In Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh, the orphaned Aurora finds herself living with an authoritative aunt who hopes to curtail her charge's creativity. As she begins to blossom as a writer, Aurora must do so against the constraints her aunt places on her. One challenge for Aurora is searching for truth even while her aunt attempts to stifle her by keeping Aurora occupied in other ways, and Aurora discusses how she has difficulty concealing evidence of her search:
For me, I wrote
False poems, like the rest, and thought them true,
Because myself was true in writing them.
I, peradventure, have writ true ones since
With less complacence.
But I could not hide
My quickening inner life from those at watch.
They saw a light at a window now and then,
They had not set there. Who had set it there?
My father's sister started when she caught
My soul agaze in my eyes. [lines 1023-31]
In the first of these stanzas, Browning uses the word "true" three times, as she discusses Aurora's evolving conception of what constitutes truth. Do these repetitions, and the varying contexts in which Browning places the word truth, suggest something about the nature of truth and the lack of a single truth? There are other places early on in the poem in which truth is brought up, and Browning uses the word "truth" repeatedly in a small amount of space. She writes rhythmically about truth and love — "Whoever lives true life, will love true love" [line 1067] — and she also alliteratively discusses truth:
I write so
Of the only truth-tellers, now left to God, —
The only speakers of essential truth,
Opposed to relative, comparative,
And temporal truths. [lines 859-62]
Why, when Browning raises the idea of truth, does she feel compelled to repeat it so frequently? In addition to creating a pleasing sound, do the alliterations have another purpose as well? What quality, meaning and connotations do the words "true" and "truth" convey?
Since truth seems to be such a subjective, fleeting idea that must constantly be challenged and cannot be taken for granted, is there something ironic about the repetitious grounding of the word on the page?
Browning expresses the idea that it is not sufficient for a poem to be written in a sincere, honest, and self-serving spirit, but rather poets must also seek to discover truths and must infuse their work with some practical relevance in society. She suggests that after earlier writing attempts, Aurora wrote poems that may have been truer, but were less satisfying to her. Is there something unsuccessful or untrue about poems which are written only to please their authors? Is there a correlation between a poet's feeling of self-satisfaction and the quality of the poem?
Browning compares Aurora's eyes to windows, and her intense, creative soul stares out of her like a light placed in a window. Is the act of searching for truth that Aurora's soul is undergoing enough to make her conspicuous to those around her? Or is Aurora a sort of prophet, and she has discovered some truth that cannot be contained within her?
Last modified 7 October 2003