'A Royal Princess' - Language, tone and structure

Language and tone


Whilst the poem is written in the voice of the princess herself, the dramatic elements of the poem stand out by Rossetti's inclusion of snatches of dialogue. For example, the ‘naked truth' (line 59) of the situation becomes more vivid when it is represented through the various voices involved in the conflict: those wishing to help and those wishing to ‘quell' those whom they see as ‘base-born ruffians' (line 69). In addition, by representing the King's sharp words of commands as they stand when he calls his troops to ‘charge!' and ‘smite and spare not' (lines 89-90), the princess evokes the present state of anxiety.


The poem begins with the word ‘I' and throughout, the princess repeatedly uses the word in an attempt to establish her own identity. In the last line, ‘I, if I perish, perish; in the name of God I go', ‘I' is used as a marker of individual identity - an identity which the princess is willing to forsake for the good of her nation. Rather than being concerned just with what she wants from life, her focus shifts to what the people of her country need.

The princess' words echo those of an Old Testament queen called Esther, who risked her own life by pleading with her husband to save the Jewish nation from being murdered. She instructs her cousin Mordecai to fast for her and she declares to him her intention to put her own life at risk for the sake of her nation:

‘Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish'. Esther 4:16 TNIV

The princess is thus associating herself with the Jewish heroine and rooting her act of social protest in biblical principles of justice.


Throughout the poem, alliteration and sibilance are used to express the weariness and monotony of the life of the princess. For instance, the sibilance of the ‘s' sound in the line, ‘Self-same solitary figure, self-same seeking face' (line 12), reinforces the repetitiveness of the Princess' life.

Investigating language and tone

  • How far can you identify with the princess?
    • Make notes on the various poetic techniques that are used to create empathy for her plight
  • To what extent does the dialogue create a sense of drama?
  • How does the princess' voice change throughout the poem?
    • Compare the first and the last line.

Structure and versification


The poem is largely written in the form of triplets. With each three consecutive lines sharing the same rhyme, the pace at which the poem is read is quick. The regularity of the rhyme scheme demonstrates an attempt to give some kind of order to the tumultuous and chaotic emotions of the princess. Often, the rhyming words grouped together in one stanza work together to reinforce a particular meaning. For instance, the stanza which describes the tumult of the people combines words the words ‘higher', ‘spire' and ‘fire' (lines 91-3) to depict the uprising of forces. Just as the spire of the cathedral is too high to be easily reached and just as fire rises upwards at quick speed, the princess suggests that the starving people have become so desperate that their voice of protest cannot help but rise to such an extent that it cannot easily be silenced.


Throughout A Royal Princess, Rossetti uses long lines to reflect the narrative elements of the poem and to reinforce the fast and urgent tone with which she speaks. In poetry, a six-foot line is called a hexameter and a seven-foot line is called a heptameter. A Royal Princess uses a combination of these lines.

The rhythm of A Royal Princess is largely trochaic. A trochee is a falling metre and is suited to reflect the monotony of the princess' life. A typical example of the use of the trochee can be identified in these lines which describe the confinement of the princess in the palace:

Two and two my guards behind, two and two before,
Two and two on either hand they guard me evermore.
(lines 4-5)

Whilst a true trochaic line would finish on an unstressed syllable, many poetic lines, like those given above, cut this extra syllable off, making a catalectic line with a strong masculine end rhyme. This gives the poem a heavy beat which reflects the marching of the guards.

Throughout A Royal Princess, the metre often alternates within lines to reflect the movement being described. For instance, the speaker recalls that, at the time she became aware of the horrendous circumstances of the people outside,

The dancers danced in pairs and sets, but music had a fall
A melancholy windy fall as at a funeral. (lines 47-8)

Here, the rhythm reflects the rise and fall of the music and of the dance. With the stress falling on the word ‘fall' in both lines, the downward spiral of the speaker's emotions is reinforced.

Metre and dialogue

Throughout A Royal Princess, the rhythmic stresses often correspond to the emotion that the speaker is describing. Consider the phrase, ‘O my father! O my mother!' (line 18). Here, by twice placing a trochaic stress on the cry, ‘O', the speaker emphasises her confusion and agitated state of mind.

Investigating structure and versification

  • What other examples can you identify where the rhyme is used to contribute to convey a certain meaning and emphasise a particular movement?
  • Which rhymes occur in more than one stanza?
    • What is the effect of this?
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