'Echo' - Synopsis and commentary


Throughout the poem, the speaker (now metaphorically, if not actually, dead) is calling a lost love to come back to her in his/her dreams so as s/he may remember the times s/he once enjoyed. Although the term ‘echo' is not mentioned in the main body of the poem, the notion of an echoing voice is made apparent through various repetitions.

Investigating Echo

  • What are your associations with the word ‘echo'?
    • Do you see these associations shared by the speaker of the poem?
  • List any indications you can find that the person the speaker addresses is already dead.


Rossetti composed Echo in 1854 and first published it in Goblin Market and Other Poems in 1862.

Lyric poetry

A lyric poem is a short poem that is spoken by one speaker expressing his or her thoughts and feelings about a certain situation or person. The short length of the poem often means that the speaker has to leave much unsaid and concentrate on emotion rather than narrative. The poem is therefore more concerned with conveying feelings with telling a story. It is often characterised with the directness and naturalness of expression.

More on lyric poetry: In classical Greece, the lyric was a poem written to be sung, accompanied by a lyre. The lyre is a stringed instrument which is similar to a harp. It is played by a singer who uses it to emphasise the lyrics of their song. Originally, lyres were created out of animal shells, skins and body parts. In a poem she wrote in 1862, the same year as Echo was first published, Rossetti's contemporary Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote a poem entitled A Musical instrument (for more information on Elizabeth Barrett Browning see Literary Context > Victorian women's poetry). In this, she describes how the classical god Pan created an instrument for himself. After tearing out a reed, he ‘hacked and hewed' it into shape. Like the instrument that he creates, the lyre is often seen to originate in violence and suffering. Linked to this is the suffering or struggle that frequently prompts a writer to compose a lyric poem to express their feelings.

Musical settings

Often, lyric poems make allusion to their ancient roots by using musical techniques such as repetition and a steady beat. Echo has received several musical settings from the time of its publication. In a letter to her brother, Dante Gabriel, Rossetti voiced her excitement at hearing it put to music.

The printed lyric

Along with the increase in book and pamphlet production in the nineteenth-century, most Victorian lyrics were encountered as material objects and for the first time, most recipients were the silent readers of volumes of poetry. For more information about the expansion of print culture see The world of Victorian writers > Impact of industrialisation. Awareness of the changing readership of poetry inevitably had an effect on the way in which it was written.

Investigating Echo

  • Can you identify any features of Echo that are timeless and relevant for the reader / listener of any era?
  • Why do you think that the poem has been popular with those who wish to set Rossetti's works to music?
  • How do the effects of listening to the poem differ from the effects of reading it silently?
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