Original poem reprinted online here: "Broken Music" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Originally read: March 15, 2013
More information about the Poet: Dante Gabriel Rossetti
This is an Italian Sonnet. I don't know why I have to point out form in the beginning of my analysis. I think it's one of those literary technique I want to get out of the way first before going deep into content and other techniques. Also, form is probably the first thing to see in a poem -- not really the words on the page, but the lines and the spaces. This one is easy to decipher because the first stanza is eight lines, and the last stanza is six lines, and a quick scan shows a rhyme scheme and iambic pentameter. I'm expecting a volta, and with the title like "Broken Music" I'm expecting some sort of sound or music in the poem.
Then why is there a question mark on the top of the page. I remember reading this the first time and not finding the music -- not finding how things add up in the poem, as though something is missing.
In the first two lines of the poem the subject is introduced which is "the mother" who "will not turn," who "hears / her nursling's speech first grow articulate." There's a relationship between mother and "nursling" (child I had to guess the first time). There's an arrow pointed towards the title after reading the first two lines as thought to say this is the broken music, the sound of a child articulating. Perhaps.
If this is the case though the choppy description of the mother brings a discordance to the poem, "She sits, with open lips and open ears" Sonically is iambic, but not as smooth, as though her actions are disjointed -- at the very least fidgety for the sound "that may call her twice."
The narrative continues a little more ambiguously -- there's doubts and fears with the mother with, "Thus oft my soul has hearkened." And I don't know who the "I" or "my" refers to, but the focus then shifts (through a semi-colon) to the song where "sweet music welled and the sweet tears."
I'm assuming death -- that the soul and the tears both rose and this was the past. The now is talked about in the volta. There's an implied "you" which I think is the mother who is grieving "soul is fain" "The speech-bound sea-shell's low importunate strain." This line is nice, but I have no idea how to take it -- the images are nicely structured, but the visual imagery doesn't match (the sonic one is a leap).
Then the real core of the poem appears with, "No breath of song, they voice alone is there." Once something spoke in song, now is only a voice -- with no light or melody or step -- just something necessary -- which isn't the speaker's stye.
Note that the couplet is a judgement on the situation and the "mother," "O bitterly beloved! and all her gain / is but the pang of unpermitted prayer." The speaker shows through the adjective a sense of his/her emotion toward the subject -- bitter (accusatory or description or bother), but then the focus shifts towards "the pang of unpermitted prayer" that without the song there's only a voice unable to pray (contrary to what past me wrote down). And as such there is a disconnect.
This analysis hinges on the implied loss of the child...I'm pretty sure I'm wrong about this.