Within in ‘The Nurse believed the sick man slept’ Brontë employs a cool, direct tone to address themes of human assumptions, silence, death, and life. She creates a calm and quiet mood that is permeated by a reminder that death is everywhere all the time.
The poem tells the story of a nurse who, thinking a dead man was only sleeping, quietly exits a room.
‘The Nurse believed the sick man slept’ by Charlotte Brontë is a short four-line poem that follows a rhyme scheme of ABAB. The lines are similar in length and syllable count.
Despite its brevity, Brontë makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘The Nurse believed the sick man slept’. These include alliteration, assonance, enjambment, and allusion. The latter, allusion, is an expression that’s meant to call something specific to mind without directly stating it.
Without considering the deeper meaning of this piece, the poem is without meaning. The speaker says that the nurse “believed” that the “rich man slept,” she didn’t know that he was sleeping. This suggests to the reader that is, in fact, dead, rather than simply sleeping.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. The transition between lines one, two, and three are all enjambed, leading the reader to consider the implications the poet is alluding to.
Half rhyme, also known as slant or partial rhyme, is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line or multiple lines of verse. The assonance, in particular, is quite powerful in ‘The Nurse believed the sick man slept’. For example, the short and long “e” sounds in all four lines.
The Nurse believed the sick man slept
For motionless he lay
In the first lines of ‘The Nurse believed the sick man slept’ the speaker begins by making a seemingly simple statement. She alludes to the true nature of the “rich man” not as sleeping but as dead. He was laying there “motionless,” but not in the way she thought.
She rose & from the bed-side crept
with cautious step away
In the next two lines, the speaker concludes the poem as simply as she began it. The nurse rose silently from the bedside and “crept” away with “cautious step”. The silence in the room and the quiet nature of the lines themselves is ironic, as a reader is reminded that the man is dead and the silence is unnecessary.