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    “Song’s From the Portuguese XLIII” and “O What is That Sound” Essay

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    The two poems “Song’s From the Portuguese XLIII” By Elizabeth Browning and W. H. Auden’s “O What is That Sound? ” are both examples of the best words in the best order. Each poem conveys strong feelings and evokes these feelings in the reader also. They are able to build upon ideas and emotions through words in the best order. Elizabeth Browning’s poem is a celebration of love. She uses the best words to show the strength, truth and power of her love.

    She begins in her asking her lover and herself, “how do I love thee?… and goes on to tell us she will, “count the ways,” showing that she wants to show him the many “ways” in which she loves him, immediately demonstrating great love with the necessity to “count” the ways in which she loves. She describes her love filling the,” depth… breadth and height,” that her “soul can reach,” these words showing her spiritual being and the extent of her love to whom she writes, with it filling her entirely, also that her soul “reaches” to him giving a sense of her soul stretching out to reach him seeming almost desperate to be with him, showing a new level more love.

    Yet Elizabeth goes on even more loving “when feeling out of sight” clearly showing her spiritual desire for her lover. However there is purity and religious constraint in her love for him, as she states, “For the ends of being and ideal grace. ” This theme of purity and love that is dignified by God is reciprocated further on with Elizabeth loving him,” freely… purely. ” We feel that this is a very religiously acceptable love comparing the feeling of love to the feeling of forgiveness of sins being “pure” and “free”.

    Moving onto a more domestic level explaining her love on a, “level of every day’s most quiet need,” it shows her love to be in every aspect of her day to day existence, so much so that she “needs” him as “sun and candle-light” which is needed to see, and so builds different layers of love. The sense of “reaching” for her lover is again referred to shown”as men strive for right,” showing her desperation to love him “freely” and so “strive” increases further the reader’s perception of her love.

    Elizabeth also loves, “with a passion put to use in my old grief’s” conveying a love collectively merged from her lost family members into a new love for her lover. A love she felt she, “seemed to lose,” this shows how somehow he has rekindled a flame that her sad past extinguished; we see how he has touched her deeply. Passion and grief seem not to fit together comfortably in the sentence and by Elizabeth placing them so they stand out further and we perceive the transformation of her emotions.

    This shows the strength of her love that it can overcome the “grief” she felt with the loss of her”saints,” again a religious reference that reminds us of her love being followed in a religiously acceptable way. After demonstrating to the reader the strength of her love Elizabeth demonstrates how she loves him entirely-now also with her mind, and as we have seen earlier in the poem, body and soul. We see this when she says that she loves, “with the breath, smiles and tears of all my life! Using these words Elizabeth conveys all the emotions in life that she loves him still more with, it shows that she loves her lover with all her emotion, so we feel that Elizabeth loves with every part of herself, mind, body and soul. With this sense of complete love she takes it to a final most high and powerful level, showing an absoloute love. Her eternity of love makes her desire to, “if God choose… love thee better after death. ” This final line is a powerful demonstration of love.

    Teaming death with love is so abstract that it has lasting impact on the reader with such a build of emotion that the reader can almost feel breathless. It construes finality and permanence of Elizabeth’s affections for her lover. The words of Elizabeth Browning’s poem are in the best order by counting the ways that she loves in a crescendo form with a feeling that appears to become stronger with each new description. It conveys the strength and passion of her love building upon layers to fulfil an emotional depth to her poem.

    Auden’s poem demonstrates different feelings, however uses the best words as with Elizabeth Browning’s poem to build upon feelings of the writer or narrators and evoke feeling in the reader, building upon them in an almost crescendo format. This poem construes the narrative of two people, in a given situation with a sense of impending doom. It reflects the growth of fascism in Spain at the time it was written. The two narratives contrast one another the first being a tone of fear contrasting to the second of calm giving a feeling of restrained panic which creates tension in the poem.

    The first line of the poem takes the use of, “O” in a way that gives a feeling of worry; this is repeated at the beginning of every stanza maintaining a feeling of unrest in the narrator evidence his of worry. This first line, ” Oh what is that sound which so thrills the ear,” creates a contrast due to the use of “thrill” usually related to pleasantries instead contrasted to this is in fact a very unpleasant feeling of fear helping us to immediately receive a sense of danger.

    However to build up the sense of danger slowly through the poem, Auden places the danger far off and remote to begin with, “Down in the valley drumming, drumming? The question instils worry and the use of the word “drumming” makes the word sound like the noise that actually be heard in the poem. The worry however is toned down by the calm narrative of the second narrator, ” only the scarlet soldiers,” using the “O” in “only” uses assonance in repetition from the first narrator, it creates a regular rhythm . The “scarlet soldiers” is alliterated to give warm imagery that is comforting. To continue the calming tone Auden uses an affectionate use of, “dear” softening the mood and bringing down the already rising tension.

    The fourth line of the stanza and as with the final line in all the stanzas has an abrupt end. The number of syllables does not match that of the words on the second line, “Down in the valley drumming, drumming?… The soldiers coming,” This unequal length is uncomfortable to read, feeling as though there should be more words however this unbalance in lines is effective making this line emphasised and the reader want more from the narrator, his short answer a takes a little of the comfort away from the his answer so there is still a little tension.

    Auden uses particular words that increase the potential danger with the, “weapons” the soldiers carry however softens the harsh image with, “the sun” and repetitive mention of “dear” juxtaposing safe and dangerous images. This emphasises the closing in of the soldiers as they can now see,” that light” on their “weapons”. This potential danger however is still, “over the distance” so that the tension is gradually increased with the source of the noise becoming visible.

    With the second narrator’s answer however there is nonchalance in his tone which highlights again the potential danger with the chance of the soldiers executing, “a warning. ” By the fourth stanza Auden’s structure of question and answer in a majority of the stanzas, the first eight, is clear. It allows for situation to be set in the poem with two character-like narrators with different feelings, helping to create tension. The first narrator constantly questions the second, “O Why have they left the road down there? With this fourth stanza there is a turning point in the poem with the second narrator questioning, “Why are you kneeling? ” This questioning demonstrates the fear in both of them, the imagery creating the impression of the “kneeling” praying position and the second narrator now questioning, it sets a new tone of obvious fear and a sense that the end is coming for them though only the first narrator suspects it. The fifth stanza evokes a heightened level of tension.

    Auden uses, “stopped” a word that insinuates desperation, , “… aven’t they stopped for the doctors care… ” the word itself seems to stop the rhythm half way through the sentence putting an emphasis on the word, the word also contrast to the feeling of impending danger heading their way. The strength of the army is enforced to justify the tone of fear. Auden shows how they are, “none of them wounded,” the sense of their power in reinforced by showing the army to be in perfect health, we also feel that there would be no way to fight the soldiers, so the reader feels the vulnerability of the two in the poem..

    The power then being described as, “forces,” a connotation to the different layers of opinion from the writer, he perhaps making a gesture to the growing fascism regime in context of the poem. The tension is developed further with increased questioning from the fearful first narrator asking the partner, “is it the parson they want… is it, is it? ” These short words broken into short phrases suggest panic.

    Also there is an element of the soldiers beginning to enclose them with the primary narrator trying to console himself by thinking that, “it must be the farmer who lives so near,” this not only builds more layers of tension with the nearing of the soldiers but is symbolic again of the nearing of the fascism in Spain in context of when the poem was written. In this stanza also the second narrator becomes more certain, “now they are running” creating, now, suspense and clarity on the fact the are definitely in danger, however as well as this Auden has changed the language from casual, “perhaps,” to definite answers.

    The change of structure in the next stanza creates a tone of panic, “O where are you going? ” This shorter, questioning sentence conveys the panic. In the chaos truth is questioned, “Were the vows you swore deceiving…? ” Truth and lie are linked, juxtaposing each other as swearing symbolises truth and promise so evoking hurt and anger. This creates a frantic rush of emotions which is emotive so the reader can sense the atmosphere of chaos and may feel panic of the narrator.

    However the second narrator becomes strong and continues his definite tone answer plainly, “No,” showing his change in tone and mood from his affection beforehand, “I promised to love you, dear… ” These are the last words of affection Auden uses, with the promising love giving the impression of a goodbye to the reader. His departure is then used by Auden symbolically showing how he, “must be leaving” to flee the law, representing the persecution of innocent people by the fascists the need for them to run from unjust persecution.

    The final stanza of has a lot of assonance giving the distress and despair, “O it’s broken the lock… O it’s the gate… ” this emphasises the fear and heightens the tension to a final dramatic level. Auden taking us back to the, “force,” takes away the human characteristics of the soldiers, “O it’s broken the lock… it’s the gate where they’re turning,” this gives an animalistic, beastly feature to the army force that gives us no empathy for them and increases the vulnerability of the narrator evoking fear for him.

    This vulnerability is built upon by the contrast of, “their boots… heavy on the floor,” the hard imagery is a different to the gentleness of the narrator and it helps evolve the sense of helplessness. In this way Auden evokes sympathy from the reader. The soldiers ruthlessness is shown with, “their eyes are burning” making the hot image feel live, present and dangerous in our minds. We feel the fear in the tone and sympathy for the vulnerable and innocent narrator.

    We can therefore see, as with Elizabeth Browning’s poem, the order of words allows for a building process, in this case building tension and fear increasingly as the poem continues. The words in both poems, chosen by the writer allows them to individually control the readers thoughts, feelings and ideas, this only done however by use of the best words in the best order to create a poem that effectively controls the reader in a way that the writer would wish. Therefore through use of the best words in the best order the writer can control their audiences and create constructive builds of emotion and tension.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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    “Song’s From the Portuguese XLIII” and “O What is That Sound” Essay. (2017, Oct 25). Retrieved from

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