She has named the first section of the book, "Shadows of Death" and added a quote by Tennyson, "The shadow passeth when the tree shall fall," from Love and Death (1830): "Life eminent creates the shade of death; | The shadow passeth when the tree shall fall." "'Shadows of Death' are a series of thoughts which were presented to my mind during a long illness in Tasmania. Some of the poems perhaps are -- or rather appear -- of a wild and wilful nature; but I give them a place here, in order to show to greater advantage those which breathe the better spirit of resignation and trustfulness."
This for the first poem, Sonnet:
Oft have I sought in vain a cause to trace,
That to mine anxious heart would kind reveal,
How it can be that I should saddest feel,
When gazing on fair Nature's lovely face,
Bright with the sunny smile of innocence;
How it can be that yon rich sloping field,
Pleasing mine eye, should to my spirit yield
Fresh dreams of sadness -- a still deeper sense
Of emptiness; and how the flowers' bright glow,
The joyous song of birds, the murmuring bee,
The laugh of childhood ringing merrily,
Should all bring heaviness. But now I know, --
For Death doth ever linger on the stair
Of earth's best beauties and of things most fair.
Her "long illness" was a fever and a diseased hip, says the Australian Dictionary of Biography. "[F]ever, followed by hip disease and other complications, and for ... five years was an invalid ... confined to the house." But the poem does not mention an illness, the poet is healthy, no hip explains the "dreams of sadness," the condition is universal and constant, "Death doth ever linger," the poet has searched "oft" for alternative conclusions, they are speaking earnestly; the Caroline Leakey behind the poem was not earnest, she was creating an effect, she was miming dead ends ("How can it be ...") when she had a reason for her own "series of thoughts," which was her illness, but she would not offer it to the poet, who could have contemplated it, even if they rejected it ultimately, she left the poet to struggle on, confused, sad, riddled and infested with these ideas that had been borrowed from a woman who was not well enough to travel outside a front gate that was not even hers but her sister's husband's, who could not visit "yon sloping field," who was kept away from an immersive experience of everything that should have made the poet happy.
Why am I depressed, wonders the poet, not knowing that they are being pretended. They are not too sad to ride through the poem on a recurring s-sound, going pause-s pause-s starting slowly with one or two esses per line, sought and then the middle of anx[say:ss]ious -- building to fresh dreams of sadness (mad slither) then winding down again to a slow-paced -s, finally no s: s in the process of departing as the last line ends.
A person who came across this poem would read about the birds, the animals, the fields, the sunshine, and probably believe that the writer was in fact out of doors all the time and wandering a long way in every possible direction to suck in as much of Nature as possible since they never mention the hall, the bath, the kitchen, the garden wall, the wardrobe, the fireside, or any other accoutrement of Leakey's actual restricted domesticity.
I imagine that this "I" is suffering from an implacable doom that they will never understand because they are participating in a masquerade, and the poem they are really in, is a dream of not being physically crippled.