Cheerfulness Taught By Reason, Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Summary & Analysis

"Cheerfulness Taught By Reason" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning is a sonnet that explores the themes of complaint, perspective, and the role of reason in cultivating a positive outlook. The poem presents a meditation on the human tendency to complain, counterbalanced by the idea that embracing a more optimistic perspective can lead to contentment and gratitude.

Cheerfulness Taught By Reason by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I THINK we are too ready with complaint
In this fair world of God's. Had we no hope
Indeed beyond the zenith and the slope
Of yon gray blank of sky, we might grow faint
To muse upon eternity's constraint
Round our aspirant souls; but since the scope
Must widen early, is it well to droop,
For a few days consumed in loss and taint ?
O pusillanimous Heart, be comforted
And, like a cheerful traveller, take the road
Singing beside the hedge. What if the bread
Be bitter in thine inn, and thou unshod
To meet the flints ? At least it may be said
' Because the way is short, I thank thee, God. '


"Cheerfulness Taught By Reason" is a contemplative sonnet that reflects on the inclination to complain amidst life's challenges and setbacks. The poem contrasts the ephemeral nature of life's trials with the broader scope of existence, urging the heart to find contentment through reason and gratitude.

Critical Analysis

"Cheerfulness Taught By Reason" offers a perspective on the human tendency to focus on temporary difficulties rather than embracing a broader outlook that includes hope and gratitude.

The poem begins with the speaker acknowledging the readiness with which people complain, even in a world filled with beauty and opportunities. The comparison of the world as "this fair world of God's" suggests that the world is a gift worth appreciating, but complaints often overshadow its inherent goodness.

The phrase "Had we no hope / Indeed beyond the zenith and the slope" suggests that hope, symbolized by the sky's expanse, extends beyond the immediate limitations of life. The "gray blank of sky" represents a temporary state, while "eternity's constraint" emphasizes a broader and timeless perspective.

The idea that the "scope / Must widen early" refers to the expansion of human understanding as life progresses. The question raised is whether it is justified to become disheartened by minor setbacks and losses, given the greater journey that awaits.

The poem addresses the "pusillanimous Heart," urging it to be comforted by reason. The metaphor of a "cheerful traveller" suggests the importance of journeying through life with a positive and hopeful disposition, even when faced with challenges.

The speaker uses the imagery of "bitter bread" and "unshod" feet to symbolize life's hardships. The response to these difficulties is to express gratitude for the journey, regardless of the obstacles faced.

The concluding lines encapsulate the poem's message by acknowledging life's brevity and finding solace in the journey itself. The speaker expresses gratitude for the journey's shortness, regardless of its challenges.

Themes of the Poem

  • Perspective: The poem examines the importance of cultivating a broader perspective and recognizing the transience of life's challenges.
  • Gratitude and Contentment: The poem advocates for finding contentment by acknowledging life's blessings and expressing gratitude for the journey.
  • Optimism and Hope: The poem encourages an optimistic outlook by focusing on hope and embracing life's journey with a cheerful heart.

Stylistic Analysis

  • Imagery: The use of imagery, such as the "zenith and the slope," the "gray blank of sky," and "eternity's constraint," enhances the poem's contemplative and reflective tone.
  • Metaphorical Language: Metaphors like "cheerful traveller" and "bitter bread" add depth to the poem's exploration of life's journey and challenges.


  • Contemplation: The poem reflects a contemplative attitude towards life's challenges and the role of perspective in shaping emotional responses.
  • Gratitude: The speaker expresses gratitude for the journey, even when it involves hardships and obstacles.


  • Symbolism: The symbols of the "fair world of God's," the "gray blank of sky," and the "cheerful traveller" enrich the poem's themes and messages.

Sound Devices

  • Imagery: The poem's imagery contributes to its auditory experience, creating a reflective and contemplative atmosphere.

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