The speaker in the poem expresses her disappointment at not receiving a letter from Romney. She justifies his actions and claims that he has neither done nor said anything wrong. As she continues to rant about not receiving a letter, the speaker begins to feel worse:

            Came a sigh
Deep, hoarse with resolution, — I would work
To better ends, or play in earnest, 'Heavens,
I think I should be almost popular
If this went on!' — I ripped my verses up,
And found no blood upon the rapier's point;
The heart in them was just an embryo's heart
Which never yet had beat, that it should die;
Just gasps of make-believe galvanic life;
Mere tones, inorganised to any tune.

And yet I felt it in me where it burnt,
Like those hot fire-seeds of creation held
in Jove's clenched palm before the worlds were sown, —
But I — I was not Juno even! my hand
Was shut in weak convulsion, woman's ill,
And when I yearned to loose a finger — lo,
The nerve revolted. 'Tis the same even now:
This hand may never, haply, open large,
Before the spark is quenched, or the palm charred,
To prove the power not else than by the pain.

Questions

1. The speaker uses an embryo's heart to symbolize her words and describes her thoughts and sentiments as "mere tones, inorganised to any tune." Why is she unable to say what she feels?

2. What is the power behind the force that is not allowing her to open her hand and let the world know how she feels?

3. Is she unable to speak freely because she is a woman? If not, why does she refer to her problems as "woman's ill?"


Victorian Overview E. B. Browning

Last modified 19 March 2003