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“Grief” a Poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Writing about poems is always interesting and challenging. The analysis of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem is not an exception. On the one hand, it is a real challenge to understand the meaning of each word in the poem and the intentions of the writer. On the other hand, it is a real pleasure to read every new line of the poem and open new images and attitudes to such words as “grief”, “despair”, and “death”. The style of Barrett Browning’s writing is impressive indeed. It is complicated because the author tries to use the complicated combinations of words, figurative language such as imagery and simile, and sounds effects in the form of a properly chosen rhyme. “Grief” symbolizes a guide for those, who experience grief, explains the possible types of grief, and the necessity to deal with its regardless the method chosen; it is the poem where Barrett Browning shares her feeling, emotions, and knowledge of how to teach and support the reader at the same time.

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To comprehend the essence of her poems, it is very important to learn several facts from the Barrett Browning’s life and identify the main topics she wanted to cover in her 14-lines poem. Elizabeth Barrett Browning was born in England in 1806. When she was 12, she introduced her first impressive poem. In the middle of the 1800s, she was one of the most popular writers in England and in the whole world. Her poems were read by people from different parts of the world. Her ability to combine her personal experiences and express them on paper impressed millions of people. Her tone and the use of words made people think about the importance of education in order to comprehend a number of simple things that are around. Grief is the emotion that could be expressed by any person because of different reasons. Barrett Browning offers her own vision of grief, the situations when grief cannot be avoided, and the ways of how people could survive it.

There are three main aspects that have to be taken into consideration during the analysis of the poem: diction, imagery and figurative language and sound effects and forms. Each aspect has its own goal and consequence to the reader. It is not necessary to compare them or to find out their weak or strong points. It is enough to read and learn how the poem “Grief” could penetrate readers’ souls.

Diction in poems evaluates the use of words and the manner of speaking to the reader. The peculiar feature of the Barrett Browning’s poem is her intention to share her personal loss and help people, who could experience the same to cope with the challenge and take only the best moments in a future life. Barrett Browning says that grief is the center of her poem. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, grief is a type of mental anguish, frustration, or difficulty to cope with the loss. However, it is wrong to believe that if Barrett Browning titled her poem as “Grief”, it turns out to be the only issue for consideration.

In the poem, there are several other crucial words that have to be underlined. For example, much attention could be paid to the last word in the second line, “despair”. It seems like the author wants to compare “grief” and “despair” and improve the explanations of these two words introducing them as synonyms. Besides, there is another word that is taken from the Dictionary and used by Barrett Browning, “anguish”. From the first lines of the poem, it becomes clear that the author tries to impose as many negative and painful words on grief as possible. There is no place for compassion, understanding, or happiness. Still, there is always some place for “silence” that could be used as the solution to “grief”. Besides, silence is not only “grief for thy dead”. Silence is also the synonym for death that stands as a “monumental statue” eternally and “motionless”. In fact, the use of words and the attempts to transfer a lot of meanings in 14 lines are impressive indeed. The depth and sincerity of the author could bribe the reader and make them cry as soon as the last line is read.

Imagery and figurative language are the two main elements used in the poem “Grief”. A simile is the type of figurative language that is usually characterized by the presence of such words as “like” or “as”. Both of them are used in the poem. Barrett Browning compares “souls as countries” and silence to death and “monumental statue”. Besides, there are many metaphors in the poem because the author wants to underline the impact of grief on human lives and the impossibility to avoid it as it was alive and spread through the “midnight air”. Finally, it is impossible to omit the presence of imagery in the work when the author wants to present objects and actions considering human physical actions. The examples of this technique could be found in the fourth, seventh, and eighth lines of the poem. All these techniques and successful comparison make the reader believe that the author knew a lot about grief and experienced it to a certain extent so that she could offer such explanations.

Finally, sound effects and form are the tools that make “Grief” a powerful poem. Of course, the reader cannot guess the tone or the loudness of each word Barrett Browning chose for her poem. Still, sound qualities and effects could be evaluated with the help of rhyme and forms offered. First of all, the attention is paid to the fact that Barrett Browning used the Petrarchan type of sonnet, ABBAABBACDECDE. There are two parts of the poem: the first is an octave with A and B rhymes repeating in a certain order, and the second is a sestet with C, D, and E rhyme repeating in a rotation. The measurement of rhythmic quantity, also known as metrical lines or meter, has its effect on the poem. Though each line has another line with a similar ending, the readers are able to choose their own manner of reading and make the pauses when they find them appropriate. Barrett Browning. Besides, it is necessary not to forget that poetry is the place when a number of near rhymes occur. It means that the authors could use the words with slant rhymes. In the poem by Barrett Browning, each word seems to be its own place, no mistakes or contradictions.

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In addition to all those tools and techniques used by the author, it is also necessary to remember the goals set while creating the poem. Barrett Browning wrote the poem after the death of her beloved brother. She was broken and unable to write for some time. She could not accept the truth and was in search for a new solution. It was difficult for her to understand that she could do nothing with the event that happened, and everything she had to do was to write about her feelings and help people, who could experience the same or similar grief. It is not easy to lose beloved people and be able to give some pieces of advice. Barrett Browning proved that her writing skills, abilities to use figurative language and imagery, and intentions to help people made her “Grief” alive. As soon as it is alive, it could be defeated by a person. The poem is a chance for people to face with their own grief and try to find the solutions.

In general, Elizabeth Barrett Browning is the author of a number of interesting and educative poems. Those some of her works are full of complicated thoughts and word-combinations, the analysis helps to clarify the essence and use the lessons she wanted to share with the reader. Her “Grief” is her personal cry and her explanation of the situation she found herself after the death of her brother. The presence of simile, imagery, and metaphors, a properly chosen rhyme and meter, and educative diction promote the success of the poem and make people read and re-read it for several times in order to understand the message, find the answers, and get peace when passionless grief cannot be ignored, and the required portion of silence cannot be found out.


Barrett Browning, Elizabeth. “Grief.” Poetry Out Loud, n.d., Web.


By Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I tell you, hopeless grief is passionless;

That only men incredulous of despair,

Half-taught in anguish, through the midnight air

Beat upward to God’s throne in loud access

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Of shrieking and reproach. Full desertness,

In souls as countries, lieth silent-bare

Under the blanching, vertical eye-glare

Of the absolute heavens. Deep-hearted man, express

Grief for thy dead in silence like to death—

Most like a monumental statue set

In everlasting watch and moveless woe

Till itself crumble to the dust beneath.

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Touch it; the marble eyelids are not wet:

If it could weep, it could arise and go.

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