Robert Pack’s “An Echo Sonnet: To an Empty Page is established through various literary techniques that contribute to the poem’s meaning. Pack’s use of imagery and rhetorical questions gives the poem something to rely on to carry its story. The use of literary techniques exclusively defines the poem and through that, the reader can understand the underlying message behind the sonnet.
Throughout the entire poem, the speaker continuously asks questions debating what makes life worth living. The speaker’s confused mental state is expressed through rhetorical questions. The narrator asks, “Oh cold reprieve, where’s natural relief?” Here, the narrator wonders where he may find an escape from life, from the grief he was told to pursue. The answer is actually from within him. This results in a poem with dialogue between the narrator’s conscience and heart; the heart being the Echo.
The Echo’s answer of “Leaf” leads the narrator to reflect on the death of leaves; leaves bloom beautifully and change into various colors. Making “ecstasy” of the flower’s dying process. He wonders, “Yet what’s the end of our life’s long disease? If death is not, who is my enemy,” but then the Echo calls itself the foe. Though leaves age beautifully, people do not, for aging is a disease of life that cannot be escaped.
Through his use of imagery, Pack sets off various expressions and tones. His reference to his aching heart in line 3 “But is there consolation in the heart?” reveals his void of comfort stemming from his uncertainty of life. The imagery used in line 5, “Leaf blooms… death… enemy?” conveys the speaker’s assumption of the cycle of life and whether death is the enemy to life. This only proves that the speaker fears the future, the unknown, and death. Insensitivity to pain is more harmful than death in this situation.
In the end, the narrator goes on to say that he would “leap into the dark, if dark were true,” which the Echo verifies is correct. This darkness is a symbol for death. The poem’s literal end could possibly indicate how the narrator has stopped thinking and leapt into the darkness. His use of imagery and rhetorical questions greatly reveal the speakers inner most feelings about debating if whether he should begin his life and the difference between being alive and living. The dialogue between the two reveals that “life’s long disease” is not being able to escape aging and shows how people are their own worst enemy.
- Leighton, Angela. “On” the hearing ear”: Some Sonnets of the Rossettis.” Victorian Poetry 47.3 (2009): 505-516.
- Shakespeare, William. The complete sonnets and poems. Oxford University Press on Demand, 2002.