,” I was intrigued and interested in the religious aspects found therein. The poem describes a lost mariner “long tossed by stormy winds,” who seeks a “calm heaven” in the Lord. As someone who grew up being exposed to church all the time, it was interesting to see the religious alignment with certain scripture passages and hymns that are presented in church. “And let me from thy paths no longer stray” alludes to the verse Proverbs 3:6 which states, “in all your ways submit to him [the Lord], and he will make your paths straight.” Tighe then describes what she will experience in heaven: “banish my sorrows” (Revelation 21:4), “holy joy,” “soft consoling peace,” “all my tears shall cease” (Revelation 21:4), “mercy’s shrine,” “thy grace divine” (Ephesians 2:4-5). Upon researching more information regarding this poem, one source claimed that since this is one of Tighe’s earliest poems, it lacks “sophistication in either meaning or style, and show little of the lyrical virtuously that was to emerge later” (Mary Blanchford Tighe: The Irish Psyche, 36). I still think it to be a poem of significance and meaning as it describes the metaphor of the lost sailor experiencing a religious search in life.
“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.
The traveler stands aghast and looks to heaven. / On the horizon’s verge thy lightning gleams, / And the first utterance of thy deep voice / Is heard in reverence and holy fear. (Page 30-31, lines 20-23)
In Joanna Baillie’s poem, “Thunder”, Baillie is able to create a religious undertone by linking nature and God. Through this religious undertone, Baillie personifies thunder and is ultimately speaking about the power of God and the fear and respect He invokes in people during the time period.
During the Romanticism era, God was a key link to nature, and nature was how God showed his wrath. The image of the traveler looking to the heavens shows this belief in God, while religion was a common thread in the Romanticism era. The image of the traveler looking to the skies almost creates the image of longing, or looking for an answer, which is most commonly seen in romantic poems when a character is looking to the heavens.
To invoke a daunting theme, the image of the lightning off in the horizon comes off as very ominous and is rather unsettling. This speaks to the fact that God is omnipresent, always off in the horizon, so to speak. However, the word “gleams” (line 21) being used contrasts this tone and deters from the ominous feeling, which could refer to the light that God brings to life.
Similarly, the thunder is personified with “thy deep voice” (line 22). The use of the word “thy” personifies the thunder and gives it a sense of being. This “voice” could be linked to God’s voice, especially since God’s voice is often depicted as deep and thundering.
Finally, the words “reverence” and “holy fear” (line 23) contrast greatly but speak greatly about the thought people held about religion and God, even to this day. The term reverence is defined as a great respect for something – which in the context of the poem, contains a more positive tone. However, the term is contrasted by “holy fear” which contains a more negative tone. This epitomizes the thoughts about God. People during the time period held a great respect for God and his power, but still were afraid of his abilities. It almost strikes the reader as a sense of awe, similar to the feelings of the traveler.
The poem continues the thought of this “holy fear” and the powers of God in nature throughout the next stanzas, and the personification of the thunder remains as an extended metaphor.
(word count: 406)
The gliding fish that takes his play/ In shady nook of streamlet cool, / Thinks not how waters pass away, / And summer dries the pool. / The bird beneath his leafy dome, / Who trills his carol, loud and clear, / Thinks not how soon his verdant home / The lightning’s breath may sear. (Page 44, lines 1-8)
In Joanna Baillie’s “Song”, Baillie takes seemingly unrelated things such as fish and birds, and ties them together by using contrasting imagery to impact the tone. Throughout Joanna Baillie’s “Song”, she uses contrasting imagery to create a pessimistic tone throughout her poem.
For example, the poem starts off with “The gliding fish that takes his play” (line 1). This line starts the reader off with a feeling of freedom and joy. Using “gliding” and “play” creates an image of a carefree fish that goes where the flow takes it and has no worries about what may come. This is reinforced in the third line, “Thinks not how waters pass away”. This line illustrates how the fish is carefree by implying that it thinks only about the here and now rather than the worries of the unknown future. In the fourth line, “And summer dries the pool”, this line creates a shift for the poem’s tone by creating a feeling of bleakness. The pool where the fish glides, where it plays and lives its carefree life becomes dried up in the end. It changes the tone from happy and carefree to a feeling of temporary joy and helplessness. Much like in the first stanza, the second stanza starts off with positive imagery but ends with negative imagery.
For instance, the stanza starts off with, “The bird beneath his leafy dome, / Who trills his carol, loud and clear” (line 5-6). These lines form an image of a bird under the protection of its home, it is in a place where it is not afraid to loudly sing and chirp. The bird feels safe enough to make sounds so whatever is around can hear. By doing this, a feeling of safety and protection are created. The poem goes on to destroy this feeling, “Thinks not how soon his verdant home / The lightning’s breath may sear” (line 7-8). The bird’s home is soon to be easily destroyed by the lightning’s “breath”, searing the place where it felt safe. The bird’s home is there one moment but is quickly taken away by a simple “breath”, showing that it only takes a moment for your home, your protection, to be taken away and destroyed. This stanza starts off with a feeling of protection but then goes on to literally destroy what the bird used as protection against the elements creating a contrast between the two and changing the tone.
The poem continues to follow this pattern where each stanza starts off with a positive feeling but then transitions into a negative feeling. The continued use of contrasting imagery helps shape the pessimistic tone throughout this poem.
“Stand quires of paper, white and beautiful!/Paper, by destiny ordain’d to be/ Scrawl’d o’er and blotted; dash’d, and scratch’d, and torn.” (page 636, lines 12-14)
In “The Poet’s Garret”, the author is introducing the reader to her workplace. She starts by describing what it feels like to be in there writing. She mentions that her imagination flows in her workplace and infers this is where great things are produced.
I chose lines 12-14 because to me, they emphasized how much Mary Robinson loved writing. She is talking about beautiful a stack of white paper is to her, and that she is fascinated with what a writer can do with it. She goes on to say that paper has a “destiny” which I thought was intriguing, like each piece of paper has the possibility to tell an incredible story. When she mentions that the paper is “blotted; dash’d, and scratch’d and torn, (line 14) she is referring to the fact that this piece of paper has to undergo a lot of work to produce a masterpiece. When she writes she makes notes, scratches them out, rips the paper and tears apart her work until she is satisfied with the outcome.
In lines 15-20, she elaborates on everything that she could do with this beautiful paper such as “sonnet, song, and ode…” This goes back to the paper having a “destiny” to fulfill. In line 20 she states “will there delight the reader”, suggesting that no matter what type of literature she produces, there is a reader who will appreciate her work.
I think that Mary Robinson wrote this about herself because it was written the year she died, and she might have wanted to give her readers a visual on what her workspace looked like. This poem also describes her love for all writing, no matter what kind. Mary Robinson did a lot of different types of writing, and even acted, and I think this poem emphasizes how much it really meant to her.
“The Tyrant WHITE MAN taught my mind/ The letter’d page to trace; / He taught me in the Soul to find/ No tint, as in the face: / He bade my reason blossom like the tree – / But fond affection gave the ripen’d fruits to thee.” (page 625, lines 72-78)
In “The Negro Girl” , Mary Robinson introduces readers to a sorrow filled and love struck woman that has been taken into slavery. The speaker, Zelma, boldly voices the injustices done to the African people. The six lines reproduces above, however, are a subtler and two toned approach to a more personal situation she has with her master.
At first glance the passage depicts Zelma’s master to be kind by teaching her to write. He takes the time to teach her “mind” (line 72) and “Soul” (line 73). The “WHITE MAN” moves beyond racism and tells Zelma to look in the “Soul to find/No tint” (lines 74-75). Although he is not saying they are equals, he is implying that skin color does not matter. Additionally, the nature imagery of trees and fruits give off a softer and more nurturing feel compared to the rest of the poem.
Once you look past the surface, a more sinister scenario is taking place. The “Tyrant WHITE MAN” is a cruel and narrow minded man that wants to civilize Zelma for his own benefit. He believes by teaching her to write, her uneducated soul will no longer have a “tint” (line 75) like her face. The significance of the blossoming tree lies within Robinson’s diction. The term “bade” (line 76) indicates the master’s forceful behavior. The juxtaposing ideas of violent power and paradisiac nature allow for the two toned analysis.
Once more Robinson delivers yet another ambiguous line, “But fond affection gave the ripen’d fruits to thee” (line 78). Zelma has been talking about her time spent with her master so her affection would seem to naturally go towards the “WHITE MAN” , however, following this passage Zelma longs to be with her separated lover, Draco. A deeper analysis for line 78 is that Zelma has the ability to have “affection” (line 78) while the “Tyrant” (line 72) cannot. Her master like the other “Tyrant[s]” (line 72). cannot look beyond skin color and see that Zelma, Draco and other Africans are humans like them.
Robinson’s poetry is commonly filled pain and sorrow, which she can relate to with her own turbulent life. It was a strategic, even political, move during this time for Robinson to write about slavery and other exploited figures, especially as a woman.
(word count 382)
“Yet the poor Indian wand’rer found,
E’en where Religion smil’d around,
That tears had little pow’r to speak
When trembling on a sable cheek!”
(Page 618, lines 153-156)
In “The Lascar” the speaker describes an East Indian sailor searching to find a place that welcomes him. He is alone in Britain, desperately looking for help. Through Robinson’s descriptive language, a clear image of a foreign man trying to find shelter is able to be seen. Robinson’s word choice in these lines showcase the racism in this time period.
Robinson uses the preceding stanzas to set up the feeling of fear and solitude that the sailor portrays. Lines 153 through 156 are the semi-climax of the first part of the poem. The sailor believes they should have found solace in the worshippers of God that were all around him. However, “e’en where Religion smil’d around,” it was not smiling on him. The solace of the church was not welcomed to him. The capitalization of “Religion” emphasizes how important and welcoming the churches were supposed to be. “Religion”, churches, and Christianity’s followers are supposed to be perpetuators of help, comfort, and support. At the sight of the man’s helpfulness, a true Christian would do whatever they could to be of assistance. The sailor is surrounded by people of faith, by the concept of Religion, yet none will help him.
The word choice is most important in line 153 and in line 156. Robinson chooses to reinforce the man’s differences from those around him by pointing out that he is a “poor Indian wand’rer.” The man is then described as having “a sable cheek.” A sable is a type of brown, furry animal that is only in Asian countries. A sable is a foreigner, just like this man. Because the sailor is not a native of any European country, people refuse to help him. If the sailor had been a native of Britain, or any other European country, the people may have helped. Regardless, it is evident, and emphasized through other passages of the poem, that many did not help him because of the color of his skin. Robinson’s choice of the word “trembling” adds to the sense of despair the sailor is experiencing. He is so famished that even his tears are weak and afraid. Although the man is famished and in need of shelter, his “tears had little pow’r to speak.” None would look past the color of his skin.
Robinson’s descriptive word choice demonstrates the systematic racism that was ingrained in Britain during this time period. “The Lascar” showcases how no one wanted to help someone who was not like them.
“Just now the Lady WOKE: — for she
Had slept upon the lofty tow’r,
And dreams of dreadful phantasie
Had filled the lonely moon-light hour”
While reading the poem, “The Lady of the Black Tower”, the frightful and powerful imagery gives the impression that the woman who is the focus of the poem is either crazy or suffering from a horrible nightmare. Towards the end of the poem the author, Robinson, reaches a climax where all the horrifying images off the woman’s lover come to a climax. After the Lady in the tower is led to a great hall filled with skulls and death Robinson reveals in lines 259-262 that it was all a dream. The passage reveals how the narrative nature of this poem makes it so easy for Robinson to twist the ending of this poem so that all of the scenes that happen in the poem believable because nightmares can happen to anyone.
The lines that were particularly interesting in the second to last stanza of this poem left such a lasting impression because it holds such a stark contrast to the rest of the poem. When it is finally revealed that, “she had slept upon the lofty tow’r, And dreams of dreadful phantasie had filled the lonely moon-light hour…” One theme that was predominately emphasized throughout this poem was loneliness, especially the loneliness the Lady felt while her lover was away and how she looked for him every day that he was gone. In line 262 loneliness is emphasized again by creating an image of the night being a, “lonely moon-light hour”. The detail of night keeps with the dark imagery in the rest of the poem but it makes it more realistic because typically, after a person is woken from a nightmare the moon is shining bright and everything else is lit by it.
Robinson uses the familiar subject of the nightmare to make this poem all the more terrifying. It was such a sudden transition from the nightmare to the reality that the Lady was in that made the lines so much more valuable to the poem as a whole. If these lines were never in the poem than no finite closure could be made for the Lady and her lover. After these lines are read the final stanza describes the woman and her lover together, it was all a dream it was all just a, “dreadful phantasie.” The simple nature of a nightmare is to play on people’s fears and the biggest fear the Lady had was to lose her lover and once she wakes she hears him and just like that, Robinson creates a more palatable but also haunting ending.
“If for one little morn of mirth,
This breast must feel long nights of pain,
Oh! Life, thy joys are nothing worth!
Then let me sink to rest — AND NEVER WAKE AGAIN!”
(page 607, lines 61-64)
In “Stanzas Written after Successive Nights of Melancholy Dreams”, the speaker describes nightmares that she has had. The last four lines, reproduced above, however, show how she does not wish to wake again because the pain is so horrible that joy is not worth the nightmares. In fact, in those same lines, the speaker states that she never wants to wake again. This shows the desperation of the writer and how she does not want to live, possibly mirroring Robinson’s short life, dying at the age of forty-two with just her daughter and a few of her friends attending the funeral.
Robinson’s life was very difficult and this poem was written seven years before her death, so it is likely that this is reflecting on her own life, which was long and filled with pain and sorrow. She most likely suffered from nightmares like this. For most of the poem, Robinson describes the dream and the Phantom that haunts her during the night, but it is the last stanza where this changes, namely in the line “Oh! Life, thy joys are nothing worth!” The speaker is so tired of having the nightmares with so little respite that she would rather stay asleep forever than have that little bit of joy. This might show that the speaker’s life is not truly happy while she is awake, perhaps reflecting on Robinson’s own unhappy life. At the time she wrote the poem, she had just started her writing career after a long period of sickness and debt.
The desperation is most evident in the last line, where Robinson uses capitalization to emphasize her point, which is “AND NEVER WAKE AGAIN!”. While this does seem a little over the top, it does show her desperation quite well and makes the reader understand just how desperate she is for these dreams to end. The speaker is desperate to make this pain stop because no amount of joy even makes it remotely bearable. This is illustrated in “If for one little morn of mirth,/ This breast must feel long nights of pain”.
While the poem may be reflective of Robinson’s life, it also shows desperation to escape life, even if that escape means pain and suffering. It also shows that the joy in the speaker’s life is not worth the pain and suffering.
“On the pavement hot/The sooty chimney-boy, with dingy face/And tattered covering, shrilly bawls his trade,/Rousing the sleepy housemaid.”
Mary Robinson, “London’s Summer Morning” (1795)
Robinson’s description of London when stirring in the morning harkens back to Jonathan Swift’s infamous 1710 poem, “A Description of a City Shower.” Just like Swift, Robinson is not complimenting the city but instead showing its grittier, trashier side. The poem uses a Romantic or, more specifically, a pastoral style of describing this murky summer morning. The use of the pastoral, while creating a scene that is the exact opposite of the pastoral ideal, shows how satirical and critical Robinson was of her city and her society. Swift uses urban pastoral (a perfectly oxymoronic and satirical style of poetry) to show how disgusting London could be when it’s raining. Robinson merely strides in to inform us nothing much has changed over the years, raining or not.
While the poem begins with lines that are far dreamier in the sense of waking up to a “sultry” London and ending with the idea of the poet painting that waking London, its main body of text does not allow for such a kind, dreamy description. Instead, the reader gets lines like the ones above. London is hot, full of dirty, poor, loud, shrill, and even sleepy people. We are told the city has “busy sounds” but these sounds of being busy are not always productive or euphonious Romantic sounds but instead of people shouting and cajoling others. People like the chimney-boy who “shrilly bawls his trade.” The chimney-boy is in the early morning, standing on the street, either shrieking at people about what it is he does and that he’s for hire or, using the other meaning of ‘bawls,’ by which he is crying very loudly and is very upset by his current job. If it is the version of him just shouting to get attention and more customers, it becomes a commentary on how even the youth of London is industrial and business oriented. By presenting a child that is not permitted to be the idealized Child of the Romantic period, Robinson is making a heavy critique on poets and artists who believe children to be some sort of delicate, innocent fairy-like creature. Robinson’s chimney-boy, who is also the first character we see on the street, is a loud mocking to that ideal pushing the urban pastoral theme even more.
In the same sense, if the boy is actual crying because of how upset he is about his lot in life, it becomes an insult and blemish to the idealized Child once again because this is a child who is being ignored and only being noticed because he is “rousing the sleepy housemaid.” No one runs to his aide. No one is walking up to offer something better so he may keep his childhood innocence that the Romantic poets so desperately clung to like some strange fantasy. He is left there “sooty,” “shrilly [bawling],” and in his “tattered covering.” Bypassing even the insult to the Romantic artists of this time, Robinson could just as easily be commenting on child labor, orphans or just the general attitude of London’s mentality towards children, especially those of a lower class.
(Word count: 539)