'Twice' - Language, tone and structure

Language and tone

The speaker's cry

The phrase ‘O my love, O my love' runs like a refrain through the first half of the poem, then is replaced by the phrase ‘O my God, O my God' in the second half.

Whilst the exclamation ‘O' indicates passion, the word ‘my' indicates possession and an intimate relationship. By replacing ‘love' for ‘God' in the second half of the poem, the speaker emphasises the fact that her priorities have shifted. Rather than seek to please a male beloved, she demonstrates that her primary concern is to please God.

The fact that the cry ‘O my love' is enclosed within brackets, indicating a side thought, whereas the cry ‘O my God' stands alone, indicates that whereas the speaker's beloved was only a part of her life, she makes God relevant to her whole life. There is no need to enclose her cry to God in brackets because it has become a part of who she is.

The language of commitment

In the final verse, the speaker voices her determination to live for God, through a variety of tough images:

  • She declares,
All that I have I bring,
All that I am I give (lines 45-6)

These words echo the vows made at a wedding when a ring is exchanged Liturgy The solemnisation of matrimony:The exchange of rings

  • The speaker suggests that surrendering all she has and all she is to God is the only way in which she can ‘live' rather than ‘die' (line 42). This belief is rooted in the Bible teaching, that the process of entering the new life offered by Jesus entails ‘dying' to the old way of living:
We were therefore, buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. Romans 6:4 TNIV
  • The refinement with fire that the speaker endures alludes to an image frequently used in the Bible that God uses suffering to purify believers (Isaiah 48: 10, Daniel 11:35).

Investigating language and tone

  • Why do you think that the speaker ‘smiled' at the speech that her beloved gave her even though it hurt her so much (line 19)?
    • Why do you think she calls his rejection a ‘speech'?
  • At the end of the poem, the speaker declares that she ‘shall not question much' (line 48). Why do you think that she says this?
  • What negative associations does she have with the idea of questioning?
    • Where do you think these associations have come from?

Structure and versification


Repetition is the defining feature of the poem. In addition to emphasising certain feelings and ideas, it is used to reflect the movement of the speaker's spiritual and emotional growth. The structure of certain phrases is often repeated to highlight meaning and continuity but the changing of individual words within this structure adds an extra dimension to the surface meaning of the poem:

  • The speaker's: ‘I took my heart in my hand' becomes the beloved's: ‘You took my heart in your hand' (line 9). The switch from ‘I' to ‘You' indicates the speaker's loss of self-possession, allowing her beloved to take over her emotions, feelings and well-being
  • When she regains her heart - ‘I take my heart in my hand' (line 41) - she does so with every intention of losing it again as she offers to God. She recognises that it must be in her possession before she can truly offer it up again
  • The repetition of the word ‘hold' (line 39) emphasises the different connotations of:
    • God's sure grasp
    • Safe stowage (as found within a ship's hold)
  • The word ‘broke' is repeated to highlight the destructiveness of the action:
As you set it down it broke—
  Broke, but I did not wince. (lines 17-18)

This is further stressed by:

  • Having the same word end one line and start the next, whereby the speaker draws attention to the disruption and hurt that her beloved caused and the sudden pain of having something break
  • The dash, which draws attention to the sudden standstill that occurs to the beat of her heart when it breaks
  • The opening trochee of the next line, which disrupts the poem's continuous rhythm that reflects the physical heart's-action as it pumps blood around the body.


The rhyme scheme of the first, second, third, fifth and sixth stanzas runs aba, cd, bd, c. Its regularity reflects the control that the speaker attempts to keep over her own heart and indicates her grasp over her own emotions. However, in the fourth stanza the rhyme of l. 1 and 3 is repeated in l. 5 and 7. By introducing a slight alternation here, Rossetti reflects the shift in the speaker's ideas. Having regained her own heart, she voices her determination to present it to God.

Strong masculine rhymes are used throughout which increase the definition with which the poem is read and highlight the speaker's passion. In addition, rhyming words highlight certain ideas. For instance, in the final verse, by linking the words ‘live' and ‘give' through rhyme (lines 42, 46), she emphasises the suggestion that it is only by giving her own heart to God that the speaker is able to truly live.


The metre of the poem often draws attention to certain sounds which, in turn, reflect particular feelings and emotions. For instance, the O sound is stressed in the first two lines to emphasise the speaker's sense of loss and emptiness:

I took my heart in my hand
  (O my love, O my love) (lines 1-2)

Comprised of two iambic feet followed by an anapaest, the rhythmic stresses in the first line all fall on vowel sounds. The rising rhythm of both the iamb and the anapaest means that the poem introduces a note of speed from the dramatic opening.

An amphimacer is the poetic term for a three-syllable foot arranged with a stress at each end. If the exclamation ‘O' is to be read as a stressed syllable, then the phrase, ‘O my love' could arguably be described as an amphimacer.

Occasional spondees convey the speaker's strong feelings:

  • ‘But this once hear me speak'
  • Thou hast seen, judge thou'
  • Smile thou and I shall sing'


In the fifth stanza, Rossetti conveys a sense of the speaker's intense, compressed feelings by leaving words out (ellipsis). The unspoken subject of the first two lines is ‘heart':

  • This (heart) which has been disparaged and rejected by the beloved
  • This (heart) which was damaged by one day's thoughtless conversation.

Investigating structure and versification

  • Try reading the phrases ‘O my love' and ‘O my God' aloud repeatedly, changing the syllable you stress each time. Which sounds the most appropriate?
    • Why do you think that this is?
  • Mark out the stresses in the second verse
    • How do you think the rhythmic pattern of the verse reflects the emotions of the speaker?
    • Is there anything surprising you can identify in the verse?
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