In the sonnet “To an Empty Page” the author, Robert Pack reveals the true meaning of the poem through the unique voice and echo structure. The poem as a whole is an internal monologue between the speaker and himself in which the questions are his “voice” and his answers to his own questions are the “echoes.” This helps convey that the speaker of the poem is struggling to find meaning in his empty life, but, in actuality, he already knows the answers.
The “voice of the poem is written in traditional iambic pentameter. In the first line of the poem the speaker asks himself, “How from emptiness can I make a start?” Using iambic pentameter lets the sounds and rhythm of the line flow naturally like someone’s speaking voice. However, the structure is broken by the extra beat added by the echo, “start.” When speaking the poem aloud it seems out of place and unwelcome in the line.
This may reveal that while the speaker knows that the answer is simply to start actively making improvements in his life, he feels that the idea is unwelcome. This shows the speaker’s struggle because is more comfortable contemplating his life almost as if he were an outside observer than actually taking action to begin changing his emptiness. The voice and echo structure of the poem reveal contradictions in the speaker’s thoughts. In lines three and four the speaker thinks, “But is there consolation in the heart?” and “Oh cold reprieve, where’s the natural relief?” These questions show the sadness in the speaker who is searching for happiness.
The “echoes” which answer these two questions are “art” and “leaf”, words associated with beauty and nature. These positively connoted words clearly contradict with the sad tone of the speaker’s musings about life. The speaker seems to know that there is happiness in the world, but instead of focusing on these positive aspects about life he chooses to continue dwelling on life’s difficulties. In line seven he asks “Yet what’s the end of our life’s long disease?” The echo to this question is “ease.” It can be inferred from the speaker’s pessimistic tone in previous lines that the “end” the speaker’s echo “ease” is referring to is death. By calling life a “long disease” to which the only end is “ease”, or death, the speaker reveals that he feels life is only suffering and death is better than living. This further contradicts with the echoes in lines three and four, which are “art” and “leaf,” because they indicate that the speaker knows that life is truly not all suffering. However, the fact that he’d rather choose death over life shows that he is so deep in sadness that he can’t fully appreciate or fully accept the good in life.
In addition to being unable to accept that there is some good in his empty life, the speaker seems to be conscious of this fact. Though the speaker easily accepts death as a relief to suffering, he seems to find it impossible to accept the alternative solution of actively searching for happiness. He blames himself for this. He thinks, “If death is not, who is my enemy?” to which the echo is “me.” The speaker knows that his pessimism about life is standing in the way of the happiness he knows deep down he could have in life.
Though the speaker is clearly experiencing contradictory thoughts, regarding life, happiness, and death, he seems to come to a final resolution at the end of the poem. In the last lines of the poem the speaker returns to the topic of death. Much like the other lines of the poem, these lines indicate conflict within the speaker as he shifts his attitudes. He first asks, “Then are you glad that I must end in sleep?” to which the answer is “leap.” The word “leap” leads the reader to see images of the speaker deciding whether to leap from a ledge to end his own life or continue living until he dies peacefully in his sleep. Since this is an answer to his own question, it can be inferred that the speaker still holds to his belief that suicide is preferable to living in suffering. However, he then asks in line eleven, “And in that night would you rejoice or weep?” and the answer is “weep.” He realizes that his own death would bring him more sadness than continuing to live. This shows a sudden shift in speaker’s attitude but also prolonged conflict with himself. He responds to his previous echo, “leap”, by saying “I feel your calling leads me where I go.” “Go.” “But whether happiness is there you know.” “No.” These lines show a conflict back and forth between the speaker’s pessimistic thoughts of death and acknowledgement of happiness.
Ultimately in these lines the speaker reveals his resolution. Though he still has some feelings that he should follow his calling impulse to leap, he restrains himself because he understands that suicide is not a final solution to his problems. The answer to whether there is happiness in death is “No.” Therefore, he seems to understand, through much internal struggle, that he must find another way to escape life’s suffering. The voice-echo structure of this sonnet helps show the conflict and struggle within the speaker. His “voice” clearly reveals that the speaker is internally troubled by his thoughts and that sadness dictates much of his life, whereas his “echo” reveals his true underlying thoughts. The structure serves to show the contradictions in the speaker’s mind as he searches for a way to escape emptiness and find happiness.