Poetry Series X: Noticing Details in Lady Mary Roth

This week’s poetry series is going to be wildly different than anything I’ve done before, and i’m super excited for that. for starters, i’m not going to be talking about shakespeare, which i’m sure all of you are probably excited about. second, i’m just going to be posting a list of things I noticed about the following poem!! this poem is actually by Lady Mary Roth, and is number 19 in her sonnet sequence called Pamphilia to Amphilanthus which are wildly cool names, and also cool because it’s a female poet! here we go:

Sonnet 19

Come, darkest night, becoming sorrow best;
Light, leave thy light, fit for a lightsome soul;
Darkness doth truly suit with me oppressed,            
Whom absence’s power doth from mirth control:
The very trees with hanging heads condole           
Sweet summer’s parting, and of leaves distressed            
In dying colors make a grief-full roll,           
So much, alas, to sorrow are they pressed.
Thus of dead leaves her farewell carpet’s made:            
Their fall, their branches, all their mournings prove,            
With leafless, naked bodies, whose hues fade
From hopeful green, to wither in their love:
If trees and leaves for absence mourners be,
No marvel that I grieve, who like want see.

Noticing

  • Word pairs have alliteration in the middle to emphasize the effect, such as “sweet summer” and “hanging heads”
  • The poem is ungendered until line 9, where it uses “her” right at the break between the octet and the sestet.
  • The rhyme between “prove” and “love” is extremely slant and borders on not being a rhyme at all, which breaks slightly from the sonnet form.
  • The punctuation at the end of the line starts out using semicolons in the first two lines, and then after that does not use them again, opting instead to alternate between the comma, colon, and no punctuation at all.
  • The entire first octet is one long sentence, and then the ending sestet is another complete sentence. The author makes use of frequent alternative punctuations. The clearest pauses are actually in lines 4 and line 8 when she uses a colon.
  • The first two lines feature a lot of internal repetition, where it starts with the more basic root word and becomes more complicated (ex. Come à becoming, light à lightsome). The characteristic of becoming more complicated is a frequent theme, since in most of the quatrains and the poem as a whole the word choice and sentence structure becomes more complex as we go.
  • The word “absence” is repeated in line 4 and line 13, but in line 13 it is modifying a true noun, and in line four it is the noun, indicating that it has more power in the former portion of the poem.
  • Frequent repetition of trees and imagery of them dying, even at times when it’s not necessarily needed. (ex. “leafless, naked bodies” didn’t need the leafless part to make its point)
  • The phrases “sweet summer” and “hopeful green” sound light but are counter-positioned to negative diction such as “distressed” and “wither”, which heightens the affect
  • The word “distressed” has many meanings relating to both color and emotion, and so relating them to the leaves increases the extent of the extended metaphor
  • Extended metaphor of the trees are difficult to understand how they relate to anything, but it appears to be a poem about beheading
  • “hanging heads” and “full roll” both seem to indicate a beheading or hanging, indicative of a violent death.
  • The couplet is the most confusing part of the entire piece, and has a plethora of words that have multiple meanings, such as “marvel”, “mourners” and “absence”
  • Frequent repetition of “s” sounds carry throughout the poem
  • She says “carpet’s” in line 8 and this sounds at odds with the rest of the poem, since it wasn’t a necessary contraction and the only other time a contraction is used is “absence’s”, which is very difficult to say and also a bit strange
  • The entire poem is slightly ambiguous, and although it’s obvious that she is sharing dark emotions and talking about loss after death, it doesn’t truly become clear that she is the one grieving until the final line, when she comes out and states “I grieve”. For the rest of the poem, there are very few (if any) personal pronouns, and it seems to be more of a descriptive piece than anything else
  • The poem talks about death throughout the entire piece, and mentions “sorrow” in the first line, but seems to forget about the sorrow and sad emotions for much of the middle third, instead talking about “darkness” more often. It’s not until the end that she brings it back around to sorrow.
  • In line 11, “mournings” is spelled like sadness but when spoken out loud could be taken to mean “morning” like the time of day, especially given the nature context it is written in. When read, “mourning” looks a lot like “mourner” in line 13, which is visually appealing and causes your eye to jump back and forth, indicating a relation between the two
  • There is a lot of internal line punctuation, specifically commas, but the “harder” end line punctuation still makes the reader pause at the end of most lines more than they do in the middle
  • “condole” can mean both to grieve yourself and to console others, and so this vagueness makes it unclear whether the “very trees” are sad about summer’s parting, or if they are trying to make us feel better about it.
  • It’s strange for a tree to condole regardless of what the meaning of that word is.
  • “very” in line 5 is a strange emphasis to put on the trees, especially since it is the first time they are introduced. Adding this word emphasizes the “hanging heads”, because it makes you realize that these are “The Very Trees” and it isn’t just coincidental that the trees have heads hanging from them.
  • This doesn’t seem like a sonnet sequence you’d write to someone you loved, it’s far more about loss and death than anything remotely romantic.

let's talk

What do you think of this form of poetry analysis? did you notice anything else interesting? do you disagree with anything i noticed?

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