Aubrey Thomas de Vere was an Irish poet born in January of 1814. His poems are characterized as serious and religious. His best-known works include The Sisters, published in 1861, and The Infant Bride, published two years later. He’s also known for his travel-sketches and two dramatic poems, Alexander the Great and St Thomas of Canterbury (unfortunately, these were not received with any great excitement). In ‘Sorrow,’ he shows off a characteristic interest in poetic seriousness and attention to Christianity.
Summary of Sorrow
The poet uses slightly complex syntax in ‘Sorrow’ that might lead to different interpretations of his meaning. In the first lines, the poet’s speaker asks the reader to consider their sorrows and then prepare themselves for God’s messenger. This requires dedication and even-mindedness and devotion. One has to remain penitent and calm, with their emotions, positive and negative, in the back of their mind. Grief, the speaker says, is like joy. Both emotions should be treated the same way and inspire great thoughts and grave thoughts to the end when one meets their death and God.
Themes in Sorrow
The poet engages primarily with the theme of religion in ‘Sorrow.’ Although he speaks about emotions and how to address them, he does so while always thinking about God. One should never let their emotions get the best of them because, in the end, one has to face God and death. Religion is often at the forefront of de Vere’s poetry. It’s something, along with his writing, that he took seriously. He dedicated himself to writing, as he did to Christianity.
Structure and Form
‘Sorrow’ by Aubrey Thomas de Vere is a traditional fourteen-line sonnet that follows the rhyme scheme popularized by Petrarch. The lines rhyme in a pattern of ABBAABBACDCDEE. They can also be divided into one set of eight lines, known as an octave (which is then broken down further into quatrains), and one set of six lines known as a sestet. The poem also maintains the metrical pattern of iambic pentameter. This means that each line contains five sets of two beats, the first of which is unstressed and the second stressed.
De Vere makes use of several literary devices in ‘Sorrow.’ These include but are not limited to caesura, enjambment, and accumulation. The latter is seen in the sestet when the poet brings together words like “joy, majestic, equable, sedate” and “Confirming, cleansing, raising, making free” to describe what “Grief should be.” These words build upon one another until a broad image is created in regards to sorrow.
Enjambment is a formal device, one that occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point—for example, the transition between lines two and three, as well as lines four and five. Readers have to move down to the following line in order to find out what the end of the phrase or sentence is.
Caesurae are pauses in the middle of lines, created either through a meter or through the use of punctuation. For example, line six reads: “Then lay before him all thou hast; allow,” as well as line ten reads: “The soul’s marmoreal calmness: Grief should be.”
Analysis of Sorrow
Count each affliction, whether light or grave,
God’s messenger sent down to thee; do thou
With courtesy receive him; rise and bow;
And, ere his shadow pass thy threshold, crave
In the first four lines of ‘Sorrow,’ the speaker begins by telling the reader that they should “count each affliction,” whether that wrong is “light or grave,” meaning more or less serious or important. These afflictions should remain, as joy does, within one’s mind. The poet comes back around to this statement again at the end of the poem. For now, he turns to “God’s messenger.” The speaker tells the reader that they should “receive” this messenger of God with courtesy, “rise and bow” before him. One should maintain faith in the face of sorrow, grief, and afflictions of all kinds.
Permission first his heavenly feet to lave;
Then lay before him all thou hast; allow
No cloud of passion to usurp thy brow,
Or mar thy hospitality; no wave
In the second quatrain, the speaker goes on to say that one must ask permission before “laving” or washing his feet. These lines are all about treating this metaphorical religious figure with dignity and respect, no matter what one has been through in life. After this, one may “lay before him all thou hast,” or give over one’s life to God. There, one should remain entirely dedicated to one’s faith without “passion to usurp thy brow” or take over one’s mind. Restraint is also incredibly important and should help one keep a steady head and hospitable state of being.
Of mortal tumult to obliterate
The soul’s marmoreal calmness: Grief should be,
Like joy, majestic, equable, sedate;
Confirming, cleansing, raising, making free;
Strong to consume small troubles; to commend
Great thoughts, grave thoughts, thoughts lasting to the end.
In the next six lines, the speaker says that “no wave” of “mortal” (alluding to the baseness of humanity in comparison to the divinity of God) emotion should “obliterate” the soul’s “calmness.” He uses the word “marmoreal” in the tenth line of the poem, a word used to allude to a marble likeness. One’s calm should be as hard and dependable as marble.
In the next two lines, the speaker lists how how “Grief should be” in the face of divinity and the face of one’s remaining days. It should be “like joy,” just as majestic and sedate. No emotion, whether positive or negative, should take over one’s mind. God should always be at the forefront. This should last all the way to one’s “end,” when one ascends from mortal life to an eternal one.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Sorrow’ by Aubrey Thomas de Vere should also consider reading some other religious poems. For example:
- ‘God’s Grandeur’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins – depicts how the world is filled with God’s creation and his “grandeur.”
- ‘God’s World’ by Edna St. Vincent Millay – is a beautiful depiction of the natural world and all that God created for humanity.
- ‘To Find God’ by Robert Herrick – asks readers to consider religion and God through a series of interesting and powerful images.
- ‘The Pulley’ by George Herbert – uses the image of a pulley to represent human restlessness.