Sunday, 29 November 2015

'In the Round Tower at Jhansi' by Christina Rossetti

Attitudes Expressed in the Poem:

  • dramatic
  • distress
  • tension
  • anxiety
  • sorrowful
  • mysterious
  • fear
  • somber
  • solemn
  • acceptance - resigned acceptance
  • romantic


   Rossetti appended a footnote in 1875: 'I retain this little poem, not as historically accurate, but as written and published before I heard the supposed facts of its first verse contradicted.' She had discovered (or thought she had discovered) that, far from committing suicide, the Skene family had been captured and killed. There is still no consensus as to their fate. (Source)

   Mrs Skene and her husband, Captain Alexander Skene of the 68th Bengal Native Infantry, were killed at Jhansi Fort on 8 June 1857 during the Indian Mutiny (1857-1859). Captain Skene was British superintendent at Jhansi. At the first sign of unrest, he had ordered all Christians in Jhansi to take refuge in the fort. They remained under siege there until 8 June when the rebels offered to spare their lives if they surrendered the fort. Skene agreed, believing that the Rani of Jhansi had guaranteed their safety, but the 56 Christians were all hacked to death with swords. The Rani's personal responsibility for the massacre is still hotly debated. (Source)

   The Indian Rebellion of 1857 refers to a rebellion in India against the rule of the British East India Company, that ran from May 1857 to June 1858. The rebellion began as a mutiny of sepoys of the East India Company's army on 10 May 1857, in the cantonment of the town of Meerut, and soon escalated into other mutinies and civilian rebellions largely in the upper Gangetic plain and central India, with the major hostilities confined to present-day Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, northern Madhya Pradesh, and the Delhi region. The rebellion posed a considerable threat to East India Company power in that region, and was contained only with the fall of Gwalior on 20 June 1858.The rebellion is also known as India's First War of Independence, the Great Rebellion, the Indian Rebellion, the Indian Mutiny, the Revolt of 1857, the Rebellion of 1857, the Uprising of 1857, the Sepoy Rebellion, the Indian Insurrection and the Sepoy Mutiny.
   Other regions of Company-controlled India, such as Bengal, the Bombay Presidency, and the Madras Presidency, remained largely calm. In Punjab, the Sikh princes backed the Company by providing soldiers and support. The large princely states of Hyderabad, Mysore, Travancore, and Kashmir, as well as the smaller ones of Rajputana, did not join the rebellion.In some regions, such as Oudh, the rebellion took on the attributes of a patriotic revolt against European presence. Maratha leaders, such as Lakshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi, became folk heroes in the nationalist movement in India half a century later.
   The rebellion led to the dissolution of the East India Company in 1858. It also led the British to reorganise the army, the financial system and the administration in India. The country was thereafter directly governed by the crown as the new British Raj. (Source)

Form and Structure:

  • The poem has a regular ABAB rhyme scheme which creates a fast pace, reinforcing the rapidly occurring events within this narrative poem. The use of enjambment throughout the poem also adds to this fast pace creating a feeling of fear.
  • 'InThe Round Tower At Jhansi' has an alternating meter in which the first and third line of the stanza are tetrameter, while the second and fourth lines are a trimeter. This is sustained throughout all five of the poem's stanzas. 

Language Analysis:

  • In media res: The narrative begins in media res (starts in the middle of the action) which creates a sense of MYSTERY and ENIGMA. This immediately grabs the attention of the reader.
  • Hyperbolic language: The poem uses hyperbolic language which is evident straight away in the first line: "A hundred, a thousand to one; even so;". The use of these exaggerated figures emphasise the dramatic tone and the distress felt by the characters within the narrative. This exaggeration can also be seen in the last line of the stanza where the past tense verb "gained" is repeated twice creating a feeling of urgency and reinforcing the distress felt in the first line of the stanza. 
  • Narrative position: In the third line the narrative position is established. "The swarming howling wretches below". The words "swarming" and "wretches" animalises the people, who are presumed to be Indian rebels, so the reader is aware of the narrative point of view before meeting the characters. This means that the reader knows that the characters - who he/she will connect with - are on the British side of the Indian Rebellion of 1857. This perhaps creates a feeling of patriotism in the reader. 

  • Introduction of the characters: The two characters of the narrative, "Skene" and "his pale young wife", are introduced in the first line of the second stanza. Due to the previous stanza, where the situation the two characters find themselves in becomes apparent, the reader begins to sympathise the two almost immediately. 
  • Dialogue vs. narrative voice: Along with the characters, dialogue is also introduced in the second stanza. Hearing the characters' individual voices - although ambiguous as to who is speaking each phrase - develops an emotional connection between them and the reader which isn't achieved simply through the narrative voice. 
  • Punctuation (within the dialogue): The punctuation within the dialogue can determine the emotions expressed by the characters which in turn affects the tone of the poem. While the question mark at the end of "'Is the time come?'" gives the spoken phrase a fearful tone, there is a sense of acceptance in the phrase "'The time is come!'" due to the exclamation mark. This gives it a resigned and calm, but in some ways commanding tone.
  • Triad: The triad in the third line: "Young, strong, and so full of life:" foregrounds the previously introduced feeling of sympathy. This is because these positive adjectives have a bitter tone within the context they are in. They create a feeling of loss.

  • Repetition of the adjective "close": The repetition of the adjective "close" in this stanza highlights the tension and adds to the building suspense of the narrative, making the reader fearful for Skene and kids wife. This repeated adjective also forms a part of a triad (or triplet): "Close his arm" / "Close her cheek" / "Close the pistol". There is a contrast between the intimacy created by the first two phrases and the brutality of the last phrase. This reminds the reader that the two character's love will end in a tragedy.
  • The idea of "God vs suicide": The last line of the stanza introduces a religious concept in which the narrator asks God to forgive Skene and his wife for killing themselves. According to the Christian faith, which was a key feature of Victorian society, suicide is a sin (forbidden by the Ten Commandments). Yet the narrator asks: "God forgive them this!" The juxtaposition of these two ideas creates a sense of helplessness and foregrounds the previously felt distress.

  • Only dialogue: Contrasting previous stanzas, the fourth stanza only contains dialogue. The lack of the narrative voice makes it more immediate and builds the anxiety and tension. 
  • Unattributed dialogue: Although there is a sense of ambiguity about which character says each piece of dialogue within the poem, it is assumed that the wife begins the spoken stanza, to which the husband responds:

  • Repetition of "kiss": The word "kiss" is repeated both by the narrative voice and within the dialogue. In the narrative, repetition of "kiss" as a verb carries a sense of finality due to being an action with connotations of goodbyes and farewells.  The repetition of "kiss" within the dialogue brings an intimacy to the final stanza. This weaves an overwhelming, pitiful sympathy into the lines.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

'Song (When I am dead, my dearest)' by Christina Rossetti

Attitudes Expressed in the Poem:

  • contemplation
  • calm 
  • weary
  • confident
  • acceptance
  • self-aware 
  • tolerant (about death)
  • curious
  • melancholy
  • solemn
  • somber
  • indifferent - nonchalant
  • ambiguous towards death
  • loss

Form and Structure:

  • Rossetti structured the poem in two regular stanzas which have eight lines each. This even structure reinforces the confidence and self-awareness of the persona.
  • Meter: 'Song (When I am dead, my dearest)' uses a trimeter (there are three metrical feet in each line) apart from the third line of each stanza where there's a metrical deviation. Here an iambic tetrameter is used, therefore there are four iambic feet in the metrical line, which contrasts the first, fifth and seventh line of each stanza. These metrical lines are composed of two iambs and an amphibrach. This again is different to the even-numbered lines of the stanzas which are all in iambic trimeter. This form of hymn meter with alternating longer and shorter lines gives the poem a song-like rhythm which gives the poem a confident tone.
  • The sonnet uses a direct address which means that the first person persona (or the voice of the poem) is talking to an addressee. This allows the reader to develop an emotional connection with the persona. Evidence for this can be found immediately in the first line of the poem: "When I am dead, my dearest,".

Language Analysis:

  • Significance of Title: The title, 'Song (When I am dead, my dearest)', suggests that poem can be sung. This is reinforced by the  rhythm that is created by the hymn meter. As a result, the poem is given connotations of funerals creating a somber and solemn mood. The (partial) repetition of the title foregrounds these attitudes.
  • Repetition: The persona repeats the phrase "And if thou wilt," in the last two lines of the first stanza. The use of the archaic term "wilt" (meaning will) suggests the persona's indifference to whether they'll be remembered after they die. This nonchalant attitude towards her legacy is emphasised not only by the repetition in these last two lines, but by the caesurae following the repeated phrase. This break in the metrical line creates a pause which allows the reader time to understand the persona's point of view. "And if thou wilt, remember, / And if thou wilt, forget."  This attitude may have been viewed as controversial as the persona goes against the conventions of her time (when everyone wanted to be remembered). 
  • Alliteration: Throughout the first stanza, Rossetti also uses alliteration and sibilance to create a song-like tone. The alliterative phrase "sad songs" which consists of a an adjective followed by a noun, highlights the melancholic voice of the persona. On the other hand, the use of "green grass" a phrase that is structured in the same way as "sad songs" (adjective + noun), contrasts the gloomy mood of the previous phrase, bringing connotations of freshness and new life perhaps offering a comforting promise of life after death. The soft ‘sh' sound in the adjective "shady" and then again in the noun "showers" reinforce her weary tone. This perhaps makes the reader more sympathetic towards the persona.  
  • Enjambment: The persona's use of enjambment between the fifth and the sixth lines of the first stanza creates a sense of spontaneity and foregrounds the idea that the speaker is freely expressing her controversial ideas about death and what comes after. This makes her seem brave in the eyes of the reader, especially since the persona is assumed to be a woman in the Victorian era.
  • Use of the Preposition "Above": The persona uses the proposition "above" when she talks about where the addressee will be relative to her after her death. This suggests that the persona will remain in the grave - both her body and soul - after she dies. This contrasts the beliefs of the highly Christian society of Victorian Britain and the Anglo-Catholic faith of the poet herself which both teach of life after death. The idea of the persona staying in the grave after she dies eliminates the idea of a heaven and gives death a sense of finality. This is also suggested by the lack of words with religious connotations which is very different to many of Rossetti's other poems that focus on the topic of death.
  • Use of the Noun "Cypress Tree": Cypress trees were planted typically in Victorian cemeteries and therefore carry connotations of death, mourning and funerals. When the persona tells the addressee not to plant a "cypress tree" by her grave the reader is given the expression that the persona doesn't want the addressee to mourn. Perhaps this is why she indifferent to whether they are forgotten or not - after all, she isn't the one that has to live on after a tragedy (a lover's death, assuming that the addressee is her lover). This creates a parallel between 'Song' and Rossetti's sonnet 'Remember'.

  • Caesura: The persona uses a caesura in the fourth line of the second stanza: "Sing on, as if in pain:" . This break in the metrical line reinforces her acceptance of death, her acceptance of not being able to experience any earthly wonders.
  • Repetition of "I Shall Not": The persona repeats the negative modal verb "shall not" in the first three lines of the second stanza which highlights the difference between life and death. The repetition of "I shall not" highlights the transformation of the persona's senses after death (she will  no longer able to "see""feel", or "hear" earthly phenomena), demonstrating this clear divide between the living and the dead. This foreground the idea expressed in the previous stanza that death is final and that the body simply stays in the grave for eternity.
  • Use of the Archaic Adverb "Haply": The persona uses the archaic adverb "haply" , meaning perhaps, to express her uncertainty about death. This creates a sense of ambiguity towards what happens after death which brings about a sense of hope: perhaps there is a life waiting for us after death. This contrasts previous interpretations which imply the finality of death and the absence of a heaven. The ambiguity towards death is an attitude that is also suggested by the euphemism "twilight" in reference to the subject. The use of this euphemism hints at the possibility of an afterlife and also makes the persona seem curious about what awaits her after she dies. 
  • Idea of a Nightingale's Song: The persona revisits the idea of songs in second stanza when she says "I shall not hear the nightingale / sing on, as if in pain:". Here, unlike in the first stanza where songs were given connotations of mourning and funerals, the idea of happy, cheerful bird chirping is given a bitter mood, creating a sense of loss. This implies that while the persona doesn't want her lover to mourn and sing sad songs when she dies, she will feel deprived of the nightingale's song which she will not be able to hear again after she dies. The contrast between the two different attitudes linked to songs is highlighted by the metrical deviation of the third line in which the persona mentions "the nightingale".

Contextual Research:

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

'Remember' by Christina Rossetti

Attitudes Expressed in the Poem:

  • melancholy (quiet, contemplative sadness)
  • hopeful
  • selfless
  • romantic (love poem?)
  • acceptance - resigned tone
  • consoling
  • calm - confident
  • nostalgic (remembrance of a happy moment tinged with sadness) - sentimental
  • self aware - acceptance 
  • tolerant (about death) - tolerates/understands the fact that she'll be forgotten
  • self-assurance (inner strength)

Form and Structure:

  • 'Remember' is a sonnet and therefore has 14 lines divided into an octet (the first 8 lines) and sestet (the last 6 lines) by a volta.
  • The volta signifies a change in the subject matter and rhyme scheme of 'Remember'.
  • In poetry, the volta, or turn, is a rhetorical shift or dynamic change in thought and/or emotion.
  • The Octet: 
  1. Subject Matter - Addressee should remember the persona after she's gone. This helps the addressee deal with the persona's death.
  2. Rhyme Scheme: ABBAABBA
  • The Sestet:
  1. Subject Matter - It's more important for the addressee to be happy than for the persona to be remembered. This means that the addressee should forget the persona if it makes him happier (makes dealing with her death easier) to forget her. This reinforces the sense of acceptance that the persona carries with her throughout the sonnet.
  2. Rhyme Scheme: CDDECE
  • Rhyme Scheme: ABBAABBACDDECE
  • Meter: Iambic Pentameter (five iambic metrical feet per line)
  • The sonnet uses a direct address which means that the first person persona (or the voice of the poem) is talking to an addressee. This allows the reader to develop an emotional connection with the persona. This is evident in the third line of the sonnet: "When you can no more hold me by the hand,".

Language Analysis:

  • Lexis: The persona uses high frequency lexis so the sonnet is easy to understand. These word choices are therefore direct and straight to the point which suggests the persona's blunt acceptance towards her inevitable fate. 
  • Euphemisms: Euphemisms are the substitution of a mild, indirect, or vague expression for one thought to be offensive, harsh or blunt. The persona uses some figurative expressions such as "gone away", "silent land" and "darkness and corruption" to substitute words and ideas linked to the sensitive subject of death. In a way, euphemisms are used as a coping mechanism for the theme of death both by the persona and the addressee.
  • Lack of Figurative Expressions: However, there is a lack of these figurative expressions in the sonnet reinforcing the reality of the situation, the reality of the persona's rapidly approaching death.
  • Repetition of Title: The repetition of the title, ‘Remember’, throughout the poem gives it a melancholic tone as this verb often has connotations of loss and grief. Therefore it may remind the reader of a memorial ceremony or funeral. There is also a notable difference between the octet and the sestet of the sonnet which can be directly linked to the contrasting emotions and attitudes expressed in either section of the sonnet. Before the volta, there is a repetition of the phrase “remember me” which demonstrates to the reader that the persona wants to be remembered by the addressee. On the other hand, in the sestet this repeated phrase is shortened to simply “remember”. Here the persona is no longer telling her lover to remember her, but repeats this imperative verb to instruct the addressee to forget her after she is gone. This creates a sense of irony which causes the reader to question why Rossetti titled the poem ‘Remember’ if the persona wishes to be forgotten.
  • Significance of Title: The title of the sonnet is tinged with a sense of irony as it causes the reader to question why Rossetti titled the poem ‘Remember’ if the persona wishes to be forgotten.
  • Caesurae: The persona uses caesurae to give the poem a consoling tone. These breaks in the metrical line create a pause which reinforce the reassurance of the words that follow. For example: 
  1. "Only remember me; you understand"
  2. "And afterwards remember, do not grieve:"
  • Themes In Common with 'Song':
  1. Death
  2. The Idea of a Person's Legacy
  3. Remembrance/Forgetting Someone

Example Paragraph:

The repetition of the title, ‘Remember’, throughout the poem gives it a melancholic tone. Perhaps this is because this verb often has connotations of loss and grief, and therefore may remind the reader of a memorial ceremony or funeral. There is also a notable difference between the octet and the sestet of the poem which can be directly linked to the contrasting emotions and attitudes expressed in either section of the sonnet. Before the volta, there is a repetition of the phrase “remember me” which demonstrates to the reader that the persona wants to be remembered by the addressee. This may initially be interpreted as the poem’s narrator longing to leave behind a legacy through the person they addressed this poem to. However, the persona becomes very nostalgic in these first eight lines of the sonnet where she recalls fond memories, such as when the she “half turn[ed] to go yet turning stay”. This gives the reader the impression that Rossetti’s first person persona wants the addressee, who in this context is suggested to be a lover, to remember these memories they shared to help them deal with the persona’s fast approaching death. This nostalgic attitude, especially when the persona mentions their “future” which they planned together but will never have, highlights the quiet, contemplative sadness woven into every line by the persona. On the other hand, in the sestet this repeated phrase is shortened to simply “remember”. Here the persona is no longer telling her lover to remember her, but repeats this imperative verb to instruct the addressee to forget her after she is gone. This creates a sense of irony which causes the reader to question why Rossetti titled the poem ‘Remember’ if the persona wishes to be forgotten. At the same time, the idea that the persona finds it more important for her lover to be happy than for her to be remembered causes the reader to sympathise with the persona. This consequently develops an emotional connection between the reader and the persona. 

Contextual Research:

Monday, 12 October 2015

Contextual Research:

Morality, Sexuality and Relationships of Women in the Victorian Era

·         Wikipedia page on Women in the Victorian Era:
While women in the Victorian era were expected to only have sex with one man, their husband, it was acceptable for men to have multiple sexual partners in their life.
This meant that though women had to stay with their husbands on the grounds that divorce wasn’t an option, it was socially acceptable for men to participate in lengthy affairs with other women.
 If women did have sexual contact with another man, they were seen as ruined or fallen.
Victorian literature and art was full of examples of women paying dearly for straying from moral expectations. Adulteresses met tragic ends in novels such as ‘Anna Karenina by Tolstoy, ‘Madame Bovary by Flaubert, while in ‘Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy depicts a heroine punished by her community for losing her virginity before marriage (the novel is deliberately ambiguous as to whether the encounter was consensual or a rape).

·         The Victorian Web:
Female sexuality in Victorian times was a loaded subject, filled with the contrasting ideals of the domestic wife and the femme fatale.
This era was also responsible for introducing the "new woman" and the "fallen woman," two other dichotomous ideologies. The religious and social ideal of femininity was encapsulated in the idea of a woman's mission as daughter, wife and mother, while the cultural (literary and aesthetic) was consumed with images of mystical, deadly and sexually enticing female subjects.
The modern urban life of women was the basis for the idea of the fallen woman:
Respectable women, it was claimed, could not be part of the public sphere of city life. If women left the safety of the home and were on the streets, it was claimed, they became corrupted by the transgressive values of the city. They would be thought to be prostitutes or vulnerable workingwomen, both victims of a hostile and threatening environment.
The other female type, the new woman, represented in urban space was the endangered workingwoman, often depicted as young vulnerable girls who had become victim to the hostile urban world.
 Pure women were seen as moral and spiritual guardians, fighting against the immoral influence their evil counterparts posed, not only to their household but also to the entire nation's moral health (Parker 12).
Images concerning female respectability were circulated at all levels of Victorian culture, infiltrating the minds of both men and women with not only the positive propaganda and moral reprobation, but also the erotic images, creating a very ambiguous ideal for women.

·         The British Library : Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians:
During the Victorian period men and women’s roles became more sharply defined than at any time in history.
 As the 19th century progressed men increasingly commuted to their place of work – the factory, shop or office. Wives, daughters and sisters were left at home all day to oversee the domestic duties that were increasingly carried out by servants.
Separate spheres:
From the 1830s, the two sexes inhabited what Victorians thought of as ‘separate spheres’, only coming together at breakfast and again at dinner.
This ideology rested on a definition of the ‘natural’ characteristics of women and men.
Women were considered physically weaker yet morally superior to men, which meant that they were best suited to the domestic sphere. 
Not only was it their job to counterbalance the moral taint of the public sphere in which their husbands laboured all day, they were also preparing the next generation to carry on this way of life.
The fact that women had such great influence at home was used as an argument against giving them the vote.

Marriage and sexuality:

 A young girl was not expected to focus too obviously on finding a husband. Being ‘forward’ in the company of men suggested a worrying sexual appetite.

Women were assumed to desire marriage because it allowed them to become mothers rather than to pursue sexual or emotional satisfaction.

One doctor, William Acton, famously declared that ‘The majority of women (happily for them) are not very much troubled with sexual feeling of any kind’.

Girls usually married in their early to mid-20s.

Typically, the groom would be five years older. 

This reinforced the ‘natural’ hierarchy between the sexes and it also made sound financial sense as young man needed to be able to show that he earned enough money to support a wife and any future children before the girl’s father would give his permission.

Some unfortunate couples were obliged to endure an engagement lasting decades before they could afford to marry.

If a young man was particularly pious he might manage to stay chaste until he married. Many respectable young men, however, resorted to using prostitutes. All the major cities had red light districts where it was easy to find a woman whom you could pay for sex. 

Unfortunately syphilis and other sexual diseases were rife, and many young men unwittingly passed on the infection to their wives. For those unlucky enough to develop full-blown tertiary syphilis, the result was a painful and lingering death, usually in the mid-40s.
Young and not-so-young women had no choice but to stay chaste until marriage. They were not even allowed to speak to men unless there was a married woman present as a chaperone. 
The prostitute was the shadow that haunted the well-run middle-class home. She serviced the needs of the men of the house, not just before marriage but sometimes during it too.
Just like the men she slept with, but unlike their wives, the prostitute was a worker in the economic market place, exchanging services for cash.
Doctors such as William Acton were extremely worried by the ‘problem’ the prostitute presented, in particular the way she spread sexual disease amongst the male population. For this reason the ‘Contagious Diseases Act’ was instituted from 1860 which allowed, in certain towns, for the forced medical examination of any woman who was suspected of being a sex worker. If she was found to be infected she was placed in a ‘Lock Hospital’ until she was cured.
 A reform movement led by Josephine Butler vigorously campaigned for a repeal of the acts, arguing that it was male clients, as much as the prostitutes, who were responsible for the ‘problems’ associated with prostitution.
Many charities were instituted to help reform prostitutes. Charles Dickens even collaborated with the philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts to set up a ‘Magdalen House’ which would prepare girls for a new life in Australia.
Despite these efforts, prostitution continued to flourish for as long as there were bachelors who were prevented by economy from marrying until their late 20s, and working-class women who desperately needed to make money to raise their own children.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

'Shut Out' by Christina Rossetti

Shut Out

 Attitudes and Emotions:

The persona of the poem 'Shut Out' expresses various attitudes and emotions throughout the poem.
  • distressed
  • worried
  • distraught
  • frustrated
  • longing 
  • desperation
  • isolated
  • possessive
  • ignored
  • lonely
  • scared
  • feeling trapped
  • grief
  • a loss of hope
Language Analysis:

The poem is written in the first person - it uses a first person persona/narrator. This allows the reader to develop an emotional connection with the narrator. 

'Shut Out' is only a a fragment of a sentence. A sentence fragment is blunt, direct and straight to the point. This highlights the persona's frustration and anger, making her seem distraught in the eyes of the reader. The title can also be linked to the first sentence of the poem: "The door was shut." This is a simple sentence which extends the frustrated tone of the title.    

  • Contrasting Adjectives: The persona uses contrasting adjectives throughout the first stanza: "iron bars" and "flowers bedewed and green". While iron has connotations of something that's hard, strong and cold, describing flowers as bedewed and green softens the image created and brings a feeling of innocence. This juxtaposition of adjectives describes the door (where the persona is standing) and what's beyond it, emphasising the feeling of longing felt by the persona.
  • Iron Bars: The persona describes looking between the door's "iron bars" and hence compares it to the door of a prison cell. This puts an emphasis on how the persona feels trapped and also has connotations of lost hope.  
  • Meter and Possessive Pronouns: The poem uses an iambic tetrameter, meaning that there are four iambic feet in each line. For example:"My gar/den, mine,beneaththe sky"  The persona also uses several (first person) possessive pronouns such as "my" and "mine' throughout the poem. In the line above, the possessive pronoun "mine" is a stressed syllable which reinforces the narrator's possessive attitude. This word is also separated from the rest of the metrical line which puts emphasis on the idea that the garden belongs to her. The use of this caesura perhaps makes the persona seem obsessive or even selfish in the eyes of the reader as it reinforces the fact that the garden belongs to her, and her alone.
  • Rhyme Scheme: The first stanza (as well as the rest of the poem) has an ABBA rhyme scheme which accentuates the overall tone the poem. The reader would expect the poem to be written in an out of control voice (as the persona is angry, frustrated and isolated) and therefore they'd expect the poem to have an irregular rhyme scheme or for it to be written in free verse. However this expectation contrasts how the poem is written which may seem unexpected.                                                               

  • Repetition: The repetition of the words "bough" and "flower" in the second stanza emphasise a feeling of longing, especially since these are the stressed syllables in the iambic feet.          "From bough/ to bough/ the song/-birds crossed, / From flower/ to flower/ the moths/ and bees;"  
  •  Nature Motif: The recurring theme of nature is especially visible in the second stanza where the persona makes references to "song-birds", "trees", "moths and bees" and "nests" which all used to belong to her. These images linked to nature suggest a loss of innocence. The nature motif could also represent a new life (which is highlighted by the use of "buds" in the third stanza). Several aspects of the language used by the persona suggest that she is longing for a garden, so, in this alternative interpretation, this could be viewed as the persona desperately wanting a new life.
  • Use of the Adjective "Stately": Stately can be defined as dignified, imposing or grand. The persona uses this adjective to describe trees which can be interpreted as the persona's way of acknowledging nature's superiority over humanity. This gives the reader the impression that the persona idolises nature, perhaps because even men are inferior to it. 
  • The Juxtaposition of "Mine" and "Lost": In the last line of the second stanza, both "mine" and "lost" are stressed syllables within the metrical line: "It had/ been mine,/ and it/ was lost." These two contrasting descriptions of the garden create a juxtaposition which highlights the frustration and longing of the distraught persona. It also reinforces the idea of  property rights (or the lack of these rights) of women in the Victorian era.                                                              

  • Religious Language: In the third stanza the persona uses several nouns, such as "spirit" and "grave", which have religious connotations. This can be linked to Rossetti's devotion to her Anglo-Catholic faith. Alternately, this religious language hints at a profound interpretation of the poem in which the garden represents the Garden of Eden which humanity (Adam and Eve) was banished from. This suggests that the "garden" is a symbol of a loss of innocence. 
  • The "Shadowless Spirit": The persona introduces the character of the "shadowless spirit" in the third stanza. The adjective "shadowless" makes the character seem supernatural to the reader, creating a sense of fear perhaps because the use of this adjective suggests that the spirit is invisible, therefore is more like a ghost than a soul. This gives the adjective connotations of death. Alternately, the adjective "shadowless" gives the reader the idea that the spirit may not actually exist, it merely being a figment of the persona's imagination. 
  • "The Grave": With the use of a simile, the persona compares the spirit to a grave:                    "Blank and unchanging like the grave." This comparison the persona draws between the spirit and a grave amplifies the dark, gloomy and morbid tone of the first two lines. This may be because the noun has connotations of death, which adds to the sense of fear towards the supernatural creature that is the spirit. The grave, having this link to the idea of death and loss also contrasts the noun "buds" (referred to later on in the stanza) which often used to symbolise new life. This creates a juxtaposition which emphasises the persona's distress.
  • "Outcast State": The persona describes having an "outcast state". The use of the adjective "outcast" emphasises her isolation while "state", an abstract  noun, hints at the idea that this isolation she feels is only temporary. However, being an abstract noun, a type of noun that refers to something a person cannot physically interact with, the use of "state" suggests that she cannot do anything about the isolation and loneliness she finds herself in.

  •  The Use of a Masculine Personal Pronoun to describe the Spirit: The persona refers to the spirit using a masculine personal pronoun in the fourth stanza when she says "He answered not.". The character of the spirit is also the gate-keeper (the person who stops the persona from getting what she wants). Putting these two pieces of information to gather, the reader can see that the spirit is the character in the poem who hold all the power. This links to how the male gender dominated Victorian society.
  •  Dialogue: The dialogue, spoken by the persona, consists of imperative sentences which reinforce her frustration. It is also notable that only the persona uses direct speech. The spirit never engages in the dialogue, he only uses indirect speech: "He answered not."  This amplifies his superiority as even without directly saying anything, his word carry more weight than the desperate plea of the persona.
  •  Use of a Simple Sentence and Caesura: There is also a simplicity to the response the spirit gives which limits the extent to which the reader can get to know his character. Perhaps the persona does this to replicate the isolation she feels. This simplicity is brought about with the use of a simple sentence. The simple sentence "He answered not." emphasises the finality and coldness of the spirit's decision. Having a full-stop in the middle of a metrical line creates a pause which further amplifies this sense of finality conveyed by the simple sentence which precedes this punctuation. This caesura, almost like a pause allowing the persona to sigh, symbolises her hopelessness and loneliness - she might as well be talking to herself.                        

  • Caesura: The use of a semi-colon, which follows the phrase "The spirit was silent", creates a break in the metrical line. This caesura reinforces that silence - a concept which has connotations of loneliness and isolation. 
  • Man-made/Synthetic vs. Natural: The second line of the stanza "Mortar and stone to build a wall" contrasts the rest of the poem which is flooded with the recurring them of nature. The proportion of nature to man-made suggests the inferiority of mankind. However, the use of the noun "wall" carries connotations of seclusion, isolation and loneliness which is mirrored by the absence of the nature motif in fifth stanza. 
  •  Use of the Adjective "Straining": The persona's use of the adjective "straining" to describe her eyes emphasises the desperation she feels.                                                                                  

  • Change in Tense: In the sixth stanza the persona changes tenses. This is immediately visible through the use of the adverb "now" and the verb "sit" which is conjugated in the present tense. This change in tense suggests that the previous stanzas were just a story told by the persona to set the scene. In this stanza, the persona takes on a more resigned tone which creates a sense of acceptance. This explains why the poem has such a regular rhyme scheme and meter rather than an irregular, out-of-control structure that the reader would initially expect to come across.
  •  Hyperbole: Describing the garden as her "land", emphasises the persona's love and longing for this place. This hyperbole is aided by the adjective "delightful" reinforces this love felt by the persona.                                                                                                                                         

  • The Use of the Feminine Personal Pronoun to Describe the Lark:  The persona uses the lark, a fragile songbird, to symbolise women when she refers to it's nest with the feminine possessive pronoun "her".  The fragility of this small bird reflects how women were viewed in the Victorian era. There is also a feeling of irony linked to this metaphor used to describe women because it implies that the nest belonged to the lark while Victorian women had virtually no property rights. This is illustrated by the fact that the possessive pronoun "her" is an unstressed syllable within the metrical line. Alternately, this could also be interpreted as Rossetti's ironic humour in which she hints that even animals have more property rights than Victorian women.
  •  Parallel Lines: The last two lines of the seventh stanza and the poem are parallel lines as there is a repetition of words and of sentence structure: "And good they are, but not the best; / And dear they are, but not so dear." These parallel lines bring about a feeling of acceptance which suggests to the reader that the persona has come to terms with her fate.

What is the narrative used as a vehicle to illustrate?

Rossetti's poetry is often allegorical. There are several interpretations of the profound meaning of the poem 'Shut Out'.
  • Being locked out of heaven: Here, the "garden" represents the Garden of Eden and the "iron bars" symbolise the Gates of Heaven. There are several words throughout the poem, such as "spirit", which carry religious connotations.
  • Social status of women in the Victorian era: In this interpretation the garden symbolises a wonderful place that is controlled by men. It is what is good in society and women are forbidden to enter the "garden".
  • Freedom: According to this interpretation, the "garden" represents a woman's freedom from male ownership (which is taken away from them once she gets married to a man).
  • Losing someone close: Here, the persona is mourning after a loved one she lost - perhaps a family member who died or a lover who left her. The garden may represent a man she was in love with or a relationship she misses. 

Example Paragraph:

   Rossetti’s first person persona draws attention to the theme of possession and power in ‘Shut Out’ by using possessive pronouns throughout the poem. The use of “mine” in the third line of the poem’s first stanza puts an emphasis on the idea that the garden belongs to her, especially since that one word is separated from the rest of the metrical line. The use of this caesura perhaps makes the persona seem obsessive or even selfish in the eyes of the reader as it highlights the fact that the garden belongs to her, and her alone. Assuming that the persona is a woman, this interpretation of the poem reflects the question surrounding the property rights of women in the Victorian era. According to the December 10 issue of ‘Englishwoman’s Review’ published in 1859, the condition of women is “scarcely better than that of infants an slaves” as far as far as the right to possess and dispose of property is concerned because “all they have is their husband’s”. This leaves us to believe that women of the Victorian era, just like the persona, often became very possessive over things which they could (or used to be able to) call their own as they effectively belonged to their husbands.

Contextual Research: