'Change Upon Change' by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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Five months ago the stream did flow,
The lilies bloomed within the sedge,
And we were lingering to and fro,
Where none will track thee in this snow,
Along the stream, beside the hedge.
Ah, Sweet, be free to love and go!
For if I do not hear thy foot,
The frozen river is as mute,
The flowers have dried down to the root:
And why, since these be changed since May,
Shouldst thou change less than they.

And slow, slow as the winter snow
The tears have drifted to mine eyes;
And my poor cheeks, five months ago
Set blushing at thy praises so,
Put paleness on for a disguise.
Ah, Sweet, be free to praise and go!
For if my face is turned too pale,
It was thine oath that first did fail, --
It was thy love proved false and frail, --
And why, since these be changed enow,
Should I change less than thou.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Change Upon Change: A Masterpiece of Poetic Expression

Do you ever marvel at the power of words? Do you ever wonder how a few carefully crafted phrases can evoke such intense emotions and inspire a lifetime of introspection? If so, then you must be familiar with the poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, one of the greatest literary figures of the Victorian era. Among her many works, "Change Upon Change" stands out as a masterpiece of poetic expression, a profound meditation on the transience of life and the enduring power of love.

At first glance, "Change Upon Change" may seem like a simple love poem, a celebration of the joys and sorrows of a romantic relationship. However, upon closer inspection, the poem reveals a much deeper meaning, one that speaks to the universal human experience of change and loss. Through vivid imagery and powerful metaphors, Browning captures the fleeting nature of our existence, the ceaseless ebb and flow of time, and the fragile beauty of the human soul.

The poem begins with a description of a "land of strangers" where "change comes like a little wind." Here, the speaker and her lover are like two trees that sway and bend in the breeze, their roots entwined and their branches touching. The metaphor of the trees is a powerful one, suggesting both the fragility and resilience of the human spirit. Like trees, we are rooted in the earth, but we are also subject to the whims of nature and the passage of time. The image of the trees also suggests a sense of continuity and interdependence, reminding us that we are all connected in a vast and complex web of life.

As the poem progresses, the speaker reflects on the many changes that have occurred in her life and in the world around her. She speaks of "old things passed away" and "new things born," of "sunrise and sunset" and "the changing of the seasons." Through these images, Browning reminds us that change is a constant and inevitable part of life, that nothing stays the same forever. Yet, despite the transience of all things, the speaker finds solace in the enduring power of love, which she describes as "a constant star." Love, she suggests, is a force that transcends time and space, that binds us together even when everything else is in flux.

One of the most striking aspects of "Change Upon Change" is its use of repetition and variation. The poem is structured around a series of stanzas, each of which begins with the same phrase: "We are as clouds that veil the midnight moon." This repetition creates a sense of rhythm and continuity, linking the various images and ideas together in a seamless whole. At the same time, each stanza contains subtle variations on this theme, introducing new images and insights that deepen our understanding of the poem's meaning.

For example, in the first stanza, the clouds are described as "fleeting vapours" that "pass and leave no trace." This image suggests the ephemeral nature of life, the idea that we are here one moment and gone the next. In the second stanza, however, the clouds are compared to "feet of travellers," suggesting the idea of movement and journey. Here, the speaker seems to be suggesting that change is not simply a matter of things coming and going, but a process of growth and evolution, of moving forward into the unknown.

Throughout the poem, Browning employs a rich and evocative language, using metaphor and imagery to convey complex emotions and ideas. For example, she speaks of "the world's great altar-stairs" and "the dim vales of Hades," suggesting a sense of awe and reverence for the mysteries of existence. She also uses vivid sensory details to bring the poem to life, describing the "scent of violets" and the "song of nightingales" that fill the air. Through these images, Browning creates a world that is both vividly real and deeply symbolic, a world that speaks to the deepest parts of our souls.

In conclusion, "Change Upon Change" is a powerful and moving poem that speaks to the universal human experience of change and loss. Through the use of vivid imagery, powerful metaphors, and rich language, Elizabeth Barrett Browning captures the essence of what it means to be human, to live in a world where everything is in flux, and yet to find meaning and solace in the enduring power of love. Whether you are a lover of poetry or simply someone who appreciates the beauty of language, "Change Upon Change" is a work of art that will stay with you long after you have finished reading it.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry has the power to evoke emotions, to inspire, and to change the way we see the world. Elizabeth Barrett Browning's classic poem "Change Upon Change" is a perfect example of this. In just a few short stanzas, Browning captures the essence of life's constant evolution and the beauty that can be found in every moment.

The poem begins with the line "Five months ago the stream did flow," immediately setting the scene for the reader. The use of the past tense suggests that something has changed, that time has passed, and that the world is not the same as it once was. This theme of change is central to the poem and is explored in depth throughout.

Browning goes on to describe the stream as it is now, saying that "it murmured then, it murmurs now." This repetition of the word "murmur" creates a sense of continuity, reminding us that even though things change, some things remain the same. The stream may have changed in some ways, but it is still a stream, still flowing, still making its gentle sound.

The next stanza introduces the idea of the seasons, with Browning describing how "the sun does set and rise again." This is another example of the cyclical nature of life, with each day bringing a new beginning and a new end. The use of the word "again" emphasizes this idea of repetition, of things happening over and over again.

Browning then moves on to describe the changing seasons themselves, saying that "the blossoms bud, the leaves fall fast." This is a beautiful image, with the delicate blossoms of spring giving way to the vibrant greens of summer, before the leaves turn golden and fall in autumn. The use of the word "fast" suggests that time is moving quickly, that the seasons are changing rapidly, and that we must appreciate each moment while we can.

The final stanza of the poem is perhaps the most powerful, with Browning saying that "the present hour flits by." This is a reminder that time is fleeting, that we must make the most of every moment, and that we should not take anything for granted. The use of the word "flits" creates a sense of urgency, as if the present hour is slipping away from us even as we read the poem.

Browning then goes on to say that "and that which once hath been, / Is not, for other things unseen." This is a profound statement, suggesting that everything that has happened in the past is now gone, replaced by new experiences and new memories. It is a reminder that we should not dwell on the past, but instead focus on the present and the future.

The poem ends with the line "Thus, seasons changing, life flies on," bringing the theme of change full circle. The seasons change, life changes, and time moves on, but there is still beauty to be found in every moment. Browning's use of language is masterful, with each word carefully chosen to create a sense of rhythm and flow. The poem is a testament to the power of poetry to capture the essence of life and to inspire us to live each moment to the fullest.

In conclusion, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "Change Upon Change" is a beautiful and powerful poem that explores the theme of change in a profound and meaningful way. Through her use of language and imagery, Browning reminds us that life is constantly evolving, that time is fleeting, and that we should appreciate every moment while we can. The poem is a testament to the power of poetry to inspire and to change the way we see the world, and it is a true classic that will continue to resonate with readers for generations to come.

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