Sonnet 14 Questions and Answers
by Elizabeth Barrett Moulton

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In Sonnet 14, what is meant by trick of thought?

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To add a thought to Chelsea's answer (below), tricks aren't only deceptive (or persuasive); they're also short. Think about other uses of the word trick—we played a trick on him, she did a magic trick, it was just a trick of the light. A trick happens, then it's over.

The speaker in Sonnet 14 is terrified of impermanence. She thinks any love that stems from something changeable is suspect. She explains why in lines 11–12: "A creature might forget to weep, who bore / Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!" She's talking about her lover pitying her for being sad, but the sentiment applies to all the reasons she lists. Her smile, her looks, her manner of speech, her mood—all these things "may / Be changed, or change for thee" (lines 7–8). And if the parts of her he loves change or disappear, he has no more reason to love her.

When I hear "trick of thought," I take it to mean a witty saying or insight the speaker comes out with. She describes the trick as bringing her beloved "A sense of pleasant ease on such a day" (line 6). It's something that happens one day, and then is over.

Imagine the pair on a picnic. She says something clever, and he thinks, "Wow, I never thought about it that way," or, "That was well-phrased." It's nice, but it's transient—she's not going to be able to impress her lover with every thought she has or every word she says. He might love her in that moment, but after she's finished her "trick," her thought or saying, it's not there for him to love anymore. And that's what scares her most.

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chelseajdenard | Student

In this poem, "trick of thought" means "way of thought," although the word Barrett has chosen is important. We have to wonder why she did not simply say, "You love me because my way of thinking is like yours."

A "trick" can be a mannerism or a characteristic of a person, but it can also mean something that is done in order to persuade. Look at the rest of that phrase: "that falls in well with mine" makes the reader wonder what "falls" is supposed to mean. Because this is poetry, we have to analyze why Barrett would say "falls" instead of "goes."

When aligning this with the word "trick," we see somewhat sinister imagery. "Goes well with mine," would have meant that she and her beau get along well, but "falls in well with mine," suggests the act of falling into place, as a woman is often expected to do.

So, we have the negative connotations of the word "trick," as well as the undesirable view of falling into place. Does this sound like a healthy relationship, or a good reason for her beau to love her? Perhaps not. This poem could be seen as a veiled view of what she thinks of her lover, and also how her lover himself views love.