The poem is written in very simple language and divided into seven, nearly even, stanzas. The poem is also directed at the reader, with the poet using second-person pronouns like “you” throughout the text. Browning clearly wanted to bring the reader into the poem and make them feel what all those who met Kate during her life felt.
My Kate Elizabeth Barrett BrowningShe was not as pretty as women I know,And yet all your best made of sunshine and snowDrop to shade, melt to nought in the long-trodden ways,While she's still remembered on warm and cold days--My Kate.Her air had a meaning, her movements a grace;You turned from the fairest to gaze on her face;And when you had once seen her forehead and mouth,You saw as distinctly her soul and her truth--My Kate.Such a blue inner light from her eyelids outbroke,You looked at her silence and fancied she spoke;When she did, so peculiar yet soft was the tone,Though the loudest spoke also, you heard her alone--My Kate.I doubt if she said to you much that could actAs a thought or suggestion; she did not attractIn the sense of the brilliant or wise; I infer'Twas her thinking of others made you think of her--My Kate.She never found fault with you, never impliedYour wrong by her right; and yet men at her sideGrew nobler, girls purer, as through the whole townThe children were gladder that pulled at her gown--My Kate.None knelt at her feet confessed lovers in thrall;They knelt more to God than they used--that was all;If you praised her as charming, some asked what you meant,But the charm of her presence was felt when she went--My Kate.The weak and the gentle, the ribald and rude,She took as she found them, and did them all good;It always was so with her--see what you have!She has made the grass greener even here with her grave--
Explore My Kate
‘My Kate’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning is a heartfelt allergy dedicated to an influential deceased woman.
Throughout the seven stanzas of this poem, Elizabeth Barrett browning describes a woman named Kate who has passed away. She was not as beautiful as other women nor as outwardly charismatic. But no one who met her could avoid being attracted to her presence. She made all those around her better and inspired faith and ideal morality even in passing. The poem concludes with a suggestion that even the grass on her grave is greener because of who she was.
Structure and Form
‘My Kate’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning is a seven-stanza elegy that is divided into sets of five lines, known as quintains. This changes in the final stanza, where the poet concludes the poem with a quatrain. It does not include the short refrain line “My Kate” in order to leave the reader with the image of Kate’s grave. The poem also follows a rhyme scheme of AABBC until the final quatrain, when the poet uses AABB.
In this poem, the poet uses a few literary devices, including:
- Refrain: the repetition of several words or an entire line of verse. For example, each stanza ends with the phrase “My Kate.”
- Metaphor: the poet compares Kate to the opposite of melting snow or the receding sun. She is remembered no matter the season.
- Caesura: an intentional pause in the middle of a line. For example, “As a thought or suggestion; she did not attract.”
She was not as pretty as women I know,
And yet all your best made of sunshine and snow
Drop to shade, melt to nought in the long-trodden ways,
While she’s still remembered on warm and cold days–
‘My Kate’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning is an elegy that begins with the speaker describing Kate as lacking in the beauty that some women have. But, the fact that she wasn’t as beautiful as other women is not at all an issue. These women are made of sunshine and shade that eventually disappears and is forgotten. Kate, on the other hand, is remembered no matter if its warm or cold outside.
The stanza ends with a repetition of the title (as is seen throughout all but the last stanza). The phrase “My Kate” suggests that the speaker was incredibly close to this person, enough to where she felt comfortable calling her “mine.”
Her air had a meaning, her movements a grace;
You turned from the fairest to gaze on her face;
And when you had once seen her forehead and mouth,
You saw as distinctly her soul and her truth–
The second stanza provides more details about who Kate was and why she is so memorable. The poet uses second-person pronouns like “you” to bring the reader into the story, suggesting that anyone would’ve turned from the most beautiful woman to look at Kate instead. She had a strong and alluring personality.
Unlike other women, the speaker continues on to say Kate’s soul and her truth were clear on her face at all times. One only had to look at her to know who she was and see her goodness.
Stanzas Three and Four
Such a blue inner light from her eyelids outbroke,
You looked at her silence and fancied she spoke;
When she did, so peculiar yet soft was the tone,
Though the loudest spoke also, you heard her alone–
I doubt if she said to you much that could act
As a thought or suggestion; she did not attract
In the sense of the brilliant or wise; I infer
‘Twas her thinking of others made you think of her–
In the next stanzas, the speaker continues with similar praise for Kate’s many good features. Her “inner light” broke out through her eyelids, and even when she was silent, people could understand and pay attention to her. A quiet word from Kate was like the loudest yell.
The speaker concludes the fourth stanza by saying that Kate’s attention to and care for other people made everyone remember her. It wasn’t her brilliance or beauty; it was her kindness and her thinking of “others that made you think of her.” This simple idea is incredibly powerful and truly allows readers to understand, or at least attempt to understand, who this person was.
Stanzas Five and Six
She never found fault with you, never implied
Your wrong by her right; and yet men at her side
Grew nobler, girls purer, as through the whole town
The children were gladder that pulled at her gown–
None knelt at her feet confessed lovers in thrall;
They knelt more to God than they used–that was all;
If you praised her as charming, some asked what you meant,
But the charm of her presence was felt when she went–
The speaker continues on to say that Kate, no matter how stressed or aggravated she may have felt, never found a fault in another person. She never tried to get the better of anyone, and simply by her presence alone, people grew nobler and purer. People were always happy to be around her, demonstrated through the description of children becoming “gladder” as they pulled on her gown. Even the simplest interactions with Kate made people better.
Kate inspired an ideal morality and faith in all those she met. It was hard to describe why Kate was as charming as she was. But, it was the truth. People who spent time around her felt her allure but had trouble describing exactly what caused it.
The weak and the gentle, the ribald and rude,
She took as she found them, and did them all good;
It always was so with her–see what you have!
She has made the grass greener even here with her grave–
In the final stanza, and the only quatrain of the seventh stanza poem, the speaker says that Kate took people as she found them. She accepted you no matter your fault and did not try to change you. Instead, simply by being around her, people were improved.
She made the world better, including improving the grass growing on her grave. Because she was buried beneath it, it was greener than that which covered the graves of others. This is a hyperbolic statement that’s meant to convey the importance of this woman in the lives of many.
The message of this poem is that someone does not need to be outwardly beautiful or charismatic in order to be a good, influential person. The woman, Kate, who is described in this poem, was quietly inspiring and uplifting.
The main themes of this poem are goodness and the influence that a single person can have on the lives of others. Kate was incredibly influential during her life, but her exact influence was often hard to define because it was so broad.
The tone of this poem is reverential and sorrowful. Kate has passed away, and the speaker’s sadness is present in every word they speak regarding her. But, at the same time, it is clear that they also revered Kate and truly understood who she was.
‘My Kate’ is a seven-stanza poem that uses a simple rhyme scheme of AABBC in the first six stanzas and AABB in the final quatrain. The poem is easily defined as an elegy as well due to the fact that it was written in honor of someone who died and is filled with descriptions of who this person was and why they were important.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Elizabeth Barrett Browning poems. For example:
- ‘If thou must love me…‘ – declares the speaker’s intentions for how she is to be loved.
- ‘A False Step’ – explores how a woman regrets her heartless action taken during her youth.
- ‘A Musical Instrument’ – describes the decimation of a riverbed and the crafting of the god Pan’s famous flute.