Christina Rossetti, selected poems Contents
- A Better Resurrection
- A Birthday
- A Royal Princess
- At Home
- Cousin Kate
- Despised and Rejected
- Goblin Market
- Good Friday
- Jessie Cameron
- Maude Clare
- Shut Out
- Song (When I am dead, my dearest)
- Summer is Ended
- The Convent Threshold
- The Lowest Place
- To Lalla, reading my verses topsy-turvy
- Winter: My Secret
'Echo' - Language, tone and structure
Language and tone
An uncertain voice
By asking that memory, hope and love would come back to the speaker ‘in tears' (line 5), s/he expresses a wish that the past would return, however painful it may be. It therefore seems strange that, in the very next couple of lines there is disillusionment that, when a ‘sweet' dream was experienced, s/he didn't wake up in Paradise but in a world that is now cold and emotionless. In the final verse, the speaker articulates his/her uncertainty once again when s/he expresses a longing that the lover would continue to ‘come' back ‘in dreams' (line 13). This longing to have the lover back produces some complex emotions that cannot be dismissed, yet neither do they make any sense.
The use of oxymoron is one technique the poem employs to express uncertainty. For example:
- The speaker asks that the lover would come in the ‘speaking silence' (line 2) of a dream
- The dream that is experienced is described as ‘too bitter sweet' (line 7)
- In the final verse, life and death are paired together as the speaker joins together his/her own life with the ‘death' of the lover – yet s/he is perhaps also dead.
Echoes and repetition
Repetition is a key feature of Echo. The structure reflects the movement involved in the creation of echoes, as a sound is emitted and then bounced back. The words that are echoed convey the wishes of the speaker, which s/he expresses and then allows to come back to him/herself, attempting to re-create the feeling s/he had when his/her lover was beside him/her.
However, the repetition of the words in the first verse also conveys the impatience of the speaker and reinforces the fact that the lover will always remain in ‘silence', never actually able to ‘come back'. The words bounce back to the speaker since there is no longer anyone to hear them.
Internal repetition is the re-occurrence of words or sounds within a single line. This is a technique used throughout Echo. For instance, the word ‘sweet' is used three times on the seventh line to reinforce the intensity of the speaker's feelings. Similarly, internal repetition is used in the final three lines of the poem to emphasise the speaker's sense of giving life to her lover.
Anaphora is a poetic term for another form of repetition. It is used to describe the emphasizing of words by their repetition at the beginnings of neighbouring clauses. In Echo, the use of the word ‘Come' in the first verse is the most striking instance of this, conveying a sense of suppressed passion with its repeated stress. In addition, the word ‘Where' is repeated in the second verse to convey the sense of loss and bewilderment felt by the speaker.
Alliteration and sibilance
The sibilance throughout the first verse conveys a hushed and reflective tone. The natural flow of the speaker's words is helped by the liquid W and L alliteration in the second and third stanzas. This is only broken by the plosive P and B sounds of l.15-17 (‘back', ‘breath', ‘pulse', ‘speak') which convey energy and urgency.
The visual and aural assonance of the ‘ea' image and sound creates the effect of an echo throughout the poem. Despite the fact that they do not all rhyme, the words: ‘speaking', ‘dream', ‘stream', ‘tears', ‘years', ‘death' and ‘breath' all share the same internal combination of vowels. The significance of their repetition is more apparent to the eye than to the ear. Nonetheless, by creating an allusion to the echo the speaker creates when she searches for her lost love, their repetition conveys a sense of sadness and melancholy. This is further emphasised by the frequent long O assonance in the last couple of lines in each stanza.
Investigating language and tone
- Read through the poem again and think about the speaker. What are your initial thoughts about the gender of the poetic voice?
- What characteristics are usually associated with the female voice?
- What characteristics are usually associated with the male voice?
- Do you notice any indications that the speaker is female?
- Do you think that the voice can be interpreted as male?
Structure and versification
The regular ababcc rhyme scheme, used in each verse, reflects the movement of the speaker's feeling. The fact that none of the rhymes is carried over from one verse to the next contributes to this idea of movement and change.
By using rhyme to combine some words of opposite meanings, such as ‘night' and ‘bright' and ‘death' and ‘breath', Rossetti draws attention to the instability of the boundary between life and death upon which her speaker is focused.
The variations in metre throughout Echo reflect the emotional changes that the speaker experiences as she contemplates the loss of her lover. The opening trochees in the first three lines with the phrases ‘Come to', ‘Come in' and ‘Come with', convey the passion and urgency of the poetic voice.
In the final verse, the strong beat in the line ‘Pulse for pulse, breath for breath' (line 16) reflects the breathing that the speaker wishes s/he could hear from the lover. By having the stress fall on the repeated consonants ‘p' and ‘b', Rossetti imitates the sharpness of an intake of breath and thus highlights the sense of urgency that the speaker feels. The emphasis on ‘pulse' and ‘breath' also recalls the living, not the dead.
The combination of long and short line lengths creates a visual wave-like effect on the page. This corresponds to the actions being described throughout the poem. For instance, in the second verse, the ‘slow door' is spoken of on the short, dimeter penultimate line before its opening is described in the next, tetrameter line. That the description of the opening of the door is accompanied by a longer line conveys the act of expansion and width that the speaker wishes to convey.
Investigating structure and versification
- Re-read the poem aloud and write down anything interesting you notice about the changes in rhythm
- How do these changes correspond to the changes in the tone of the speaker?
- How far do you think that the structure of the poem contributes to its overall meaning?
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