Terri’s Key Passage Analysis on Letitia Elizabeth Landon’s “Lines of Life”
Page 376, lines 5-12
“I never knew the time my heart / Look’d freely from my brow; / It once was checked by timidness, / ‘Tis taught by caution now.
I live among the cold, the false,/ And I must seem like them; / And such I am, for I am false/ As those I must condemn.”
On the whole, Lucretia Elizabeth Landon’s poem focuses on the speaker’s desire to transcend the base cynicism of the world around her and to embrace hope and success. She longs to leave an impact on the world through her art and to be remembered even after death. I have chosen to focus on the second and third stanzas, as I believe these eight lines give valuable insight into the ways the speaker’s words and feelings reflect Landon’s own experiences.
In the first four lines of the second stanza, the speaker recognizes her inability to be open and honest with her feelings and her truth. It seems that nervousness was what held her back when she was younger, by that she now has resigned herself to seeing her avoidant tendencies as “caution.” These lines may well be influenced by Landon’s own experience with the public eye. Her close friendship with journalist William Maginn was much speculated, and she felt herself “the object often of malicious representation.” She ultimately chose to break the relationship between the two, claiming that he should not have to bear the stigma and public embarrassment associated with their companionship. Surely this loss would have had a powerful effect on Landon, and no doubt on her writing as well. Meanwhile, the speaker notes in the third stanza that she must make every attempt to fit in with the “cold” people around her. While she damns their falseness, she must also acknowledge her own hypocrisy. After all, she refuses to be honest about what she feels, as she tells the reader in lines 5 and 6. In recognizing and mimicking their duplicity, she makes herself one of them after all.
An important theme in these stanzas is the interpreted falseness of society. Landon herself had said that she meets “with more homage and attention than most when she goes out into society, but that “it is dearly bought.” She claimed that a woman with a literary career would experience only “envy, malice, and all uncharitableness.” Admiration from others may read only as jealousy and a desire to undermine her success. This cynical outlook is certainly reflected in the words of the speaker, who seems only to see deceit and corruption around her.
Word count: 423
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