English Literature


Shiken premium Upgrade Banner

Uncovering the Theme of Grief in Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Poem 'Grief'

During the Victorian era, attitudes towards death and grief were vastly different from those of today. However, grief remains a powerful human experience that transcends time, place, and culture. Published in 1844, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem 'Grief' offers a poignant exploration of this universal theme.

The Context of 'Grief'

In order to fully grasp the depth of the poem, it is essential to consider its biographical, historical, and literary contexts.

Biographical Context

Browning wrote 'Grief' from a place of personal understanding. At the young age of twenty, she experienced the loss of her mother and two brothers, Samuel and Edward. Her own encounter with grief undoubtedly influenced the writing of the poem.

Her brother Samuel passed away from a fever while assisting in managing their father's plantations in Jamaica, while Edward died in a sailing accident in Torquay. Browning is said to have struggled with survivor's guilt, feeling responsible for her brother's death. She also battled with health issues, and after Edward's passing, she became secluded, rarely leaving her room.

Many believe that Browning wrote 'Grief' in the aftermath of her beloved brother Edward's death, as it was published in 1844.

Historical Context

Browning lived during the Victorian era, a time marked by a high rate of death. Death and grief were prevalent themes in Victorian literature, reflecting society's fascination with the process of dying and various mourning practices, such as keeping mementos and taking photographs of the deceased.

Literary Context

As a poet of the Victorian era, Browning's work is often associated with the Romantic literary movement. However, her poetry can also be interpreted as belonging to the earlier Romantic period.

The renowned Romantic poet William Wordsworth defined poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings." In 'Grief', Browning delves into the raw emotion of grief in an instructive manner, aligning with Wordsworth's views on the role of poetry.

Features of 'Grief'

Having explored the biographical, historical, and literary contexts, it is now possible to analyze 'Grief' in terms of its various themes, forms, and structures.

The poem presents a contrast between the different stages and expressions of grief. The speaker asserts that "hopeless grief is passionless," and only those who are "half-taught in anguish" express their despair through "shrieking and reproach." This highlights the universal nature of grief.

Browning also utilizes poetic devices, such as simile and synonyms, to convey the theme of grief. She also incorporates imagery of death, the celestial, stone, and barrenness to further intensify its impact.

The tone of the poem is informative and authoritative, reflecting Browning's personal experience with grief.

The supernatural and celestial are also present in the poem as Browning references the Christian God and his abode, bringing a sense of comfort and hope in the face of death and grief.

Analysis of 'Grief'

Upon reading the poem, one can interpret multiple layers of meaning by examining its various themes, forms, and structure.

The poem presents the idea that grief is a solitary and silent emotion. The "full desertness" in souls is compared to a "country," highlighting the depth and loneliness of grief. Browning also uses the imagery of a "monumental statue" to convey the stillness and permanence of grief.

The poem's form is a Petrarchan sonnet, following a strict meter of iambic pentameter and rhyme scheme of ABBA ABBA CDECDE. This structure adds to the poem's authority and impact.

Finally, the poem concludes with a powerful image of a "marble statue" that does not weep, but if it could, it would be able to move on. This suggests that grief is temporary and eventually fades with time, allowing the mourner to continue living.

Detailed Analysis of the Literary and Poetic Devices Employed in 'Grief' by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

In her sonnet, 'Grief', Elizabeth Barrett Browning expertly employs various literary devices to depict the theme of grief and death. These devices include the use of imagery, simile, and synonyms, which allow the reader to deeply comprehend the speaker's perspective on the different manifestations of grief.

The Power of Simile and Imagery in Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Poem 'Grief'

'Grief' is a poignant poem written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, a renowned Romantic poet. In this piece, Browning explores the immense depth of emotions experienced during the grieving process, using powerful poetic devices such as simile and imagery to convey her message. Let's delve deeper into the poem and uncover its hidden meanings.

Using Simile to Compare and Convey Emotions

In 'Grief', Browning skillfully employs simile to compare and convey different emotions. By using the words 'like' and 'as', she draws parallels between seemingly unrelated concepts, allowing readers to better understand the intensity of emotions being described. For example, in the line "he is as cunning as a fox", Browning compares someone's cunningness to that of a fox, giving a vivid depiction of their sly nature.

Creating Vivid Imagery for a Deeper Understanding

One of the key elements of Browning's poetry is her use of imagery, which paints a vivid picture in readers' minds. In 'Grief', she utilizes celestial imagery to convey the concept of the heavens being occupied by God, angels, and the deceased, who watch over the living. This is evident in the lines "Under the blanching, vertical eye-glare/Of the absolute heavens", where the image of a celestial gaze is created, highlighting the presence of a higher power in times of grief.

Emphasizing Grief Through the Use of Synonyms

Throughout the poem, Browning repeatedly uses synonyms for grief, such as "despair" and "woe", to further emphasize the focus on this emotion. By constantly reiterating different words with similar meanings, she allows readers to truly feel the weight of grief and its impact on individuals.

Exploring the Poetic Devices Used in 'Grief'

Browning expertly weaves various poetic devices into 'Grief' to convey her message effectively. In addition to simile and imagery, the title, form, structure, and rhyme scheme all contribute to the overall effect of the poem.

The Power of the Petrarchan Sonnet

'Grief' is a Petrarchan sonnet, named after the Italian poet Francesco Petrarca. This form of poetry consists of fourteen lines and typically focuses on one central theme. In this poem, the sonnet is divided into two parts, an octave and a sestet, with a "volta" or turn in the idea or thought of the poem occurring in the latter part.

Understanding the Octave and Sestet

The octave, which refers to a group of eight lines, is used to describe the form that grief takes, emphasizing its silent and passionless nature. In contrast, the sestet, which refers to the final six lines, reveals the hollowness and silence of those grieving. This contrast highlights the internal turmoil one experiences during grief and how it may not always be expressed outwardly.

Introducing the 'Volta'

In the latter part of the poem, Browning introduces the concept of a "volta", a turn in the idea or thought of the poem. This serves as a pivotal moment in the poem and often reveals a new perspective or realization for the reader.

The Power of Structure and Rhyme Scheme

The structure of 'Grief' follows the classic form of a Petrarchan sonnet, with an octave and a sestet. The poem also uses iambic pentameter, a poetic meter with five iambs, which are unstressed syllables followed by stressed syllables. This creates a rhythmic flow to the poem. Browning also utilizes the rhyme scheme ABBA CDDC EFGEFG, which adds to the overall musicality of the poem.

Exploring the Themes of 'Grief'

The themes of 'Grief' revolve around the concepts of grief and death. Browning divides those grieving into two groups, the silent and the noisy, highlighting the different ways individuals express their grief. The poem offers a deeper understanding of the stages of grief and the intense emotions associated with it.

Frequently Asked Questions About Elizabeth Barrett Browning's 'Grief'

  • Collins Dictionary (Collins, 2022)

1. What is the main theme of the poem 'Grief'?

The main theme of the poem is the intense depth of emotions experienced during the grieving process.

2. When was the poem 'Grief' written?

The poem was written in 1844.

3. Who is the author of 'Grief'?

Elizabeth Barrett Browning is the poet behind 'Grief'.

4. What does the poem 'Grief' mean?

The poem can be interpreted as an exploration of the different stages of grief and the powerful emotions associated with it.

5. What was the biographical context of the poem 'Grief'?

Browning drew inspiration from her own experiences of losing her two brothers within a short period of time while writing the poem.

Join Shiken For FREE

Gumbo Study Buddy

Explore More Subject Explanations

Try Shiken Premium
for Free

14-day free trial. Cancel anytime.
Get Started
Join 20,000+ learners worldwide.
The first 14 days are on us
96% of learners report x2 faster learning
Free hands-on onboarding & support
Cancel Anytime