What is the summary and the form of the poem "Work and Contemplation"?

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linda-allen eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The woman singeth at her spinning-wheel
A pleasant chant, ballad or barcarole;
She thinketh of her song, upon the whole,
Far more than of her flax; and yet the reel
Is full, and artfully her fingers feel
With quick adjustment, provident control,
The lines--too subtly twisted to unroll--
Out to a perfect thread. I hence appeal
To the dear Christian Church--that we may do
Our Father's business in these temples mirk,

Thus swift and steadfast, thus intent and strong;
While thus, apart from toil, our souls pursue
Some high calm spheric tune, and prove our work
The better for the sweetness of our song.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem, like most of her works, is a sonnet. The Guide to Literary Terms defines a sonnet as "a lyric poem of 14 lines, usually in iambic pentameter, with rhymes arranged according to certain definite patterns. It usually expresses a single, complete thought, idea, or sentiment."

In the first 8 lines, the poet describes a woman sitting at her spinning wheel, spinning flax into thread. She is singing and is concentrating on her song more than on her hands. However, she is so adept at spinning that the mere touch of the thread on her fingers tells her whether to make an adjustment.

In the last 6 lines, the poet appeals to the church to see that the work of the Christian is similar to that of the spinning woman. No matter what our profession, we can all answer to a higher calling while going about the business of our lives. Our message will be more effective because it is from our ordinary perspective.