In the three-stanza lyric poem “Echo,” Christina Rossetti uses rhyme as a way of saying that one might regain in dreams a love that is lost in realit. As the dream of love is to the real love, so is an echo to an original sound. From the comparison comes the title of the poem and also Rossetti’s unique use of rhyme. Aspects of her rhyme are the lyric pattern, the forms and qualities of the rhymng words, and the special use of repetition.
The rhyme pattern is simple, and, like rhyme generally, it may be thought of as a pattern of echoes. Each stanza contains four lines of alternating rhymes concluded by a couplet: a b a b c c. There are nine separate rhymes throughout the poem, three in each stanza. Only two words are used for each rhyme; no rhyme is used twice. Of the eighteen rhyming words, sixteen — almost all — are of one syllable. The remaining two words consist of two and three syllables. With such a great number of single-syllable words, the rhymes are all rising ones, on the accented halves of iambic feet, and the end-of-line emphasis is on simple words.
The grammatical forms and positions of the rhyming words lend support to the inward, introspective subject matter. Although there is variety, more than half the rhyming words are nouns. There are ten in all, and eight are placed as the objects of prepositions. Such enclosure helps the speaker emphasize her yearning to relive her love within dreams. Also, the repeated verb “come” in stanzas 1 and 3 is in the form of commands to the absent lover. A careful study shows that most of the verbal energy in the stanzas is in the first parts of the lines, leaving the rhymes to occur in elements modifying the verbs, as in these lines:
Come to me in the silence of the niqht (1)
Yet come to me in dreams, that I may live (13)
My very life again though cold in death; (14)
Most of the other rhymes are also in such internalized positions. The free rhyming verbs occur in subordinate clauses, and the nouns that are not the objects of prepositions are the subject (10) and object (11) of the same subordinate clause.
The qualities of the rhyming words are also consistent with the poem’ emphasis on the speaker’s internal life. Most of the words are impressionistic. Even the concrete words — stream, tears, eyes, door, and breath — reflect the speaker’s mental condition rather than describe reality. In this regard, the rhyming words of 1 and 3 are effective. These are night and bright which contrast the bleakness of the speaker’s condition, on the one hand, with the vitality of her inner life, on the other. Another effective contrast is in 14 and 16, where death and breath are rhymed. This rhyme may be taken to illustrate the sad fact that even though the speaker’s love is past, it can yet live in present memory just as an echo continues to sound.
It is in emphasizing how memory echoes experience that Rossetti creates the special use of rhyming words. There is an ingenious but not obtrusive repetition of a number of words — echoes. The major echoing word is of course the verb come, which appears six times at the beginnings of lines in stanzas 1 and 3. But rhyming words, stressing as they do the ends of lines, are also repeated systematically. The most notable is dream, the rhyming word in 2. Rossetti repeats the word in 7 and uses the plural in 13 and 15. In 7 the rhyming word sweet is the third use of the word, a climax of “how sweet, too sweet, too bitter sweet.” Concluding the poem, Rossetti repeats breath (16), low (17), and the phrase long ago (18). This special use of repetition justifies the title “Echo,” and it also stresses the major idea that it is only in one’s memory that past experience has reality, even if dreams are no more than echoes.
Thus rhyme is not just ornamental in “Echo,” but integral. The skill of Rossetti here is the same as in her half-serious, half-mocking poem “Eve,” even though the two poems are totally different. In “Eve,” she uses very plain rhyming words together with comically intended double rhymes. In “Echo,” her subject might be called fanciful and maybe even morbid, but the easiness of the rhyming words, like the diction of the poem generally, keeps the focus on regret and yearning rather than self-indulgence. As in all rhyming poems, Rossetti’s rhymes emphasize the conclusions of her lines. The rhymes go beyond this effect, however, because of the internal repetition — echoes — of the rhyming words, “Echo” is a poem in which rhyme is inseparable from meaning.
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