Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Poetic Style
Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poetry has been the subject of much criticism. Her elusive style prompted many critics to question Barrett's method of writing. In fact, some critics, like Alethea Hayter, go so far as to propose that an "honest critique of her work must admit that she often wrote very bad poetry indeed" (15). Accusations against Barrett's work were often targeted at her tendency for anonymity, her excessive development of thoughts, unsuccessful forced rhymes, and more often than any other of her familiarities, her tendency to create her own words. Despite being relatively shunned by the world of poetry, Barrett persisted in writing poetry, even though the majority of her writing time just might have been spent on defending her work rather than writing it.
John Forster has remarked, "She uses all her thoughts and feelings for whatever she does. The art of knowing what to leave out she has not attained"(19). In defense of her work Barrett writes in a letter to her husband, Robert Browning, "I do not say everything I think (as has been said of me by master-critics) but I take every means to say what I think"(19). Hayter recognizes that Barrett's work was surely not lacking revision, but was the product of constant reconsideration. She was said to have revised after every printing. For Barrett, the main focus of revising was to iron out metre, find perfectly fitting words for her lines, and to produce literature that read with the movement of natural speech. However, Hayter admits that this consistent going over of her work to find "just the right word" was what weakened Barrett's work and formed it into rather exhaustive explanations of what she purposed to convey to her readers (19). Barrett herself describes her struggle with writing in verse:
"With stammering lips and insufficient sound I strive and struggle to deliver right That music of my nature"(18).
Facing such conflict, Barrett plowed ahead seeking not recognition by her colleagues, but of her poetry by her readers.
Barrett, blamed for being outright careless in her management of rhyme, defends "that in no spirit of carelessness or easy writing or desire to escape difficulties, have I run into them - but chosen them, … with the determinate purpose of doing my best" (19). Barrett's motivation for continuing to write poetry, in spite of her critics, was to simply become better at it. When accused of affectation and of studying attitudes by several reviewers of her 1838 poems Barrett responded, "As to attitudes I never study them. I never did take any thought as to forming a style - which formed itself by force of writing." She continued, "If I live I hope and believe that I shall write better - not more from natural impulse - but better"(17). Hayter suggests that Barrett's work is the result of laborious experimenting. In all her work Barrett attempted to convey her interpretations, spluttering the truth out" as effectively...