'Echo' - Imagery, symbolism and themes

Imagery and symbolism


  • The speaker asks that the lover comes back with ‘eyes as bright / As sunlight on a stream' (line 3). This image suggests both youthfulness and good, accurate vision. It also works to merge the beloved with the natural environment and convey ideas of reflection. As one's own reflection can be glimpsed in the light of a sunlit stream, the speaker suggests that it is his/her wish to catch a glimpse of his/her own image, as a kind of visual echo, in the eyes of the beloved
  • In the second verse, the speaker imagines that, in Paradise, souls watch those entering with ‘thirsting longing eyes' (line 10). Describing eyes as ‘thirsting' expresses the imagined need they have to catch a glimpse of a person they have missed.

The door:

  • The speaker imagines that ‘in Paradise', all eyes are fixed on the ‘slow door' opening and letting in souls, which hints at the potential reunion of lovers
  • Several of Rossetti's devotional poems, such as Despised and Rejected, use the image of the door to depict the entrance to heaven. However, in Revelation, the image of heaven that is given is one of security, rest and peace. There is no mention of the longing of the souls that are inside for those they left behind to enter ‘the slow door'. Rather, it is described as a place where pain and tears are absent (Revelation 7: 17).

See Gateway, door.


  • The stream - In addition to alluding to ideas of reflection, the description of the brightness of the lover's eyes as ‘sunlight on a stream' suggests tranquillity, peace and movement. Just as a stream glimmers in the sun and runs towards a river or the sea, so too, does the speaker wish that his/her eyes would gleam brightly and move towards her
  • Tears - The speaker asks that his/her lover would come back to his/her ‘in tears'. As well as expressing sorrow, tears can express deep, heart-felt emotion. The hope that the lover would come in tears suggests anticipation that s/he would demonstrate his passion and love by reciprocating and sharing in the speaker's sorrow
  • Brimful - The speaker describes the souls in paradise as being ‘brimful of love'. The word brimful is usually associating with an overflow of water. By describing souls as overflowing with love, Rossetti may be drawing on the words that Jesus spoke to a Samaritan woman as she drew water from a well, declaring that he himself is the Water of Life. He told her that, whereas everyone who drinks regular water will inevitably be thirsty again:
‘Those who drink the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life'. John 4:14 TNIV
  • Thirsting - The description of souls who are ‘brimful of love' as they meet their loved ones stands in direct contrast to the description of those who, with ‘thirsting longing eyes', await a reunion with their beloved. Rather than resting in security, those who have thirsting eyes are portrayed as restless, their eyes constantly watching for the opening of the door. Whereas physical thirst makes a person long desperately for some refreshment, Echo suggests that emotional deprivation can be equally powerful and painful.

For further associations, see Water.

Investigating imagery and symbolism

  • Consider the contrast between those who are ‘brimful of love' and those who are ‘thirsting'. What makes the difference between the two states?



The tone is one of longing throughout. From the first repetition of the word ‘come' to the final expression of desire that the speaker can breathe life back into the beloved, the speaker's attention is focused solely on his/her love. Longing is expressed through the repeated call to the beloved and language associated with desire. Despite displacing this feeling onto souls in paradise, it seems that it is with the fulfilment of the speaker's own ‘thirsting longing eyes' that is of greatest concern.


The title of the poem provides a key to understanding its repetitions and some of its ambiguities. Rather than another voice echoing back the love that is expressed, the speaker finds that it is only the echoes of his/her own voice that can be detected and reminders of the past, now ‘finished years' (line 6). The dim echoes of the lover have been lost. This reflects in part the classical myth about Echo.

In addition to repeating words and exploring the concept of a ‘speaking silence' (line 2), it is helpful to look at this poem in comparison with Rossetti's other writings, noting the echoes that exist between them.

Investigating themes

  • What evidence can you find to support the idea that the speaker's main concern is with the fulfilment of his/her desire?
  • How would you characterise the tone of the poem?
  • Look through the other poems included in Texts in Detail: The poetry of Christina Rossetti. What common themes can you find?
    • How does Echo reflect some of these themes?
  • How can an understanding of the use of an image in one poem contribute to the use of the image in another?
  • Think about the symbolism of the door.
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