1. The word breathes is a verb in this structure. You can hear a U.S. pronunciation at Breathe - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary (I apologize for not including a British pronunciation, but I didn't see the audio option on oxforddictionaries.com. And of course the intonation would even vary slightly within states/provinces and perhaps even smaller regions, but you would be understood if you pronounce it as the example on M-W or from another native source.).
2. To be honest I don't follow the meaning; the phrase breathes of life usually refers to something exuberant, but in this case the idea is combined with sadness. Perhaps with more context it would be easier to say (or perhaps it will be equally as confusing, at least to me!). :)