‘I Am Lonely’ by George Eliot is a short four stanza poem that is made out of sets of four lines, or quatrains. The rhyme scheme of each stanza is consistent, partially due to the fact that the first four words and the last four words of each stanza are the same. The ends of lines one and two rhyme, and the third line of each strophe ends with “went.”
The poem begins with the speaker describing how everything seems to leave her, the birds fly from her and she cannot reach her goals. (Represented by the “golden fruit upon a tree.”) Her sister has left her, either moving on to another part of the world or moving on from life. This has caused her much distress and loneliness. She says that she searched for her sister in the light that seemed to sit at the top of a hill. This stanza alludes to the strong possibility that the sister is dead. She did not leave of her own choice.
The speaker is of course unable to catch the sun at the top of the hill and once more reiterates how she feels. The world has suddenly become too much for her and normal sounds, like birds crying, cause her pain. The peace of the natural world only reminds her of what she has lost.
In the final stanza, she describes how she has become “lame” due to her loss and her meekness has allowed other people to push her around. She does not feel like she belongs to the happy “holidaying” people around her.
Analysis of I Am Lonely
The world is great: the birds all fly from me,
The stars are golden fruit upon a tree
All out of reach: my little sister went,
And I am lonely.
The speaker of this piece begins by addressing the world around her. Life has brought her a plight that has made her question the greatness of the world. This repeating first phrase is a personal reminder to herself not to hate the world.
She describes how when she approaches birds they, “all fly from” her. This is representative of the loss that the speaker is going to expound on as the poem progresses. She sees herself as being in a situation in which she can taste something wonderful, the “golden fruit,” or “stars,” on a tree, but she is not quite able to reach them. All of this is out of her reach.
She then informs the reader of the loss that she experienced. Her “little sister went,” and now her life is changed. She is “lonely.” It is unclear at this point whether or not her sister has moved away or moved on from life.
The world is great: I tried to mount the hill
Above the pines, where the light lies so still,
But it rose higher: little Lisa went
And I am lonely.
The second stanza begins the same way as the first one. The speaker reiterates her understanding of the world as being “great.” In this section of the poem, the speaker describes her attempts to find her little sister. She is not completely sure where she has gone, but knows that she stands the best chance of finding her if she goes to higher ground.
The speaker “tried to mount,” or climb, “the hill / Above the pines.” It is there that the “light” seems to “lie so still.” It is this place, where she thinks she can get the closest to the light of the sun, that she will reach, or see, her sister. But as she climbs, so too does the light. “It rose higher,” and it became clear to the speaker that her “little Lisa” was going with it.
By this point, it seems as though her sister has died rather than moved away. When considering the fact that the speaker is seeking out a light in the sky in an attempt to find her, rather than traveling to different towns.
The final line of this stanza is the same as the final line of the first stanza, “I am lonely.” These mirroring lines, “The world is great,” and “I am lonely,” show the two sides of the speaker’s personality. The darker side wants to send her into a depression while the lighter is hoping to remind her of all that is wonderful about “The world.”
The world is great: the wind comes rushing by.
I wonder where it comes from; sea birds cry
And hurt my heart: my little sister went,
And I am lonely.
At this point, as the speaker has reiterated “The world is great,” three times, it is seeming more and more as if she is trying to remind herself of the fact. It is no longer a given, she is forcing herself to try and remember how she felt previously.
The speaker seems to be desperate now. She is outside, seeking out her sister, and a variety of sights and sounds are blowing past her. Her place in this world seems tenuous, as she is unsure of what she should do next. The “wind” is “rushing by” her, ignoring her presence, and continuing, to powerfully move through the world. She lacks its strength of direction. She adds, emphasizing her vulnerable position, that she does not know where the wind “comes from.”
She can hear other elements of the world, such as the crying of the “sea birds,” most likely seagulls. Instead of being comforted by this simple part of nature, she is injured by it. The peace of that moment reminds her of her own loneliness and the fact that she has lost her sister.
The world is great: the people laugh and talk,
And make loud holiday: how fast they walk!
I’m lame, they push me: little Lisa went,
And I am lonely.
In the last stanza of the poem, the first four words have taken on a depressing tone. As the speaker has gone through all the emotions she is experiencing, and the loss she is dealing with, the “greatness” of the world is seriously being questioned.
The world she is now seeing is one she does not feel like she can participate in. The people around her act in a way she does not relate to. They “laugh and talk, / An make loud holiday.” These people experience joy and togetherness in a way she feels she is no longer able. They are moving quickly through the world, so fast, it shocks the speaker.
The next lines tell of how she sees herself. She believes that compared to them, and due to her loneliness, she is “lame.” The people of the world take advantage of her meekness to push her around. She finishes this piece by putting the blame for her current situation onto her sister.
About George Eliot
Mary Ann Evans, better known as her pseudonym George Eliot, was born in November of 1819 in Warwickshire, England. Evans developed a great religious fervor while in school as a young woman but moved away from the church after becoming acquainted with more radical beliefs. After finishing school Eliot lived with her father in Coventry until his death. She moved to London where she began to contribute to Westminster Review, a journal that focused on philosophy. She would eventually become the editor.
Through her connections in literary circles, she met and began to live with George Henry Lewes who was married to someone else. Due to the scandalous nature of their relationship, she was shunned by her friends and family. It was during this time that she began to write. Her first novel, Adam Bede was published in 1859 to great acclaim. She chose to use a male pen name to ensure that her books were taken seriously. Her most popular novel, Middlemarch was published in 1872.
Her writing provided an inroad back into society and she married John Cross, a friend of Lewes’ after his death. Eliot Died in December of 1880 and is buried in the famous Highgate Cemetery in London.