Empathy is perhaps the most powerful tool of the poet. A poet can use empathy to build a bond between the reader and their work; but a quality poet can use empathy to tear that bond down as well. Throughout "A Prisoner in a Dungeon Deep," poet Anne Brontë effectively wields empathy, pity and estrangement as a way of luring the reader in and making them feel uncomfortable for having done so. The first section of the poem is dedicated to an intimate description of the eponymous prisoner, emphasizing his humanity and how it has been denied to him. It focuses specifically on vulnerable features and passive actions to reinforce his victimhood in the mind of the reader. The second section goes on to describe the morose details of his existence, punctuating the human element with the bleakness of his perspective and the loss of his will, dehumanizing him as much as the prison itself. Slowly the reader's pity is turned to discomfort, as more aspects of the prisoner's dementia are made clear. Suddenly the poem takes a sharp turn into its final section where the prisoner is liberated, though his response invokes a feeling of dejection and pessimism. The prisoner is given back his humanity, only to renounce it in the end. This essay will explore Brontë's poem in detail, exploring how she is able to bring us into the mind of a prisoner, only to regret what we find. .
The first stanza slowly introduces us to the prisoner and the dungeon, though Brontë is very careful about her word selection. The dungeon itself is not described in any way, allowing the reader to visualize it using their own personal memories and emotional experiences to paint the inevitably gloom prison. The first words that she uses to describe the prisoner are passive in nature. "Sat musing silently; his head rested on his hand, His elbow on his knee." The position that the prisoner takes is one of vulnerability, as he sits curled up on the ground in dismay.