Skip to content
Home » The Compulsory Enlistment: A Summary of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Work

The Compulsory Enlistment: A Summary of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Work

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was a renowned poet of the Victorian era who wrote extensively on themes such as love, social justice, and politics. One of her lesser-known works, “The Compulsory Enlistment,” is a powerful critique of the British government’s policy of forcing young men to join the military during the Crimean War. In this article, we provide a summary of Browning’s work, exploring its themes and significance in the context of the Victorian era.

The Compulsory Enlistment: A Summary of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Work

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem “The Forced Recruit” is a powerful commentary on the compulsory enlistment of soldiers during the Crimean War. The poem tells the story of a young man who is forcibly taken from his home and family to fight in a war he does not believe in. Browning’s use of vivid imagery and emotional language highlights the brutality and injustice of the practice of conscription. The poem also raises important questions about the role of the state in forcing individuals to fight for their country, and the impact of war on both soldiers and civilians. Overall, “The Forced Recruit” is a poignant reminder of the human cost of war and the importance of questioning authority and standing up for one’s beliefs.

Background Information

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was a prominent English poet of the Victorian era. Born in 1806 in Durham, England, she was the eldest of twelve children. Barrett Browning was a prolific writer, publishing her first collection of poems at the age of 14. She went on to publish several more collections, including “Sonnets from the Portuguese,” which is considered one of her most famous works. Barrett Browning’s poetry often dealt with themes of love, politics, and social justice. She was also known for her advocacy for the abolition of slavery and her support of the Italian unification movement. Despite her success as a writer, Barrett Browning’s health was often fragile, and she suffered from chronic illness throughout her life. She died in 1861 at the age of 55.

The Poet’s Life

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s life was marked by both personal and societal struggles. As a woman in the 19th century, she faced limitations on her education and opportunities for professional success. Additionally, she suffered from poor health throughout her life, which often left her bedridden and isolated. Despite these challenges, Browning found solace and expression in her poetry. Her work often explored themes of love, social justice, and spirituality, and she became one of the most celebrated poets of her time. However, her personal life was also marked by tragedy, including the loss of her beloved brother and the death of her young son. Through it all, Browning continued to write and to use her voice to advocate for change. Her legacy as a poet and a trailblazer for women’s rights continues to inspire readers today.

The Context of the Poem

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem “The Forced Recruit” was written during a time of great political and social upheaval in England. The poem was published in 1844, just a few years after the passing of the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, which drastically changed the way in which the poor were cared for in England. The act was met with widespread criticism and protest, as it was seen as cruel and inhumane.

At the same time, England was also experiencing a period of military expansion, with the government increasing the size of the army and navy in response to growing tensions with other European powers. This led to the introduction of compulsory enlistment, which required all able-bodied men to serve in the military for a set period of time.

Browning’s poem explores the devastating impact that compulsory enlistment had on families and communities. It tells the story of a young man who is forcibly taken from his home and forced to serve in the military, leaving behind his loved ones and his dreams for the future. The poem is a powerful critique of the government’s policies and a call for greater compassion and understanding towards those who are affected by them.

The Theme of War

The theme of war is a prevalent one in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s work, particularly in her poem “The Forced Recruit.” In this poem, Browning explores the devastating effects of compulsory enlistment on young men who are forced to leave their homes and families to fight in wars they may not believe in. She portrays the soldiers as victims of a system that values war and conquest over human life and happiness. Browning’s powerful imagery and emotional language make “The Forced Recruit” a poignant commentary on the horrors of war and the toll it takes on those who are forced to fight.

The Theme of Love

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s work is often characterized by the theme of love. In her poetry, she explores the various facets of love, from the romantic to the familial. One of her most famous works, “Sonnet XLIII,” is a love poem addressed to her husband, Robert Browning. In it, she expresses her love for him in a way that is both passionate and tender. She writes, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. / I love thee to the depth and breadth and height / My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight / For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.” This sonnet has become one of the most beloved love poems in the English language, and it is a testament to Browning’s skill as a poet and her deep understanding of the complexities of love.

The Theme of Death

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s work often explores the theme of death, which is particularly evident in her poem “The Dead Pan.” In this poem, Browning describes the death of a beloved friend and the grief that follows. She uses vivid imagery to convey the sense of loss and emptiness that comes with death, such as describing the friend’s empty chair and the silence that fills the room. Browning also touches on the idea of immortality, suggesting that while the physical body may die, the spirit lives on. This theme of death is a recurring motif in Browning’s work, reflecting her own experiences with loss and the universal human experience of grappling with mortality.

The Use of Imagery and Metaphor

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s work is known for its use of vivid imagery and metaphor. In her poem “The Forced Recruit,” she employs these literary devices to convey the pain and suffering of those who are forced to enlist in the military. The metaphor of the “forced recruit” is used to describe the young men who are taken from their homes and families and sent to fight in wars they may not believe in. Browning’s use of imagery, such as “the red-coat’s rapier” and “the drum’s discordant sound,” creates a vivid picture of the chaos and violence of war. Through her use of these literary devices, Browning is able to convey the emotional impact of compulsory enlistment and the toll it takes on those who are forced to serve.

The Structure of the Poem

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem “The Compulsory Enlistment” is structured in a unique and complex way. The poem is divided into six stanzas, each containing eight lines. The rhyme scheme of the poem is ABABBCBC, which means that the first and third lines of each stanza rhyme with each other, as do the second and fourth lines, and the fifth and seventh lines, and the sixth and eighth lines. This creates a sense of symmetry and balance in the poem.

The poem is written in iambic pentameter, which means that each line contains ten syllables, with the stress falling on every other syllable. This gives the poem a rhythmic and musical quality.

The structure of the poem is also significant in terms of its content. The poem is a dramatic monologue, in which the speaker is a woman who is being forced to enlist in the army. The first stanza sets the scene and introduces the speaker’s predicament. The second and third stanzas describe the speaker’s reluctance to join the army and her fear of what might happen to her. The fourth and fifth stanzas describe the speaker’s anger and frustration at being forced to enlist. The final stanza is a plea to the reader to remember the speaker and her plight.

Overall, the structure of “The Compulsory Enlistment” is carefully crafted to convey the speaker’s emotions and to create a sense of tension and urgency. The rhyme scheme and meter contribute to the poem’s musicality, while the division into stanzas allows for a clear progression of ideas.

The Poem’s Reception

The reception of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem “The Forced Recruit” was mixed. Some praised the poem for its powerful message about the horrors of war and the injustice of compulsory enlistment. Others criticized the poem for its overly sentimental tone and its lack of concrete solutions to the problem of conscription. Despite these criticisms, however, “The Forced Recruit” remains an important work of literature that continues to resonate with readers today. Its themes of individual freedom, social justice, and the human cost of war are as relevant now as they were when the poem was first published in 1844.

The Poem’s Significance Today

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem “The Compulsory Enlistment” may have been written in the 19th century, but its significance still resonates today. The poem speaks to the universal themes of war, sacrifice, and the power of love. In a world where conflicts continue to arise and soldiers are still called upon to fight, the poem’s message remains relevant. It reminds us of the human cost of war and the importance of valuing and cherishing those we love. Additionally, the poem’s exploration of gender roles and societal expectations is still relevant today, as we continue to grapple with issues of equality and representation. Overall, “The Compulsory Enlistment” is a timeless work that continues to speak to readers today.

The Poem in Comparison to Other Works

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “The Compulsory Enlistment” is a powerful poem that explores the themes of war, patriotism, and the sacrifice of young men. When compared to other works of the same genre, it stands out for its emotional depth and vivid imagery. Unlike other war poems that glorify the heroism of soldiers, Browning’s poem takes a critical stance on the idea of compulsory enlistment and the toll it takes on young men and their families. The poem’s use of metaphors and allusions to classical literature adds to its complexity and elevates it above other works of the same period. Overall, “The Compulsory Enlistment” is a remarkable piece of poetry that deserves to be studied and appreciated alongside other great works of the genre.

The Poet’s Influence on Literature

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s work has had a significant influence on literature, particularly in the realm of poetry. Her use of language and imagery has inspired countless poets and writers, and her themes of love, social justice, and spirituality continue to resonate with readers today. Browning’s work also paved the way for other female poets, breaking down barriers and challenging societal norms. Her impact on literature is undeniable, and her legacy continues to inspire and influence writers around the world.

The Poet’s Contribution to Society

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s work not only reflects her personal experiences and emotions, but also her contribution to society as a poet. Through her poetry, she was able to shed light on social issues and advocate for change. In her poem “The Cry of the Children,” she addresses the issue of child labor and the exploitation of children in factories. Her poem “Aurora Leigh” challenges societal norms and expectations placed on women, advocating for their education and independence. Browning’s poetry serves as a reminder of the power of words and the impact they can have on society. As a poet, she was able to use her platform to bring attention to important issues and inspire change.

The Poet’s Legacy

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s legacy as a poet is one that has endured for centuries. Her work has been celebrated for its emotional depth, its political commentary, and its innovative use of form and language. Perhaps most importantly, however, Browning’s poetry has served as a powerful reminder of the importance of empathy and compassion in the face of adversity. Throughout her life, Browning was deeply committed to social justice and the fight against oppression, and her poetry reflects this passion in its unflinching critique of the injustices of her time. Today, her work continues to inspire readers around the world, reminding us of the power of art to effect change and to speak truth to power.