In the Round Tower at Jhansi, June 8, 1857 by Christina Rossetti

This poem, In the Round Tower at Jhansi, June 8, 1857, is focused during the time of Sepoy Mutiny, where many people sacrificed their lives in Jhansi (a North Indian city). The Indian soldiers had to sacrifice their lives because they were against the British rule. This is also said to be the first Freedom Movement of India, wherein one soldier, named Mangal Pandey, became rebel and led an army of Indian soldiers to war against the East India Company. By using this idea of history, Rossetti reveals the horrors of war which leads to death, and causes deaths of lots of innocent people. Moreover, I also believe the poem has an idea of acceptance of death because Rossetti’s life itself was afflicted by death; she lost her father when she was around twenty four and most importantly Rossetti being religious enhances her thinking about accepting death as it is part of Christian message, especially because Christians have faith in in afterlife.

In The Round Tower at Jhansi, June 8, 1857, Christina Rossetti tells the story in a very different way to her other poems. Poems such as ‘Maude Clare’ are very focused on the relationships between the characters and how that has created conflict. On the other hand in this poem the only characters mentioned are Skene and his wife. This focuses the poem down to the purity or simplicity of love in desperation. When being put in such a life threatening and frightening situation most issues in a person’s life is forgotten and you concentrate on the most important; emphasising the love between the two. Rossetti also uses a lot of repetition such as “close” which not only shows their physical closeness as they prepare to die, but also how close they are emotionally and the support which they provide for each other. They are alone in a tower with “wretches below” that intend to kill them. It’s “a thousand to one” and the only ones they can rely on are each other.

 

In the Round Tower at Jhansi, June 8, 1857 Analysis

A hundred, a thousand to one: even so;

Not a hope in the world remained:

The swarming howling wretches below

Gained and gained and gained.

The poem, In the Round Tower at Jhansi, June 8, 1857, by Christina Rossetti, starts with media res, which means that the poem begins in the middle of the action. This also brings about a sense of Enigma and Mystery.  This feature grabs instant attention of the reader. The poet has used hyperbolic language, which is well-depicted right from the very first line of the poem, when the poet says: “A hundred, a thousand to one; even so;”

Just as the poet has used these exaggerated figures in the poem, it lays emphasis on the dramatic distress and tone that the characters in the narrative feel. You can also see this exaggeration in the last line of this first stanza where the poet twice repeats the past participle of verb gain, “gained”. The poet repeats this verb form twice just to create a feeling of urgency and reinforcing the distress the characters feel in the very first line of the stanza.

Besides, in the last line there is an establishment of the narrative position, for example; when the poet says: “The swarming howling wretches below”. Here the use of words like “swarming” and “wretches” animalizes the people, who are supposed to be Indian rebels. This way the reader beforehand knows the narrative viewpoint prior to meeting the characters.

In other words, the readers are beforehand made acquainted with the characters – who they (readers) are going to get connected – are fighting from the British side of the Indian Rebellion of 1857. I believe this is to create a feeling of patriotism in the readers.

Skene looked at his pale young wife.

‘Is the time come?’—‘The time is come.’

Young, strong, and so full of life,

The agony struck them dumb.

In the first line of this second stanza, the readers are introduced with the two characters of this narrative. They are “Skene” and “his pale young wife”. Where in the first stanza, the situation of these two characters is made clear, in this stanza, the readers start sympathising the two almost immediately.

Apart from introducing characters through this stanza, the poet also introduces dialogue here. To hear the individual voices of the characters – though unclear in relation to who is speaking each phrase – creates an emotive connection between them and the readers who aren’t obtained merely through the narrative voice. Moreover the use of punctuation within the dialogue determines the emotions the characters express, and this, in turn, affects the tone of the poem.

Though the use of question mark at the end of “‘Is the time come?'”, renders a fearful tone to the spoken phrase, the phrase with exclamation mark ( that is; “‘The time is come!'”) still has a sense of acceptance. This way it is given a calm and resigned, but in some ways commanding tone, as well.

Moreover, there is a use of Triad when the poet, in the third line of the second stanza, says “Young, strong, and so full of life:” This line of the poem focuses the previously introduced feeling of sympathy. This could be because these positive adjectives may have an enhanced tone within the context they are in. They, in fact, bring about a feeling of loss.

Close his arm about her now,

Close her cheek to his,

Close the pistol to her brow—

God forgive them this!

In this third stanza of the poem, the poet makes repeated use of the adjective, such as “close”, which brings to light the tension and helps in building and increasing suspense of the narrative. The poet has repeatedly used “close” word to create fear in the mind of the readers towards Skene and kids wife. This repeated use of adjective also creates a part of a triad (or triplet) such as; “Close his arm” / “Close her cheek” / “Close the pistol”. With the use of first two phrases, the poet creates contrast between the intimacy and the brutality of the last phrase. This makes the readers think that the love of “Skene” and “his pale young wife” will be ending in a tragedy.

In the last line of this stanza, the readers are also introduced with the idea of “God vs. suicide”. The poet, in this religious concept, asks God to forgive this love-couple (Skene and his pale young wife) for killing themselves. The Christian faith, which used to be a main characteristic of Victorian society, says: “Suicide is a Sin, and is (forbidden by the Ten Commandments).” The narrator still asks: “God forgive them this!” The juxtaposition of these two concepts brings about a sense of helplessness and foregrounds.

‘Will it hurt much?’ ‘No, mine own:

I wish I could bear the pang for both.’—

‘I wish I could bear the pang alone:

Courage, dear, I am not loth.’

This fourth stanza of the poem completely contrasts the previous stanza. It merely consists of dialogue. And the lack of the narrative voice makes it more instant and creates the tension and an anxiety. Let me tell you here that the poem also has ‘Unattributed dialogue’, that is; a sense of ambiguity about which the characters say each piece of dialogue within the poem. It is thought that the wife starts the spoken stanza, in response of which the husband responds in the following 5 stanza:

Kiss and kiss: ‘It is not pain

Thus to kiss and die.

One kiss more.’—‘And yet one again.’—

‘Good-bye.’—‘Good-bye.’

In this last stanza of the poem, the poet has depicted the couple bidding farewell to each other. And this is very well represented by the repeated words like: “kiss” which is not only repeated by the narrative, but within the dialogue, as well. When the word “kiss” comes in the narrative, it is used as a verb and carries a sense of finality. This connotes farewells and goodbyes here, while the use of same word within the dialogue creates an intimacy. Through these lines, the poet brings about a pitiful and overwhelming sympathy towards the both characters of the poem.

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