“A Curse for a Nation”

According to the introduction, what were the dates of publication for this poem, and what political events were present in EBB’s mind before each?

What are some implications of “cursing” an entire nation? To which nation does the poet chiefly refer in her title? How can we tell this from the text?

Why does Barrett Browning choose an “angel” as the speaker of the message? Were there any literary/religious precedents for a cursing angel? What are the implications of ascribing the following statements to a religious figure rather than to her own political views?

In what meter and stanza form is the poem written? In what ways is this form effective? How does the poet use repetition?

How does the speaker try to excuse herself from the task of truth-telling? Is it useful rhetorically to explain why she needs to speak anyway?

What are some poetic metaphors used by the speaker? Are these effective?

What are some of the defects which the speaker finds in her own land? What does she refer to when she criticizes a “love of freedom which abates / Beyond the Straits”?

What gender stereotypes does the speaker appeal to in questioning whether she should attack American slavery? Does she manage to turn these into a reason for entering the public sphere?

To whom do you think she refers when she says, “Some women weep and curse, I say/ (And no one marvels,) night and day”?

Why in your view does she claim that “A curse from the depths/ Of womanhood/ Is very salt, and bitter, and good”?

The Curse

Part I: Is it effective to separate the poem into two parts? Does the poet delay in stating what exactly the curse is, and is this effective?

Does the stanza form change in “The Curse,” and if so, what shift does this reflect? What is notable about the final line of each of stanza?

Why is the U. S. cursed? (say, as opposed to some other country)

What are some metaphors the poet employs? Do you recognize any of them from “The Cry of the Children”?

In section II, what ills does she anticipate will befall to the slave-holding United States? In the 1850s and 60s, what may she have been thinking of?

What will happen to its foreign policy? Its reputation? Its originary documents?

In the last stanza, what final punishment will the U. S. suffer? What moral authority will finally decide whether nations have committed good or evil actions?

Are any lines of the “curse” particularly striking?

What dramatic effect is created by ending with the line, “THIS is the curse. Write.”

If one were writing a poem today to call attention to a systematic form of abuse or oppression, how might one attempt to modify Barrett Browning’s approach?