Attitudes Expressed in the Poem:
- acceptance - resigned acceptance
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.
- 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.