A worked example

The text of Winter: My secret

Below is a worked example of a close analysis of Winter: My Secret. The numbers in brackets refer to comments below the text.

I (1) tell my secret? (2) No indeed, not I:
Perhaps (3) some day, who knows?
But not to-day; it froze and blows and snows, (4)
And you're too curious: fie! (5)
You want to hear it? well: (6)
Only, my secret's mine (7) and I won't tell.

Or (8), after all, perhaps (9) there's none:
Suppose there is no secret after all,
But only just my fun. (10)
To-day's a nipping day, a biting day; (11)
In which one wants a shawl,
A veil, a cloak and other wraps: (12)
I cannot ope to every one who taps, (13)
And let the draughts come whistling through my hall;
Come bounding and surrounding (14) me,
Come buffeting, astounding me,
Nipping and clipping (15) through my wraps and all.
I wear my mask for warmth (16): who ever shows
His nose to Russian snows
To be pecked at by every wind that blows?
You would not peck? (17) I thank you for good-will,
Believe, but leave that truth untested still.

Spring's an expansive time: yet I don't trust (18)
March with its peck of dust, (19)
Nor April with its rainbow-crowned brief showers, (20)
Nor even May, whose flowers
One frost may wither through the sunless hours.

Perhaps some languid summer day,
When drowsy birds sing less and less (21),
And golden fruit is ripening to excess (22),
If there's not too much sun nor too much cloud,
And the warm wind is neither still nor loud,
Perhaps my secret I may say,
Or you may guess. (23)

Commentary on Winter: My secret

(1) By beginning and ending the first line with the word ‘I', Rossetti has her speaker reflect the boundaries of her identity within the structure of her speech.

(2) The question either suggests individual reflection or the presence of a listener. It seems that the speaker is either weighing up the wisdom of speaking out a secret or that she is teasing a listener with the possibility that she may reveal something she has been concealing.

(3) The word ‘perhaps' suggests hesitancy and demonstrates the uncertainty that is involved with the disclosure of secrets.

(4) By using the words ‘froze', ‘blows' and ‘snows' to describe the conditions of winter, through rhyme Rossetti emphasizes the effects of winter which contribute to the activity of the speaker as she wraps herself up for protection. By placing the words ‘today' and ‘froze' alongside one another, she draws attention to the movement ‘to and ‘fro' between the speaker and the listener and between reticence and revelation.

(5) Curiosity is presented as a negative attribute as the speaker warns her listener against delving too deeply into the nature of her secret. The exclamation, ‘Fie!' suggests frustration, if not anger, at the encroaching enquiries of a friend or acquaintance.

(6) The colon visually enacts the sense of anticipation that the speaker wishes to create in her listener. Along with the word ‘well', it offers the promise of revelation and suggests that the speaker will elaborate on the secret she is guarding.

(7) By repeating the fact that ‘the secret's mine', the speaker draws attention to the power she has in revelation.

(8) By immediately following the declaration of her intention not to ‘tell', the word ‘Or' suggests comprise and uncertainty. Rather than stopping at the firm statement which ended the first verse, the speaker threatens to tease her listener further.

(9) The repetition of the word ‘perhaps' adds to the sense of uncertainty that the speaker expresses.

(10) The revelation that there may, in fact, be ‘no secret after all' (line 8), suggests that the poem is more about the act of concealment and the practice of secrecy than it is about a particular secret itself. The idea that emerges from the speaker's sense of ‘fun' gives the poem a tone of playfulness.

(11) The words ‘nipping' and ‘biting' suggest pain and hint at an oncoming attack in which the risk of wounding is high.

(12) Whilst veils, cloaks and wraps (line 12) may protect the speaker from the fierce and biting winds of the winter season, they also serve to hide her from curious onlookers who want to find out her secret.

(13) The image of ‘tapping' is gentle and calm as opposed to banging or aggressively forcing a way in. However, the speaker suggests that by answering the tap of the enquirer, she will be opening herself up to dangerous ‘drafts'.

(14) More internal rhyme adds to the fast pace of the poem which works to convey the fast speed at which the drafts attack the speaker.

(15) The words ‘nipping' and ‘clipping' suggest violence. The onomatopoeia of the verbs ‘nip' and ‘clip' hint at the sharpness and stinging nature of winter's attack.

(16) By claiming that she wears her mask ‘for warmth', the speaker highlights the comfort it brings her and the sense of shelter it offers (as does keeping her secret). The warmth of the mask is contrasted to the freezing conditions of winter that threaten to overwhelm her.

(17) By making the statement, ‘You would not peck', a question, the speaker appeals to her listener's good nature. She suggests that it would be cruel of anyone to probe so deeply.

(18) By speaking of ‘truth' (line 22) and ‘trust', the speaker alludes to an ethical code which she suggests should be followed. By speaking of her secret in terms often associated with faith, she alludes to its significance.

(19) The description of the peck of dust can be contrasted to the ‘peck' of cold wind described in line 20 in that, instead of forcing a person to cover him or herself up, it creates a sense of languor and laziness where pleasure is put before activity.

(20) Rainbows have traditionally been associated with the fulfilment of promises (originating with the first rainbow which the Bible states was a symbol of God's promise to Noah that he would not again send a flood to destroy the world Genesis 9:12-17) and crowns are traditionally associated with royalty and wealth. By speaking of ‘brief showers' as ‘rainbow-crowned', the poem draws attention to the false illusion of lasting fulfillment and success that they offer. The speaker suggests that the month of April cannot be trusted since its beauty is only ‘brief'.

(21) The description of birds as ‘drowsy' alongside the suggestion that, in summer, they ‘sing less and less' hints at the speaker's own sense of the diminishment of natural or divine inspiration.

(22) The description of ‘golden fruit ripening to excess' conveys the idea of the over-abundance of nature in the heat of summer.

(22) The poem ends on a note of ambiguity as the ‘secret' continues to be withheld. By suggesting that it may be revealed should the conditions ever be apt or that the speaker may say it herself, a sense of anticipation and hope is again created.

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