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  • Victorian Doors
  • Ernest L. Fontana


Let us begin with a simple observation. If we confine ourselves to mid- and late-nineteenth Anglophone (Victorian) poetry that employs traditional verse stanzas or rooms, it is perhaps not surprising that a line terminating with door most often rhymes with more, particularly as more is found in such locutions as no more or evermore.1 For example, in the work of Emily Dickinson, door rhymes with a more phoneme in 14 of 20 instances. What is of special interest, and the focus of this essay, is the use of door as a rhymed word at the end or near the end of a poem. Of related but secondary interest is its appearance as a rhymed word at the end of an intermediate stanza. Since more signifies a quantitative concept, the frequent use of it to rhyme with door suggests that the designated door often demarcates a site of transition from a state that is quantitatively different (most often less) from the state to which one passes through the door. This imagined other state often involves quantities of time as in the frequent use of no more and evermore. In the first instance the time imagined is completely negated, in the second it is affirmed as a perpetual duration. Poe acknowledged the significance of the door/evermore rhyme in the "The Raven" in which this rhyme occurs at the end of 5 of its 18 stanzas.2 Thus this common English rhyme of door and more requires a signification of transition from one state to another that differ from each other in quantity. Often, particularly in Dickinson, the other state lies beyond the walled or enclosed room of [End Page 277] the self. My essay raises the question of whether without this accidental acoustical concurrence in English, the signification in Anglophone poetry of an implied transition from certain quotidian or phenomenal states to certain visionary or noumenal states would be as frequent or so easily rendered. Does this accidental rhyme in fact generate certain significations or metaphors?3

I shall begin my demonstration with what I believe are telling examples of doors as a closural effect of both poems and stanzas.4 In the second, revised version of Hopkins's sonnet "In honour of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez: Laybrother of the Society of Jesus," written in Dublin in 1888, the concluding sestet of this Italian sonnet ends with door.

Yet God (that hews mountain and continent, Earth, all, out; who, with trickling increment, Veins violets and tall trees makes more and more) Could crowd career with conquest while there went Those years and years by of world without event That in Majorca Alphonso watched the door.5

The sonnet is built on the contrast between honor that is "flashed off exploit," the highly visible exploits of the early Jesuit martyrs and missionaries, with the "Unseen," apparently un-heroic life of the obscure Spanish Jesuit laybrother and hall porter, whose war was "within." While God, through his Jesuit martyrs, "could crown [His] career with conquest," Alphonsus's life passed "without event" as he "watched the door." Hopkins's rhymes his terminal door with the more that results from the silent "trickling increment" of God's ongoing creative act. The foregrounded closural door of the poem becomes, through its position and rhyme, a metaphor for a passage to the abundance resulting from God's creative action, a quantification that extends beyond the perceptible world.

Alphonsus is the guardian of the passage to this abundance, one that is subtly implied by the more/door rhyme. The sonnet ends with the reader and Alphonsus positioned on the threshold of an unnamable abundance that is signified by the silence and blank space that follows upon this terminal door. In Browning's "A Lovers' Quarrel," from Men and Women (1855), the male speaker recalls, during the advent of an Italian spring, the amatory intimacies he and his beloved shared during the past winter in their Tuscan farmhouse: "'Twas a time when the heart could shew / All'" (ll. 75–76).6 But the amatory union of the [End Page 278] two lovers has been ruptured by an unidentified, chance "hasty word" spoken...


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