Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)
5 Study Questions, Activities, and Resources
Sonnets from the Portuguese
1. Determine the rhyme scheme for each of these sonnets. To what type do the Sonnets from the Portuguese belong—the English or the Petrarchan form?
2. Log on to the Wikisource page for all 43 sonnets. Do any of the sonnets break from the standard rhyme scheme used in sonnets 21, 22, 32, and 43 above?
3. In terms of form, especially rhyme scheme, which English sonneteer does Barrett Browning most resemble: Sidney, Spenser, or Shakespeare? For Sidney, see Astrophil and Stella, Sonnets 31, 52, 74. For Spenser, see any of the sonnets in Amoretti. For Shakespeare, see Sonnet 1.
4. Barrett Browning knew the poetry of John Donne very well. Do any of the above sonnets resemble Donne’s “sonnets” in terms of style or imagery?
5. In a short essay, compare and contrast one sonnet by Browning and one by either Shakespeare, Sidney, or Spenser.
Cry of the Children
Professor Florence Boos maintains an extensive site on Victorian literature, with helpful questions on many Victorian authors. The index to her study guides is well worth downloading. It can be found at the bottom of her page devoted to E.B. Browning’s “Cry of the Children” and “The Runaway Slave” below:
1. In particular, are there ways in which the rhythms reinforce the theme of noisy, dirty, and unpleasant factory conditions?
2. What metaphors or recurrent themes does the author use to make her points (nature; death; youth and age; whirring of machinery)?
3. In what ways is the children’s viewpoint different from that of adults? What is their view of death, and how does this reinforce the poem’s themes? How do they respond to the death of little Alice?
4. What view of religion does the author seem to espouse? Who is responsible for the fact that the children are unable to conceive of a beneficent divine being?
Activities/Further Essay Topics
1. Compare the document from the Victorian Web about child labour with “Cry of the Children”; then discuss which is the more likely to make the reader take action against the abuses:
- “Testimony Gathered by Ashley’s Mines Commission.” The Victorian Web. Laura Del Col, West Virginia University.
2. Compare Barrett Browning’s description of child labour with Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, particularly in the poems “Holy Thursday” and “Chimney Sweeper.” Compare the children’s attitude toward religion in both authors’ works. Compare the last line of “The Chimney Sweeper” with the last stanza of “The Cry of the Children.”