The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Although the speaker in the poem is not identified as a woman, the poem reads better if one assumes that a woman is speaking. The conflict expressed in the opening two lines gains power if the speaker is seen as a woman fighting for her independence from a man, as well as a lover struggling to be free of her lover’s dominating influence. It also helps to remember that in the background are two real-life lovers: An invalid (Elizabeth Barrett) is writing a series of sonnets to a lover (Robert Browning) whom her tyrannical father has forbidden her to see. This much biographical information, if not essential to an understanding of the poem, greatly enhances one’s appreciation of it and makes the beginning of the sonnet clearer and the poet’s conflict more poignant.

The poem opens abruptly with a command—“Go from me”—followed by a seeming retraction (“Yet I feel”) that introduces the poet’s conflict. She appears not to want her lover to go, but he must, for reasons left unexplained. The peremptory nature of the command makes his leaving seem imperative and the fact of his going final. His going will give her strength to “stand”—or will she rise because she is alarmed by his leaving, as if to stop him? The second line takes back the suggestion in the first line that his leaving will make her somehow strong and independent—when he is gone, she will live in his shadow.

Continuing into line 3 and further, the poet reveals an...

(The entire section is 474 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The poem employs the rhyme scheme of the Petrarchan (or Italian) sonnet, rhyming abba, abba, cdc, cdc, and uses the conventional iambic pentameter line, varying the placement of the stresses in some of the lines. Line 1, for example, begins on a stressed syllable (“Go”) instead of an unstressed syllable, as the regular lines do. Instead of pausing where the rhyme pattern marks a quatrain, octave, or tercet, as in the Petrarchan sonnet structure, Barrett Browning pauses within the lines. The first heavy pause occurs not half way into line 1 (after “me”). The argument continues without a heavy pause to the end of line 7 (“forbore—”), and comes to an end-stop just after the midpoint in line 8 (“palm.”). Another end-stop occurs after “double” (line 10) and another after “grapes” (line 12). The effect of this patterning is to draw attention subtly away from the conventional rhyme pattern and pauses. By continuing her thought through the conventional pause points, she erases the seams of the sonnet structure in favor of the continuity of thought.

In line 1, enjambment—running the meaning from one line to the next around the line end—is used to reinforce thought. The reader comes to “stand,” turns to line 2, and reads “Henceforward,” reinforcing the image conveyed by “stand.” In line 2, the poet’s forceful response to her lover’s departure is heavily qualified by “in thy shadow,” which seems to reduce...

(The entire section is 575 words.)