“The Ballad of the Bird-Bride”

What are some thematic associations of the ballad form? Which of these are realized in this literary ballad?

What is added to the poem by its alleged origins in an Eskimo tale?

What are some literary antecedents to a tale of the forbidden shooting of a bird? Other literary antecedents? (Coleridge's “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” Matthew Arnold's “The Forsaken Merman,” Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid" and others)

What are we to think of the act of capture? Was this a valid or well-omened marriage? What do you make of the bird’s unhappy wailing?

Is the bird-bride content with her human life?

What does she require of her husband? What causes him to violate his oath? Are we expected to feel sympathy for his act or to judge him?

What is the symbolism of his shooting of four gulls? Was the ending inevitable?

What is the effect of the fact that the poem’s last words are spoken by the grieving husband rather than by the wife? Was there a solution to the problem of the bird-bride’s dual origins?

What are some themes or meanings suggested by the poem?

Would you be surprised to learn that this poem was written by a woman who deserted her husband and children? Can the poem be seen as an apology? A self-defense? A thought experiment?

“Ballad of the Willow Pool”

What expectations are set up by the poem’s title?
How are the themes of this poem similar to those of other Watson poems you have read?

Who are the poem’s protagonists? What traditional literary antecedents are suggested by their occupation?

What is the speaker’s attitude toward his lover’s defection?

How is the reader’s response affected by his defense of her? By the fact that we don’t know her name?

What are some images of liminality which pervade the poem?

What is a Neckan? Are there early signs that the lost love was not fully human? What do you make of the “single red-gold hair” around her neck?

What is the lost love’s attitude as she dissolves into the pool? What symbolism is associated with the pool? With the shepherd’s playing of pipes?

What seems to have happened to the woman/mermaid beneath the water? Is the lover who slides through his “arms to the rush-strewn floor” alive or dead?

What symbolism is associated with her garments? With her lover’s preparations for her burial? Is anything ominous implicit in the fact that the burial garments are described as “white webs that my mother span”?

What is shown by the responses of her family and the priest to the dead woman? What reason does the priest give for his denial of burial on hallowed ground?

Is her burial site appropriate? What defense of his loved one does the bereaved lover make?

What final condition is described by the lover? What is the curse which he proclaims his heart’s inmost guest--a curse of himself or of her?

Does the ending provide closure? Has this event been a tragedy? A disturbance of the natural order?

What seem some of the themes of this poem? What view of romantic love does it seem to convey?

“A Ballad of the Were-Wolf”

What would the reader have assumed from this poem’s title? What can we surmise from the poem’s language, and from the setting in stanza one?

What seems ominous about the “goodman”’s speech and his wife’s implied response? By the brutal tale he recounts?

What is noted about the “goodwife”’s bearing as she confronts him? At what point do we realize her identity?

What do you make of the poem’s ending? What do you think happens next? Why do you think the poem denies its readers closure?

What is the point of this gruesome ballad? Is it more effective because told in northern/Scots dialect?

Does this poem resemble other RMW poems in theme? In its presentation of the mother’s relationship to her children?

How do you interpret the poem’s latent themes? Does it help in interpreting this poem to know that Rosamund Marriott Watson was a thrice-married woman who by Victorian law lost access to her children by her first two marriages?

Whose view does the poem present—or is the tale presented neutrally?


How is the reader’s response altered by the choice of this title? Does it specifically preclude a Christian heaven?

What is noticeable in the poem’s rhythms and use of line lengths? To what extent do these follow a regular pattern?

What questions are asked in the poem, and what are their implied answers? Where, for example, is the “cresset’s flame that the rough wind slew last night”?

What account does the speaker give of life? What is to be most desired? What implications lie behind this wish, and is it entirely convincing?

Does this poem remind you of any others we have read, in tone, form or theme?

“Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani?’”

To what famous narrative does the title allude? Would Watson’s readers have recognized this cry, and what would their response have been?

What is the poem’s stanza form and rhyme scheme? Are these appropriate for its subject?

Who is referred to as “O Thou/ Whom high desires and dreams left desolate?” Where does the poem position the readers by contrast?

What are some of the poem’s important metaphors?

What final point is made by the poem? Do you find this a shift in sensibility in comparison to mid-Victorian poets such as Webster, the Brownings or Tennyson? Which of the authors we have read might have agreed, at least to some degree?

“Of the Earth, Earthy”

What are some features of this poem’s form and rhyme scheme? Are these appropriate for emphasizing its main themes?

What does the speaker reject, and what does she seek? What images are associated with modern, youthful life?

What moral values are placed on “the pride of Life, be it foul or fair”? What are its charms? What new aesthetic is necessary for this view of life?

How would you paraphrase the poem’s final stanza? Are Watson’s notions unusual for her time, or have we found them in other poets?


To what does the title refer? How does it shape our view of the poem’s content?

What do you make of the imagery in each stanza? To what extent is the poem carried by imagery rather than expressed thoughts (“imagism”), and is this a new mode of expression?

How do you interpret the image of the “weary Maenad”? Who were the maenads? What would motivate her lust “for human blood and tears”?

What is implied by the personification of the wind, trees, and red moon?

Is this a well-designed poem?

“The Open Door”

What is the subject of this poem? How do the rhythms and repeated commands add to its effectiveness?

What are some images which gradually convey the state of the departed child?

What do we gradually learn about the nature of “the open door” and the child upon the moors? Why does the speaker tell the auditor to “never turn your head”?

Why does the falling snow cover “all the ways”?

What comfort is offered in the poem’s ending? Is this a satisfying form of comfort?