Echo

Cascading Stream under Sunlight in Forest --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis
Overview
A poem detailing a sense of regret for a lost love that has been made impossible by Rossetti’s decision to dedicate herself to faith. She dreams of her love and wishes it could’ve endured by beginning in Paradise; however, she speaks with a definitive voice that confirms that her decision is final and irreversible.
Echo

Come to me in the silence of the night;
Come in the speaking silence of a dream;
Come with soft rounded cheeks and eyes as bright
As sunlight on a stream;
Come back in tears,
O memory, hope, love of finished years.

O dream how sweet, too sweet, too bitter sweet,
Whose wakening should have been in Paradise,
Where souls brimfull of love abide and meet;
Where thirsting longing eyes
Watch the slow door
That opening, letting in, lets out no more.

Yet come to me in dreams, that I may live
My very life again though cold in death:
Come back to me in dreams, that I may give
Pulse for pulse, breath for breath:
Speak low, lean low
As long ago, my love, how long ago. 

Click through the tabs below to explore my analysis of different aspects of the poem.

ContextThemesContentLanguage and techniquesStructureTone

Context

This is an early Rossetti poem, written in 1854 and published in her first collection, Goblin Market and Other Poems.

Composition places this poem four years after she broke off her first engagement for religious reasons and seems to have grown closer to the Church. It could be argued that the poem is biographical and looks back at her relationship and wonders what would have been if they had enjoyed it while in heaven rather than earth.

It is also the year her papa passed away, but I’m not sure if this poem predates that or not. However, I’d find it difficult to connect the poem with that at any rate, as the love she refers to seems to be one of passion rather than familial respect.

 Themes

Another poem detailing the struggle between faith and earthly temptations, this one is wistful about her prior experiences of love, but does not contemplate putting faith in second place again.

Content

A pretty simple and short poem for once!

She opens with instructions for some mysterious person to visit her in her dreams and recalls the beauty of their face. At the end of the first stanza she reveals that this person is from her past and she is trying to reconnect with a former love in her memories.

In the next stanza she recalls how she felt while in love and laments that she didn’t experience this feeling in heaven where it would have a permanence impossible on earth. However, returns to the idea that she wants to relive this earthly love in her dreams, but expands to say that this memory is the only thing giving her life any meaning as clearly she finds her religious focus and celibacy pretty difficult to deal with on a day to day basis.

Language and techniques

The title is the best place to start. She is summoning an ‘Echo’ of her former feelings and emotions, which tells us immediately that she is a long way away from it and she will ultimately never be able to have this thing again, while it will also gradually fade away from her.

Rossetti opens with three repetitive imperative statements (‘Come to me’, ‘Come in’, ‘Come with’) that command this memory to come back to her – they also serve as an in-poem echo, which is reflected in each stanza. The repetition and the imperative emphasise her desperation to recapture these feelings. We get a true sense of her misery when she refers to her life as ‘the silence of the night’, which implies that her life is empty, lonely and dark.

Contrast this with her depiction of the ‘speaking silence of a dream’, which is instead characterised as ‘bright as sunlight on a stream’ and contains vivid and beautiful memories of her feelings and her love’s ‘soft rounded cheeks’ – an almost angelic image. Not only do we have a light based contrast, but she also conjures explicit reference to the sense of touch, with the tenderness of his skin, but also the imagery of the sunlight on the stream makes me hear the tranquil burbling and fragrant scent of spring time.

Notice that she is not saying she will go back to this feeling, but merely wants the memory. When she recalls these memories they ‘come back in tears’ and she speaks of a ‘love of finished years’, signalling that these feelings are strictly from her past, but that she still secretly craves them and laments the emptiness of her devout life.

There is a poetic word for using the ‘O’ sound or others that basically simulate wailing, but I can’t for the life of me think what it is (please comment if you can remind me). Notice she uses this twice at the end of the first stanza and beginning of stanza two, which connects us with her grief and sense of regret when recalling these memories.

When she recalls the memory in the second stanza, she describes it as ‘sweet’ three times, but changes the modulating adjective. At first it is ‘how sweet’, which suggests bliss; then it is ‘too sweet’ almost as if she could not cope with it, or her feelings were inappropriate; and finally it is ‘too bitter sweet’, which link us to how she is feeling now as the intensity of her feelings at the time are causing her as intense pain as they formerly did pleasure.

Rossetti claims the love’s ‘wakening should have been in Paradise’, which roughly translates as she wishes she’d found this love in heaven. If you’ve already read ‘The Convent Threshold’ this should be ringing bells, as she explains the eternal nature of heavenly love where God ‘lets out no more’ and thus lovers remain together forever. She is lamenting that their love is not to be eternal due to the fact it began on earth. However, we again get an idea of the intensity of her feeling as she describes herself as waiting at heaven’s door with ‘thirsting longing eyes’, which implies a desperation and a physical need for love in her life. Why is she imagining she is already in heaven looking out? Possibly because of her decision to dedicate her life to God and this perhaps implies she is waiting and hoping to see her loved one admitted later along in their life.

Notice the echo in the second stanza, a little less precise, but with the ‘w’s of ‘whose wakening’, ‘where’, ‘where’. The third stanza repeats the opening echo with ‘come to’ and ‘come back’, but notice that the echo is now fainter as it begins to slip from her mind.

Again Rossetti presents the emotion of desperation when she says ‘I may live my very life again’ through these memories being recalled as opposed to living in her present which is metaphorically described as ‘cold… death’. This is a fairly common metaphor for Rossetti, but represents the fact that she feels as if she has nothing to live for and yet she still lives, so the metaphor describes her life as a state of being ready for death with nothing to live for and no emotional joy within her life. This should be related to her devotion to the Church above all else.

I love the imagery of the fourth line, which uses repetition to paint a picture of Rossetti lying on the verge of death, but being injected or being given the kiss of life with the ‘pulse for pulse, breath for breath’ of this pleasant memory giving her some meaning or happiness in existence. This alliterative burst of sound, with hard consonance of the ‘p’s and ‘b’s is called a plosive and inject urgency into her pleas.

Immediately following this we have the softer and slower sounds of the ‘l’s in the final two lines that sink Rossetti back into her melancholy and back to her ‘cold… death’. She also repeats the words ‘low’ and ‘long ago’ to make the memory seem to be fading and seeming more distant as the poem ends.

Structure

Not a great deal here. This is lyric poem, but all that means is that it is primarily concerned with exploring human emotion. The rhyme is regular throughout (ABABCC) and seems to mirror her sense of deflated passion that is based on acceptance of what has come to pass, rather than still burning in her soul.

I mentioned it above, but you could also talk about the constant repetition in each stanza that reflects the title and shows her ideas are echoing. Make sure you point out how these seems to fade in the final stanza and we linger on the fact that these memories are distant and difficult to recall clearly.

Tone

I think melancholy dominates this poem. She is not fighting against her state, just lamenting it. Although there is that sole line of passion right at the end where she wants her memories to breathe life into her again.

Author: Mr Sir

Although I've only been teaching Literature since 2011 and did my degree in History, I think that makes me better placed than many Lit teachers to provide notes that make sense and aren't garbled and wrapped up with inaccessible terminology and effluent nonsense. After adventures in Uganda and Uzbekistan, I am now settling down in the Netherlands. However, currently I am just about as unsettled as I have ever been, with a new job, a new baby, a new country and a hundred other things going on! Ask me a question, collaborate or abuse me.

2 thoughts on “Echo”

    1. She is being histrionic, but it is definitely not the term I was searching for. Thanks for contributing though.

      Cheers,

      Mr Sir

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