Caroline Norton’s poem ‘To My Books’ is mostly reflective in nature, focusing on the author’s thoughts regarding her book collection. The poem’s narrative houses a thematic dichotomy, with the narrator providing an effective focal point. On one side of this division are the books themselves. On the other side is the external world. The latter of these appears to present the narrator with a notable degree of difficulty. She returns to the former for rest and revitalization.
Norton’s sonnet is in the traditional 14 lines. These lines are divided up into 3 quatrains succeeded by a closing couplet. The reader can discern that the sonnet doesn’t adhere to the octave and sestet structure, as there are definite shifts in the narrative’s perspective at the beginnings of lines 5 and 9. The sonnet’s rhyming-scheme is AB AB, CD CD, EF EF, GG, because each individual quatrain contains two distinctly different rhymes. There are roughly either ten or eleven syllables to a line.
Beginning with the first quatrain, the reader gathers that it is late and the narrator is probably alone. This is conveyed through the phrase, ‘lonely hour.’ A mood of tranquility is immediately established. The theme of the books is presented to the reader at the start. An element of anthropomorphizing (the attribution of human characteristics to inanimate objects) is infused in the books through the author’s choice of words when addressing them. They are described as ‘companions’ and ‘friends’, in the first and second lines, respectively. The reader is under the impression that these books are subtly being compared with human counterparts.
Such suspicions are confirmed in the second quatrain where this fanciful notion is developed. The narrator returns to the books while stating, ‘this turmoil ending,’ and there is the use of enjambement as the sentence in the fifth line runs onto the sixth. A vivid image of the narrator reading is conveyed through the line, ‘And, o’er your old familiar pages bending.’ Echoes of the first quatrain subtly re-emerge as the narrator appears to acknowledge that people are prone to change and desertion, where as her books can never ‘alter’ or ‘forsake’.
Later in the poem, the reader is under the impression that the thoughts the narrator gleans from her books cease being words and become actual speech. Words such as ‘audible’, ‘hearing’, ‘spoke’ and ‘tone’ are used to create this effect. This is clarified by referring back to the poem’s beginning where the books are described as ‘Silent’. In the closing couplet, the reader gathers that the narrator has returned to the external world. However, she is now significantly enriched through reading, ‘my unripe musings, told so well.’