The poem is filled with wonderful examples of imagery. This includes smiles and a lovely example of personification. Although this poem is not overly complex, it is moving and memorable. Many readers are going to be able to find something to relate to in the lines of Barrett’s ‘Change Upon Change.’
Change Upon Change Elizabeth Barrett Browning Five months ago the stream did flow, The lilies bloomed within the sedge, And we were lingering to and fro, Where none will track thee in this snow, Along the stream, beside the hedge. Ah, Sweet, be free to love and go! For if I do not hear thy foot, The frozen river is as mute, The flowers have dried down to the root: And why, since these be changed since May, Shouldst thou change less than they. And slow, slow as the winter snow The tears have drifted to mine eyes; And my poor cheeks, five months ago Set blushing at thy praises so, Put paleness on for a disguise. Ah, Sweet, be free to praise and go! For if my face is turned too pale, It was thine oath that first did fail, -- It was thy love proved false and frail, -- And why, since these be changed enow, Should I change less than thou.
Explore Change Upon Change
‘Change Upon Change’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning is a beautiful poem about the changes one experiences in the natural world and in a relationship.
The speaker uses the two stanzas of the poem to depict how her relationship used to be, during spring and summer, and the changes that have come over it as the season has grown colder. Her lover is gone, just like the sound of the river and the blush on her cheeks. He’s left, and she has to accept that, just as one accepts that winter has arrived. She resolves to accept her own changes as well. She’s no longer the person she was at the beginning of the poem.
Structure and Form
‘Change Upon Change’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning is a two-stanza poem that is divided into sets of eleven lines. These stanzas follow a rhyme scheme of ABAABACCCDD. This same pattern, with different end sounds, repeats in the next eleven lines. The poem also uses a consistent metrical pattern. The first ten lines of each stanza contain eight syllables, written in iambic tetrameter, while the last line of each stanza has six rather than eight syllables.
Throughout this piece, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “stream” and “sedge” in the first two lines and “frozen” and “flowers” in lines eight and nine of the first stanza.
- Imagery: occurs when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions. These should evoke an image in the reader’s mind and inspire them to use their senses. For example, “And slow, slow as the winter snow / The tears have drifted to mine eyes”
- Personification: the poet personifies natural forces in this poem. For example, “The frozen river is as mute.”
- Simile: occurs when the poet uses “like” or “as” to compare two unlike things. For example, “And slow, slow as the winter snow.”
Five months ago the stream did flow,
The lilies bloomed within the sedge,
And we were lingering to and fro,
Where none will track thee in this snow,
Along the stream, beside the hedge.
Ah, Sweet, be free to love and go!
For if I do not hear thy foot,
The frozen river is as mute,
The flowers have dried down to the root:
And why, since these be changed since May,
Shouldst thou change less than they.
In the first stanza of this poem, the speaker begins by looking back five months on a time that was quite different than that which she is experiencing today. She notes how the stream flowed five months ago, and all around, she could see flowers growing. It was a time that prompted the speaker and the person she was directing her lines to “linger” in this beautiful natural landscape. It was a time before the snow came (seen through her negation of one’s ability, at the time, to track someone with snowy footprints).
The next lines begin to compare the changes that have come over the speaker’s lover to those that have occurred within the natural world. She appears to release this person. She tells them that if she doesn’t hear their footsteps or have this person present in her life, she’s going to compare it to the mute sound of the now-frozen river.
The speaker makes a statement at the end of this stanza that reveals that she, to an extent, understands the way her lover has changed in the last five months. Since May, this person has changed as the seasons have changed. And she adds, why not? The world can change so drastically, so why can’t this one person change in a way as well?
And slow, slow as the winter snow
The tears have drifted to mine eyes;
And my poor cheeks, five months ago
Set blushing at thy praises so,
Put paleness on for a disguise.
Ah, Sweet, be free to praise and go!
For if my face is turned too pale,
It was thine oath that first did fail, —
It was thy love proved false and frail, —
And why, since these be changed enow,
Should I change less than thou.
The speaker makes an interesting comparison, using a simile, in the following lines. She compares the slow drifting of the winter snow in the air to the way that tears have drifted into the speaker’s eyes (due to her lover changing/leaving).
In May, her cheeks were blushing with pleasure, but today, they are “pale” with the cold (and the feeling of abandonment and sorrow) she’s experiencing in the winter months.
The speaker uses this as a prompt to describe other changes she’s experienced. The seasons have changed, her lover has changed, and so has she. If he is going to prove their love to be “false and frail,” then why should she change “less than thou?” It’s only fair and to be expected that if he stops loving her that her blushing cheeks are going to pale, and she’s going to change too.
The themes at work in this poem are those of change and love. The speaker experienced an essential shift in the love she had earlier in the year. No longer does it warm her and make her happy. Her lover has changed along with the seasons.
The purpose is to compare the way a couple’s love has changed to the way that seasons change. The speaker has been abandoned by someone who supposedly loved her in May, and now she is changing too.
The tone is resolved and mournful. The speaker feels sad about the end of her relationship, but she’s also resolved to accept those changes and the ones she’s going through herself.
The speaker is unknown. It is someone who has a thoughtful appreciation for nature and has experienced the dissolution of a love affair that was strong only five months ago.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Elizabeth Barrett Browning poems. For example:
- ‘Sonnet 14: If thou must love me’– presents the speaker’s ideas on how she wants to be loved and remembered. She wants a love that’s going to last through eternity rather than one that’s based on her appearance.
- ‘Patience Taught by Nature’ – was published in 1845 and speaks about heaven, a different kind of world where God resides and human problems don’t exists.
- ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese 24’ – is also known as ‘Let the World’s Sharpness.’ It is a sonnet in which the speaker compares the world’s problems to the closing of a knife.
- ‘Died’ – was published after Browning’s death and also explores the impact of a man’s death and the immorality of passing judgements on someone whose passed away.