‘Secrets‘ by Letitia Elizabeth Landon is a ten-line poem, without a rhyme scheme, that speaks on the secrets kept by the world.
Each line of this piece contains ten syllables, except for the last which is shorter with only seven syllables. This allows for a release, and creation of, tension at the end of the poem. The line ends without a definitive conclusion but the shorter line interrupts the building stress of the piece.
Summary of Secrets
The poem begins with the speaker describing how life is full of “dark secrets.” Even though it may be beautiful at times, there are many who are more apt to see it’s darker sides. In fact, she states that there are “few” who do not “treasure…some sorrow from the world.” Many human beings are able to appreciate the importance of “A sorrow silent” that colors the “future from the past.” Sorrow is often more important in the scheme of things than joy.
In the second half of the poem, the speaker is considering another, unnamed person. She observes the way that this person’s smile does not quite reach his or her face, and the way that his/her speech appears to be so perfectly thought out. While many might not realize how this person is living, the speaker does. She can relate to this person as they are similar in nature.
The poem concludes with the speaker warning that even when someone appears as this unknown person does, one cannot make assumptions about their interior life. The “misery” that is inside this person is most likely working away “incessantly” creating more fear as it fears what is to come from life and time.
Analysis of Secrets
Life has dark secrets; and the hearts are few
That treasure not some sorrow from the world–
A sorrow silent, gloomy, and unknown,
Yet colouring the future from the past.
The speaker has separated this poem into two distinct parts, the first, lines 1-4, speaks of the nature of human beings to place some value or importance on sorrow. The speaker is describing the pleasure one gets from bad things happening and the way that one may relish in the justification of their own negative thoughts.
She begins by speaking of the secrets that life has, they are “dark,” but are not universally feared or hated. There are “few hearts” that do not “treasure…some sorrow from the world.” These secrets could refer to the general capacity for unfortunate events to happen in everyday life or the grander, more unfortunate proceedings that shape the structure of society. Either way, the speaker is reminding the reader that life is not only beautiful, it has a dark side.
There are many, she says, that find some comfort or enjoyment in the “silent, gloomy, and unknown” parts of life. These things, are often more interesting as they have a way of “colouring the future from the past.” The world is often controlled to a greater extent by these darker happenings.
We see the eye subdued, the practised smile,
The word well weighed before it pass the lip,
And know not of the misery within:
Yet there it works incessantly, and fears
The time to come; for time is terrible,
Avenging, and betraying.
In the second half of the piece, the speaker is taking a look at how this outlook on life translates into the interior emotions of another human being.
The speaker is observing another person, someone who is unnamed and undefined. This person has crafted a mask for themselves that fits snuggly over their face but not so much so that the narrator is unable to see something of their interior life. The eyes of this person do not light up brightly when they smile or speak, their happiness is not genuine. This is reinforced by the next phrase which describes the way their this person’s smile appears to be “practised.”
One can imagine and perhaps relate, to the propensity for planning out social interactions. This person knew that they would at some point during the day need to fake emotion, and was ready to do so. There is nothing natural about their countenance or the way that they speak, everything seems to be tuned to give off a certain feeling. While many might be taken in by these looks, the narrator can see through them. This is perhaps because she too has lived this way, she knows what it is to have “secrets” and to see the darkness in the world.
The speaker can also tell, from the way this person speaks, that each word is “well weighed before” it passes this person’s lips. They do nothing instinctually, every little detail is considered and debated over.
She concludes this section by saying that one might be able to see all of these things about a person but not know why they are acting, or are living, this way. One is unable to fully comprehend the “misery within.” This is a warning on the part of the speaker to be careful before judging someone else for the way that they act, as there could be any number of reasons. This relates back to the title of the poem, “Secrets.” Everyone has them and many will never be revealed.
In the last three lines, the speaker delves deeper into the consciousness of this unknown person. She is imagining that she is able to see the “misery” that is operating within this person’s mind and body. She can see it festering there, working “incessantly” to increase one’s fears and darken one’s outlook on life. The misery is spurned on by these dark thoughts and feels an even greater amount of fear when it considers that there is so much time to “come.” There is a lot of living left to do and all it can see in it’s future is all of time’s “avenging, and betraying” qualities.
It is a vicious circle that the speaker is describing, one in which fear spawns fear, all because one has become enamored by the darker side of the Earth and time.
About Letitia Elizabeth Landon
Letitia Elizabeth Landon was a Post-Romantic poet and novelist born in London, England in 1802. As a young woman, she attended school in Chelsea and soon began a career in writing as a contributor to the magazine, Literary Gazette. Through this publication, she was able to publish a number of poems including the piece, The fate of Adelaide. When writing, her work was signed under only her initials, L.E.L.
Alongside her poetry, she wrote several novels such as, Ethel Churchill, Or The Two Brides, and Francesca Carrara both of which were published in the 1830s.
Landon’s death is somewhat mysterious, it is generally believed that she died from an accidental overdose of hydrocyanic acid, or prussic acid.