The lives and works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Emily Dickinson may be different in many ways, but there are existential treads that bind these two people together by similarities. Elizabeth Browning became famous while she was alive and was very influential opposed to Emily Dickinson who became famous for her poems after she died. In the eighteenth century two of the finest poets; Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Emily Dickinson are two people who are close in certain aspects but completely different individuals. Thus, looking deeper into each individual’s lives and works will give us a better perception on these two poets.
The Victorian poet “Elizabeth Barrett Browning was born in 1806, March 6th Durham, England, and was the oldest child out of twelve children” (“Elizabeth Barrett Browning”). “Elizabeth’s father, Edward Barrett, was a businessman who was very wealthy from many sugar plantations in Jamaica” (“Elizabeth Barrett Browning”). As a child, Elizabeth wrote her first earliest known poem for her mother’s birthday and for her fifteenth birthday; her father had one of her poems privately printed. This poem was “The Battle of Marathon” (“Elizabeth Barrett Browning”). “Elizabeth experienced her first sorrow in 1828 when her mother Mary suddenly died” (“Elizabeth Barrett Browning”). “By the time Elizabeth had moved to London, her health was poor and she suffered from a spinal injury and shown signs of a lung condition but was never diagnosed” (“Elizabeth Barrett Browning”). However in these conditions Elizabeth never seemed to give up her love for poetry. Shortly after Elizabeth’s brother, Edward, drowned in a boating accident on his way back to London (“Elizabeth Barrett Browning”).
“Feeling responsible for his death, Elizabeth became a recluse and practically an invalid rarely leaving her room” (“Elizabeth Barrett Browning”). This characteristic made Elizabeth similar to Emily Dickinson in the way that they are both easily affected by a tragic incident in their lives, resulting in the act of isolating themselves from others. “Elizabeth’s work brought her the man that would eventually woo, win, and marry her: Robert Browning” (“Elizabeth Barrett Browning”). “Robert became so impressed with Elizabeth’s work that he wrote to her and over the course of the next few months, he and Elizabeth wrote to each other almost every day until they finally met on May 20, 1845, where they discovered that they were already in love” (“Elizabeth Barrett Browning”). “More letters (over 500 in all) and visits continued until the two were secretly married on September 12, 1846” (“Elizabeth Barrett Browning”).
“The newlyweds fled to Florence, her father never forgave her, and she found herself disinherited. She and her father never reconciled” (“Elizabeth Barrett Browning”). Elizabeth and Robert remained in Italy for the remainder of their lives and had a baby boy, Penini in 1849 (“Elizabeth Barrett Browning”). In 1850, Elizabeth’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese” were published. “Although they had been written as a private gift to Robert, her husband was so moved by the forty-four sonnets the he felt they should not be hidden from the world and published them, making the collection stand as her greatest well-known achievement” (“Elizabeth Barrett Browning”). Elizabeth died on June, 29, 1861, and was buried in Florence (“Elizabeth Barrett Browning”).
Likewise, Emily Dickinson’s writing was similar to Browning in the way that she crafted a new type of first person persona (Wider). “Like the speakers in Browning’s works, Dickinson’s are sharp-sighted observers who see the inescapable limitations of their societies as well as their imagined and imaginable escapes” (Wider). “In 1890, four years after Dickinson’s death, the first volume of her poetry appeared” (Wider). “Emily Dickinson was born on December 10, 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts” (Wider). “Emily’s father at the time of her birth was an ambitious young lawyer, and was educated at Amherst and Yale.
He returned to his hometown and joined the ailing law practice of his father, Samuel Fowler Dickinson” (Wider). “Edward joined his father in the family home, built by Samuel in 1813” (Wider). “Active in the Whig Party, Edward was elected to the Massachusetts Start Legislature (1837-1839) and the Massachusetts State Senate (1842-1843)” (Wider). “Little was known of Emily’s mother” (Wider). “She often represented as a passive wife of a domineering husband” (Wider). “Emily wasn’t the only child of Edward and Emily Dickinson; she also had a brother William Austin Dickinson and a sister Livinia Norcross Dickinson” (Wider). “All three children attended the one-room primary school in Amherst and then moved on to Amherst Academy, the school out of which Amherst College had grown” (Wider).
Futhermore, “Elizabeth Barrett Browning was the most respected woman poet of the Victorian age” (Burlinson). “By 1900, she was better known as the heroine of a turbulent love story than as a prolific and successful writer” (Burlinson). “Browning was an experimental writer who felt sufficiently comfortable working within poetic convention to disrupt and revise it to her own ends” (Burlinson). “Elizabeth was known for writing sonnets, allegories, ballads, political odes, love poems, occasional verses, poetic dramas, and an epic, as well as essays in literary criticism and a translation of Aeschylus” (Burlinson). Her greatest poetic success was in the sonnets from the Portuguese as stated above in Elizabeth’s biography. Elizabeth poured all her profound thoughts into these sonnets and yet the exquisiteness if the mould has compelled a rigorous pruning alike of superabundant imagery, which has had the happiest affect (Arnold).
“One of her best known poems from 1850 is “The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point,” an impassioned protest against slavery in which a black woman; the rape victim of her white master, murders her child” (Burlinson). “The rage and grief of the woman chillingly conveyed in the first-person narrative” (Burlinson). Elizabeth held a deep belief that poetry could change attitudes toward the world, and indeed it did. “Her poem “The Cry of the Children” caused a sensational reaction that caused public reform in a protest against the working conditions of children” (Burlinson). “In fact, Elizabeth is one of the greatest sonnet writers in our language, and she is worthy enough to be ranked side by side with Milton and Wordsworth” (Arnold). Elizabeth has managed to touch all the chief human relationships and when she touched them, it was always in a noble manner and severe simplicity which is greatly preferred to be her most luscious and copious versification (Arnold).
Unlike Elizabeth, Emily seemed to be more reclusive with her life and at a young age Emily went into seclusion, resulting in her not socially maturing. Emily also avoided doing routine house work or other normal daily activities because she like being alone to dream and use her imagination (Southworth). Many readers believe that by shunning the realities of everyday life, Emily was able to find the greater reality in the realm of imagination (Southworth). Despite being lonely and frustrated she never out grew adolescence and this seemed to show in her poetry (Southworth). Her writings showed that she was not capable of grasping the joy of reality and that she really didn’t have a true understanding of life challenges (Southworth). Like Elizabeth, “Emily’s poems were meant to be and experience, to render experiences as well as refer to it” (Ryan). “For Emily the living presence is the poem itself. If it is not intermediately between the poet and the reader, it is the thing alive the reader experiences” (Ryan).
“Dickinson was a master at grammar, rhythm, rhetoric, and narrative. A master of the inextricable, intricate, intimate and constantly shifting, interrelationship’s among them” (Ryan). “Emily Dickinson wrote nearly 1800 poems, but only seven were published in her lifetime. When the first posthumous collection of her work appeared in 1890, she was regarded as an interesting but idiosyncratic minor poet. As the twentieth century has progressed, however, her poetic achievement has won interesting recognition” (Tredell). “Dickinson nonetheless engages in an original and vibrant way with love, eroticism, nature, death, immortality and eternity. Her work is notable for its power and compression and complexity, its precise and startling phrasing, its inventiveness of rhythm and rhyme, and the exploratory daring which belies its apparent decorum” (Tredell). Emily said to Higginson that poetry is something that makes the body feel so cold that no fire could warm it, that if the reader physically feels as if the top of their head were taken off that its poetry. She claims that this is the only way she knows its poetry (Ryan).
Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem “The Cry of the Children” is about child labor. In this poem Elizabeth is trying to show us how the children feel about working and how it makes them sad and exhausted. They suffer as they work with trembling knees and heavy eyelids. The children are demanded to keep working no matter how tired and weak they are. I know that this is the theme because the speaker says “Do ye hear the children weeping,” (“The Cry of the Children”).
This means that the children were weeping in sorrow because in the playtime of others they are working. Another detail that supports my idea for the theme is the lines “For oh, say the children, we are weary, / and we cannot run or leap;” (“The Cry of the Children”). This detail shows that the children are suffering that they are tired and weak. When Elizabeth describes how the children look she is using imagery by saying, “we are weary, / and we cannot run or leap; / if we cared for any meadows, it were merely / to drop down in them and sleep. / our knees tremble sorely in the stooping, / we fall upon our faces, trying to go; / and, underneath our heavy eyelids drooping, / the reddest flower would look as pale as snow” (“The Cry of the Children”). This connotation is showing how the children are looking and feeling this verse is not only using imagery but it also uses a simile to show how the children’s eyes are so tired and heavy that the reddest flower would look as pale as snow for them.
Emily Dickinson’s poem “Heart, we will forget him” talks about how Emily is trying to forget the man that hurt her and her heart. In the poem Emily is instructing her heart “to forget the warmth” and that she will forget “the light”. “But Emily is scared that if her heart takes too long to forget, then it will give her time to remember, thus causing her to not be able to carry out her self-given assignment” (“Heart, we will forget him”). I know that the theme of the poem is getting over someone you love by the line “Heart, we will forget him” (“Heart, we will forget him”).
This line is referring to Emily’s heart trying to forget the man that hurt both her and her heart. Another detail supporting my thought for the theme is the line “you may forget the warmth he gave / I will forget the light” (“Heart, we will forget him”). This line is trying to demonstrate that the heart is trying to forget the warmth that the man gave it and that Emily will try to forget the light he brought to her world. In this poem Emily tells the heart what do to by commands making the hearts seem as if it can act, think and follow orders like a brain. By making the heart have a human characteristic Emily is using the literary device personification. Emily also uses a literary device called tautology which is use when there is a repetition of words, and in the first stanza of “Heart, we will forget him” Emily uses the word forget three times to emphases that she and her heart will forget the one that broke them.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Emily Dickinson were two poets that works were very similar in structure despite being born in different ears. The two poets depicted similar first person’s personas in their writings and became famous for it. Although Elizabeth became famous while she was alive, Emily Dickinson did not. Each poet however had their work published and found by someone else. Elizabeth’s husband was the person who made her forty-four sonnets one of her well-known achievements and for Emily her sister Livinia was the founder of many poems left from her death. By comparing the works and lives of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Emily Dickinson, we can conclude that the inner life of an artist has more impact on their literary output than the external factors that shaped their lives.
Arnold, William T. “Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861).” The English Poets: The Nineteenth Century, Wordswort to Rossetti. Ed. Thomas Humphry Ward. Vol. 4. Macmillan and Co., 1893. 562-567. Rpt. in Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism. Ed. Laurie Lanzen Harris. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale Research, 1981. Literature Resource Center. Web. 15 Dec. 2011.
Burlinson, Kathryn. “Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Overview.” Reference Guide to English Literature. Ed. D. L. Kirkpatrick. 2nd ed. Chicago: St. James Press, 1991. Literature Resource Center. Web. 11 Dec. 2011.
“Elizabeth Barrett Browning.” LitFinder Contemporary Collection. Detroit: Gale, 2007. LitFinder. Wed. 6 Dec. 2011.
Ryan, Michael (American College Teacher). “Dickinson’s Stories.” The American Poetry Review Mar.-Apr. 2009: 5+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 15 Dec. 2011.
Southworth, James Granville. “Emily Dickinson.” Some Modern American Poets. James Granville Southworth. Blackwell, 1950. 14. LitFinder. Web. 11 Dec. 2011.
Tredell, Nicholas. “Emily Dickinson: Overview.” Gay and Lesbian Biography. Ed. Michael J. Tyrkus and Michael Bronski. Detroit: St. James Press, 1997. Literature Resources from Gale. Web. 28 Jan. 2012.
Wider, Sarah Ann. “Emily (Elizabeth) Dickinson.” The American Renaissance in New England: Fourth Series. Ed. Wesley T. Mott. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 243. Literature Resource Center. Web. 11 Dec. 2011.