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‘Bridge of Sighs’ by Edgar Allan Poe Essay Sample

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‘Bridge of Sighs’ by Edgar Allan Poe Essay Sample

Any poem respected by Edgar Allan Poe to the extent that he would include it in his personal explanation of poetry should be exceptional, but ‘Bridge of Sighs’ by Thomas Hood is with certainty the best poem I have ever read. A reflective work, it tells the story of a young woman without a love in the world, but suggests there was a passion behind her dramatic suicide. The narrator blames the girl’s self-destruction on her being a fickle woman, ‘One of Eve’s family’ (l. 27)and implies that her death was spurred by incredible loneliness. He admonishes the man who finds the body of this Ophelia ignore her sins, and simply admire her beauty and bravery, and pity her bad lot in life.

In the first 2 stanzas, each alternating 3- and 2- foot lines with an ‘abab’ rhyme pattern, the narrator uses a steady and simple rhythm to establish the somber, introspective mood of the poem. A feeling of pity for the beautiful but obsessive subject is set. Every line of the poem is begun with a single trochaic foot, with iambs completing the line. This emphasizes the first syllable, and I feel, gives a driving force rather than a rolling tune to the poem.

The next stanza first hints at the nature of the woman’s death, describing her sodden clothes. ‘Take her up instantly,/Loving, not loathing.–‘(ll.13-14) says the narrator, asking the finder of the body to feel only warmth for this poor girl. These two lines prepare the reader for the next two stanzas, which exhort the discoverer of this cadaver to not focus on ‘her mutiny’ and sin in suicide, but admire her loveliness and ‘Think of her mournfully,/Gently and humanly;’ (ll. 16-17). The rhyme scheme of these longer stanzas is irregular but lyrical and leads neatly from one line to the next. Lines 9, 12, 14, 24, and 25 have 5 syllables each, bringing attention to the clipped line nestled among the expected 6 syllable lines.

The following two stanzas, six and seven, ask the finder to ‘Loop up the tresses/Escaped from the comb,’ (ll. 31-32) or tenderly care for the girl’s body, forgiving her transgression because she is a woman. The last two lines of stanza seven: ‘Whilst wonderment guesses/Where was her home?’ (ll. 34-35) bring up the question of the reason for this beautiful young woman’s death. Stanzas eight and nine, with their seemingly erratic rhyme and number of feet call attention to her sad lack of a place in life. Lines 40 through 43, ‘Or was there a dearer one/ Still, and a nearer one/ Yet, than all other?’ indicate that she may have been driven to death by an unfulfilled love.

Stanza nine answers the question ‘Who was her father?/ Who was her mother?’ proposed in lines 36 and 37 with a declaration of the tragedy of her solitude: ‘Oh, it was pitiful!/ Near a whole city full,/ Home she has none.’ (ll.46-48). The meter of these stanzas accentuates the sadness by following the brisk questions in lines 36-39 with a more introspective look into her life. The unexpected length of line 40 causes one to linger on the importance of love in the life of this disillusioned girl. The tight two feet of line 48 and the emphasis on the words ‘Home’ and ‘none’ created by the single trochee followed by an iamb make it certain in one’s mind that this lady was truly alone in the world.

Stanza ten begins with this description of the city lights reflecting on the river our subject drowned herself in. She stood ‘Where the lamps quiver/ So far in the river,’ (ll. 49-50) alone, ‘Houseless by night.'(l. 55). It becomes obvious that the crushing sense of emptiness conveyed by the contrast of houses lit ‘From garret to basement’ (l. 53) and a lonely young woman in the shadows is what drove her to suicide. The ‘aabcccb’ rhyme pattern of stanza ten calls attention to the final words of the ‘b’ lines, ‘light’ and ‘night’. These are possibly the most important words, a basic contrast between the world this dark maiden wishes to be part of and the penumbra she stands in. Due to the meter of the poem, ‘night’ is an emphasized syllable while ‘light’ is unstressed.

The last stanza of the poem, eleven, begins chillingly with ‘The bleak winds of March/ Made her tremble and shiver;/ But not the dark arch,/ Or the black flowing river:’ (ll. 56-59). This pitiful figure is benumbed by the cold wind but unaffected by her impending death. Her despondency has overcome any fear of her own demise and she is ‘Swift to be hurl’d–/Anywhere, anywhere/ Out of this world!’ (ll. 62-64). The meter of line 63 gives it an edge of desperation; she is prepared to go *Anywhere*, so long as it is not the present. Lines 60 and 61 are the only two six-syllable lines in succession in stanza 11. Combined with their being a couplet, this meter greatly stresses that the subject is ‘Mad from life’s history,/ Glad to death’s mystery,/’. The narrator’s use of the word rather violent sounding word ‘hurl’d’ shows once again the hasty nature of the suicide. The last two lines (above quoted) make clear that the young woman was desperate to leave this earth, but by saying ‘Out of this world’ rather than implying that she is bound for heaven or hell takes away what could be an unpleasantly moralistic ending. It underscores the importance of the woman’s motives, not whether her decision was good or bad.

Thomas Hood’s ‘Bridge of Sighs’ is an eloquent work, and while I did take an excerpt of the rather long poem for clarity’s sake, I feel that I the portion I used catches all the nuances and emotions present in the full piece. Hood’s use of rhyme and meter amazed me, and his approach of a somber topic was appropriate and meaningful. The way he carried a hint of what was to come in each stanza made a unified and wonderful to read artwork. His use throughout of unusual words such as ‘importunate’ and ‘cerement’ give the work an antiquated and serious feel, and the message of the poem is carried beautifully by Hood’s flair for neat phrasing and shadowy imagery. This poem affects me greatly, and now that I fully understand it I appreciate the poet’s work much more.

‘Bridge of Sighs’ (an excerpt)

One more unfortunate,

Weary of breath,

Rashly importunate,

Gone to her death!

Take her up tenderly,

Lift her with care;

Fashion’d so slenderly,

Young, and so fair!

Look at her garments

Clinging like cerements;

Whilst the wave constantly

Drips from her clothing;

Take her up instantly,

Loving, not loathing.–

Touch her not scornfully;

Think of her mournfully,

Gently and humanly;

Not of the stains of her,

All that remains of her

Now, is pure womanly.

Make no deep scrutiny

Into her mutiny

Rash and undutiful:

Past all dishonor,

Death has left on her

Only the beautiful.

Still, for all slips of hers,

One of Eve’s family–

Wipe those poor lips of hers

Oozing so clammily.

Loop up her tresses

Escaped from the comb,

Her fair auburn tresses;

Whilst wonderment guesses

Where was her home?

Who was her father?

Who was her mother?

Had she a sister?

Had she a brother?

Or was there a dearer one

Still, and a nearer one

Yet, than all other?

Alas! for the rarity

Of Christian charity

Under the sun!

Oh, it was pitiful!

Near a whole city full,

Home she had none.

Where the lamps quiver

So far in the river,

With many a light

From window and casement,

From garret to basement.

She stood, with amazement,

Houseless by night.

The bleak wind of March

Made her tremble and shiver;

But not the dark arch,

Or the black flowing river:

Mad from life’s history,

Glad to death’s mystery,

Swift to be hurl’d–

Anywhere, anywhere

Out of this world!

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