'A Child Asleep' by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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How he sleepeth! having drunken
Weary childhood's mandragore,
From his pretty eyes have sunken
Pleasures, to make room for more---
Sleeping near the withered nosegay, which he pulled the day before.

Nosegays! leave them for the waking:
Throw them earthward where they grew.
Dim are such, beside the breaking
Amaranths he looks unto---
Folded eyes see brighter colours than the open ever do.

Heaven-flowers, rayed by shadows golden
From the paths they sprang beneath,
Now perhaps divinely holden,
Swing against him in a wreath---
We may think so from the quickening of his bloom and of his breath.

Vision unto vision calleth,
While the young child dreameth on.
Fair, O dreamer, thee befalleth
With the glory thou hast won!
Darker wert thou in the garden, yestermorn, by summer sun.

We should see the spirits ringing
Round thee,---were the clouds away.
'Tis the child-heart draws them, singing
In the silent-seeming clay---
Singing!---Stars that seem the mutest, go in music all the way.

As the moths around a taper,
As the bees around a rose,
As the gnats around a vapour,---
So the Spirits group and close
Round about a holy childhood, as if drinking its repose.

Shapes of brightness overlean thee,---
Flash their diadems of youth
On the ringlets which half screen thee,---
While thou smilest, . . . not in sooth
Thy smile . . . but the overfair one, dropt from some aethereal mouth.

Haply it is angels' duty,
During slumber, shade by shade:
To fine down this childish beauty
To the thing it must be made,
Ere the world shall bring it praises, or the tomb shall see it fade.

Softly, softly! make no noises!
Now he lieth dead and dumb---
Now he hears the angels' voices
Folding silence in the room---
Now he muses deep the meaning of the Heaven-words as they come.

Speak not! he is consecrated---
Breathe no breath across his eyes.
Lifted up and separated,
On the hand of God he lies,
In a sweetness beyond touching---held in cloistral sanctities.

Could ye bless him---father---mother ?
Bless the dimple in his cheek?
Dare ye look at one another,
And the benediction speak?
Would ye not break out in weeping, and confess yourselves too weak?

He is harmless---ye are sinful,---
Ye are troubled---he, at ease:
From his slumber, virtue winful
Floweth outward with increase---
Dare not bless him! but be blessed by his peace---and go in peace.

Editor 1 Interpretation

A Child Asleep: A Masterpiece of Poetic Imagery

When it comes to poems that capture the beauty and innocence of childhood, few can match the timeless charm of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "A Child Asleep." Written in 1844, this masterpiece of poetic imagery evokes the tender emotions and delicate sensations of a mother watching over her sleeping child. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the themes, symbols, and stylistic devices that make "A Child Asleep" a true classic of English literature.


At its core, "A Child Asleep" is a poem about maternal love and the joys of parenthood. The speaker of the poem, who is most likely Browning herself, describes her child as "the very rose of youth," a precious gift from heaven that fills her heart with love and happiness. The poem celebrates the quiet moments of motherhood, when a mother can sit by her child's bedside and watch over him or her as he or she sleeps peacefully.

But the poem is not just about maternal love. It is also a meditation on the fleeting nature of childhood and the inevitability of growing up. The speaker reflects on the fact that her child will one day leave her and enter the world, where he or she will face challenges and hardships. Yet, despite this knowledge, the speaker chooses to focus on the present moment, cherishing the precious time she has with her child and basking in the warmth of their love.


Throughout the poem, Browning employs a variety of symbols to convey the themes of maternal love and childhood innocence. One of the most prominent symbols is that of the "little feet" of the sleeping child. The speaker describes these tiny appendages as "lilies fair," emphasizing their delicate beauty and purity. The image of the child's feet also suggests the idea of "walking the path of life," a metaphor for the journey from infancy to adulthood.

Another symbol that appears in the poem is that of the "cradle-house." The speaker describes the child's bed as a "little house" where the child can rest and feel safe. This image suggests the idea of the home as a place of refuge and comfort, where a child can escape the uncertainties and dangers of the outside world.

Finally, the image of the "night" is a recurring symbol in the poem. The speaker describes the night as a time of peace and rest, when the child is free from the cares and worries of the day. The night also suggests the idea of the unknown and the mysterious, reminding us of the uncertainty and unpredictability of life.

Stylistic Devices

One of the most striking features of "A Child Asleep" is the use of vivid and sensory language to create a rich and evocative atmosphere. Browning employs a variety of stylistic devices to achieve this effect, including metaphors, similes, personification, and alliteration.

One of the most powerful metaphors in the poem is that of the child as a "rose of youth." This image suggests the idea of a flower in full bloom, brimming with vitality and beauty. The metaphor also emphasizes the fragility and transience of youth, reminding us that childhood is a fleeting and precious time.

Browning also uses similes to create a sense of intimacy and tenderness in the poem. For example, she describes the child's breath as "like the faint perfume from the chalice-flower," comparing the child's breath to the sweet scent of a flower. This simile emphasizes the child's innocence and purity, while also creating a sense of closeness and intimacy between mother and child.

Another effective stylistic device in the poem is personification. Browning personifies the "night" as a gentle and nurturing presence, describing it as a "soft nurse" that watches over the child as he or she sleeps. This personification creates a sense of warmth and comfort, suggesting that the night is not something to be feared or avoided, but rather a benevolent force that protects and cares for us.

Finally, the poem is full of alliteration, which creates a musical and rhythmic quality to the language. For example, Browning uses alliteration in the phrase "cradle-house" to emphasize the soothing and comforting nature of the child's bed. She also employs alliteration in the phrase "little feet," which creates a sense of playfulness and whimsy.


"A Child Asleep" is a masterpiece of poetic imagery that captures the beauty and innocence of childhood in a way that few other poems can. Through its vivid and sensory language, its powerful symbols, and its effective use of stylistic devices, the poem evokes the tender emotions and delicate sensations of a mother watching over her sleeping child. By celebrating the joys of parenthood and reminding us of the fleeting nature of childhood, "A Child Asleep" continues to resonate with readers today, making it a true classic of English literature.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry has the power to evoke emotions and transport us to different worlds. Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "A Child Asleep" is a classic example of how poetry can capture the beauty and innocence of childhood. In this 14-line poem, Browning paints a vivid picture of a sleeping child and explores the themes of love, innocence, and mortality.

The poem begins with the speaker describing the child's peaceful slumber. The child is "breathing softly" and "smiling as if dreaming pleasant dreams." The use of the word "softly" creates a sense of calm and tranquility, while the mention of "pleasant dreams" suggests that the child is content and happy. The speaker's tone is one of admiration and wonder, as if she is in awe of the child's innocence and purity.

As the poem progresses, the speaker reflects on the fleeting nature of childhood. She notes that the child's "little face" will one day be "changed" and that the child will grow up and face the challenges of life. The use of the word "changed" is significant, as it suggests that the child's innocence and purity will be lost as she grows older. The speaker seems to be lamenting the fact that childhood is so brief and that the child will one day have to face the harsh realities of the world.

Despite this sense of sadness, the speaker also expresses a deep sense of love and affection for the child. She describes the child as "dear" and "lovely," and notes that she would "fain" (gladly) keep the child in this state of innocence forever. The use of the word "fain" suggests that the speaker is aware that this is not possible, but she still longs for it nonetheless. This sense of longing and nostalgia is a common theme in Browning's poetry, as she often writes about the passing of time and the loss of innocence.

One of the most striking aspects of this poem is the way in which Browning uses imagery to create a vivid picture of the sleeping child. She describes the child's "golden hair" and "rosy mouth," and notes that the child's "little hand" is "pressed so warmly" against her cheek. These details create a sense of intimacy and tenderness, as if the speaker is holding the child close and cherishing every moment of their time together. The use of the word "golden" is also significant, as it suggests that the child is precious and valuable, like a piece of treasure.

Another interesting aspect of this poem is the way in which Browning uses language to create a sense of rhythm and musicality. The poem is written in iambic tetrameter, which means that each line contains four iambs (a metrical foot consisting of one stressed syllable followed by one unstressed syllable). This creates a sense of regularity and predictability, which is reinforced by the use of end rhymes (e.g. "smiling" and "beguiling," "warmly" and "harm me"). The use of alliteration (e.g. "golden hair," "rosy mouth") and assonance (e.g. "breathing softly") also adds to the musicality of the poem.

In conclusion, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "A Child Asleep" is a beautiful and poignant poem that captures the essence of childhood. Through vivid imagery and musical language, Browning creates a sense of intimacy and tenderness, while also exploring the themes of love, innocence, and mortality. The poem reminds us of the fleeting nature of childhood and the importance of cherishing every moment with our loved ones. It is a timeless classic that continues to resonate with readers today.

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