A Widow’s Tale and Other Poems by Bernard Barton
Bernard Barton is considered as one of the “forgotten” authors of the 19th Century. He was born in Carlisle on 31st of January in 1784. He was the son of Quakers. Besides being a poet, he worked as clerk from the age of 14 in a shop in Halstead, Essex, and later on in Woodbridge, Suffolk, until he died in 1849. The collection of poetry which is dealt with in this paper consists of 50 poems.
My review will be supported by examples from the selected poems:
Prefatory Sonnet, Which Things are a Shadow and Sorrow’s Love.
Many of the poems are written in sonnet form, and the introductory poem Prefatory
sonnet catches the essence of the bleak, melancholic and dark atmosphere
much of the poetry has. The lines “The lamp will shed a feeble glimmering light until the oil
which fed its flame be spent” (ll. 1-2) symbolize a change, which could be as follows: the dying light representing the end of life and the beginning of death for humankind. Furthermore, it could represent the change in history, i.e. the end of the Romantic era and the beginning of the Victorian age.
The description “the lingering echo of the past” (l. 14), which is the end of the
poem, could refer to something final. There is still a hint of doubt, as if the poem does not
present a final conclusion to the reader, which could symbolize the insecurity of the future, and whether or not a new beginning is better than the well-known (in this case, the past). In this poem, there are many adjectives or nouns that refer to something final, i.e. “feeble” (l. 1), “waned” (l. 5), “faded” (l. 7), “death” (l. 8), “loveless” (ibid), and “parting” (l. 13).
The poem Which Things are a Shadow (ibid: 52) focuses on a coming death. Many
descriptions are used about nature, and nature affects the mood of the poem whether or not it is the “stream whose waves were bright” (l. 1) or “gathering clouds – ere fall of night – had darken’d o’er the scene” (v. ll. 2-3). Nature is often highlighted as something positive and light in contrast to the dark. As if nature has a certain power in relation to life. Life runs its natural course, e.g. the tree that falls to the ground referring to death (v. 3, ll. 1-4). As in many other poems from the Romantic period, there is religious terminology, e.g. “But from the grave – shall rise to crave – a home beyond the sky” (v. 4, l. 7); the home in the sky being the final home symbolizing the fact that a body will die, but the soul will live on in the approaching eternity, e.g. “Shone forth the sunset ray – my spirit caught – the soothing thought – thus life might pass away” (v. 2, ll.4-7). This example also refers to the division between the psychical and the spiritual world. Many contrasts are shown in this poem, e.g. body vs. mind, darkness vs. light, life vs. death and the physical vs. the spiritual and non-materialistic.
The poem Sorrow’s love (ibid: 66) has an atmosphere that centres around melancholy and
sadness, although it is hopeful. It describes a love that is lost, but it seems that the remembrance of it seems more important than the actual loss, e.g. “that thorny path – those cloudy skies – have drawn our spirits nearer – and render’d us – by tenderst ties – each to the other dearer” (v. 4, ll. 1-4). An ending is approaching but faith and hope will remain, e.g. “Through death’s dim – shadowy portal […] by faith and hope immortal” (v. 6, ll. 1-4).
In conclusion nature descriptions, metaphors and religious terminology are recurring
factors in Bernard Barton’s poetry. There are often descriptions of the division in the individual of the body from the soul. Many contrasts are seen in the poetry to support this issue of division. It is often difficult to distinguish whether life symbolizes life on earth or eternity. Even though the atmosphere is often bleak, dark and melancholic, there is no doubt that light seems stronger than darkness, and furthermore death can be as beautiful as life. The search for the glory of death in the presence of God, and the rejection of the physical and materialistic world are seen as the poet’s most important quest. Many poets from the same literary period as Barton are
concerned with these concepts.