Consolation, Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Summary & Analysis

"Consolation" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning is a sonnet that grapples with the themes of love, loss, and the enduring presence of beloved individuals who have passed away. The poem explores the emotional experience of grief while emphasizing the lasting impact of love and the possibility of spiritual connection beyond death.

Consolation by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

All are not taken; there are left behind
Living Belovèds, tender looks to bring
And make the daylight still a happy thing,
And tender voices, to make soft the wind:
But if it were not so—if I could find
No love in all this world for comforting,
Nor any path but hollowly did ring
Where 'dust to dust' the love from life disjoin'd;
And if, before those sepulchres unmoving
I stood alone (as some forsaken lamb
Goes bleating up the moors in weary dearth)
Crying 'Where are ye, O my loved and loving?'—
I know a voice would sound, 'Daughter, I AM.
Can I suffice for Heaven and not for earth?'

Summary

"Consolation" is a sonnet that reflects on the impact of loss and the enduring presence of beloved individuals who have passed away. The poem explores the emotional struggle of imagining a world without love and tender connections, while also conveying the possibility of finding solace and spiritual connection through love that transcends death.

Critical Analysis

"Consolation" offers a meditation on the dual experiences of loss and enduring love, contemplating the idea of finding comfort and connection in the midst of grief.

The poem begins by acknowledging that not everyone has been taken away by death; there are still "Living Belovèds" whose presence can bring tender looks and happiness to the world. The poem sets up a contrast between the grief of loss and the potential for consolation through remaining connections.

The lines "And if, before those sepulchres unmoving / I stood alone" depict the speaker's vulnerability and sense of isolation when faced with the graves of those she has lost. The image of a forsaken lamb bleating on the moors conveys a profound feeling of abandonment and yearning for the presence of the departed loved ones.

The poem then envisions a hypothetical cry of longing: "Where are ye, O my loved and loving?" This cry is met with a response that reassures the speaker of the enduring spiritual connection and presence of her loved ones. The final lines emphasize that this voice would say, "Daughter, I AM. / Can I suffice for Heaven and not for earth?" This response suggests that love and spiritual connection are not limited by death and can continue to provide solace and presence on both earthly and heavenly planes.

Themes of the Poem

  • Grief and Loss: The poem grapples with the emotional experience of grief and the longing for the presence of departed loved ones.
  • Enduring Love: The poem highlights the idea that love transcends death and can continue to provide comfort and connection even in the absence of physical presence.
  • Spiritual Consolation: The poem explores the concept of finding spiritual consolation through a connection that transcends the material world.

Stylistic Analysis

  • Imagery: The poem employs imagery of "Living Belovèds," "tender looks," "sepulchres unmoving," and "forsaken lamb" to convey the emotional landscape of loss and longing.
  • Rhetorical Devices: The poem uses the rhetorical question "Can I suffice for Heaven and not for earth?" to underscore the enduring spiritual connection and comfort.

Attitudes/Feelings

  • Grief and Longing: The poem captures the profound sense of grief and longing that accompanies the loss of loved ones.
  • Hope and Comfort: The poem offers a glimmer of hope and comfort through the idea that love can continue to provide solace and presence beyond death.

Language

  • Symbolism: The symbolism of "sepulchres," "forsaken lamb," and the voice that responds adds layers of meaning to the poem's exploration of love, loss, and spiritual connection.

Sound Devices

  • Rhythm: The rhythmic structure of the sonnet contributes to its contemplative and reflective tone, creating a melodic quality in the auditory experience.

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