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Sonnets from the Portuguese by Elizabeth…
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Sonnets from the Portuguese (1850)

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
I had not expected this collection of love poems to be so melancholic. Although a degree of self-doubt and uncertainty goes along with any lovers thoughts, the tone here is of such low self-esteem, such self-recrimination that it strikes me that the poet was suffering from depression. But through the darkness, there are sparks of hope, that maybe love will come, will be true and will rescue.

In the end, the poet is redeemed and transformed by love, but it seems to have been a close-run thing.

There's such beautiful imagery in every poem that it's almost impossible to select one out above the others, but I particularly like Sonnet V:

I lift my heavy heart up solemnly,
As one Electra her sepulchral urn,
And, looking in thine eyes, I overturn
The ashes at thy feet. Behold and see
What a great heap of grief lay hid in me,
And how the red wild sparkles dimly burn
Through the ashen greyness. If thy foot in scorn
Could tread them out to darkness utterly,
It might be well perhaps. But if instead
Thou wait beside me for the wind to blow
The grey dust up,...those laurels on thine head,
O my Belovëd, will not shield thee so,
That none of all the fires shall scorch and shred
The hair beneath. Stand further off then! go! ( )
  Michael.Rimmer | Mar 31, 2014 |
First book gift I gave to Mike. After 28 years, still sits on his night stand.n yes, he reads it. Occasionally. ( )
  Elpaca | May 1, 2013 |
Receiving this as a gift on my 18th birthday from my best friend was one of my "Coming of Age" moments. It opened a wonderful world of being able to express all of those emotions that were inundating me, mentally and physically. I can never thank her enough. ( )
  justicefortibet | Oct 8, 2012 |
Despite a strong recommendation from a dear friend whose taste in books I respect greatly, I resisted reading Victorian English poetry, insisting I would never understand it. My resistance weaned, and I am glad for it. This utterly charming set of poetry is heartfelt and uplifting, and I find myself rooting for their love and for Elizabeth Barrett Browning herself. My only wish was for Elizabeth to have lived longer than her 55 years. But to have loved brilliantly for even only 15 years till a person’s end is still more than anyone can hope for.

This set of highly personal poetry, written by Elizabeth throughout her courtship with Robert Browning, which began in 1845, eloped in 1846, was gifted to him in 1849. The uniqueness in their relationship drove this set of sonnets to be particularly celebratory. She was an accomplished poet with published works (early career woman), older than him by 6 years (unusual then), she was age 39 when they met (finding love late in life), she was an invalid (shame, feeling inadequate). He courted her for her and the beauty of her poetry, appreciating her mind and her as a person, which is always the best basis to start any relationship. She had great hesitations, partly due to feeling that she doesn’t measure up and some influence from her family, deeming him to be a gold digger. In the end, their love flourished, and we, the readers, are blessed to have this set of sonnets that remind us what Love is really about – all-encompassing, unconditional, whole-heartedly, with acceptance. ♥

Quotes (abbreviated):

Sonnet I: Her hope for love, but hope lost, given up.

The sweet, sad years, the melancholy years,
Those of my own life,………
“Guess now who holds thee!” --- “Death” I said.
But there
The silver anaswer rang, --- “Not Death, but Love”

Sonnet VII: To be in love, surprised, and her world changing on account of it. (It’s such a beautiful new experience for her.)

…………, where I, who thought to sink,
Was caught up into love,………
And this… this lute and song… love yesterday,
(The singing angels know) are only dear
Because thy name moves right in what they say.

Sonnet VIII: Feeling inadequate in the relationship. (To me, this is such a classic amongst even solid relationships, doubting oneself, constantly wondering if you measure up, despite how much love is flowing both ways.)

What can I give thee back, O liberal
And princely giver, who hast brought the gold and purple of thine heart…
………… am I cold,
Ungrateful, that for these most manifold
High gifts, I render nothing back at all?
No so; not cold, ---- but very poor instead.

Sonnet X: Burning with Love. She is enthralled, enraptured, consumed with love.

Yet, love, mere love, is beautiful indeed
And worthy of acceptation…………
And love is fire. And when I say at need
I love thee… mark!... I love thee – in thy sight
I stand transfigured…………

Sonnet XIV: She asked to be loved, simply for love’s sake and not for anything that may change or out of pity. (I find this to be such a logical and basic thought that doesn’t seem to be considered much.)

If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love’s sake only. Do not say
“I love her for her smile ---her look---her way
Of speaking gently,………”
For these things in themselves, Beloved, may
Be changed, or change for thee,………
………….Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity’s wiping my cheeks dry,---………
But love me for love’s sake, that evermore
Thou may’st love on, through love’s eternity.

Sonnet XX: She has doubts and wants reassurance. (I am guilty of requiring reassurance. Perhaps guilty is too strong a word. I simply believe that every relationship should have continued reassurance. No man or woman should be made to assume they are loved while drudging through the stress of daily life, and some times, shamed for wanting assurance. It should be freely given, via a gentle touch, a kind smile, a twinkle in your eyes.)

Say over again, and yet once over again,
That thou dost love me…………
Beloved, I, amid the darkness greeted
By a doubtful spirit – voice, in that doubt’s pain
Cry, “Speak once more---thou lovest!”………
Say thou dost love me, love me, love me---toll
The silver iterance!---only minding, Dear,
To love me also in silence with thy soul.

Sonnet XXXVIII: She writes of the first kiss, the second kiss, the third kiss. (The beauty of increasing passion between two lovers…)

First time he kissed me, he but only kissed
The fingers of this hand wherewith I write;………
………….The second passed in height
The frist, and sought the forehead, and half missed,
Half falling on the hair…………
The third upon my lips was folded down
In perfect, purple state; since when, indeed,
I have been proud and said, “My love, my own.”

Sonnet XXXIX, in its entirety: To be accepted for who she is, she expresses gratitude. (This is easily the most powerful sonnet, despite the popularity of ‘how do I love thee, let me count the ways’. There is not a single person who does not desire to be accepted for who he/she is. To have found that lover/mate/partner in life is a treasure that ought to be celebrated.)

Because thou hast the power and own’st the grace
To look through and behind this mask of me,
(Against which, years have beat thus blanchingly
With their rains,) and behold my soul’s true face,
The dim and weary witness of life’s race, -
Because thou hast the faith and love to see,
Through that same soul’s distracting lethargy,
The patient angel waiting for a place
In the new Heavens, - because nor sin nor woe,
Nor God’s infliction, nor death’s neighborhood,
Nor all which other’s viewing, turn to go,
Nor all which makes me tired of all, self-viewed, -
Nothing repels thee … Dearest, teach me so
To pour gratitude, as thou dost, good!

Sonnet XLII: She starts a new future, gladly. (Such a powerful conviction and will to know this is what she wants, especially in light that her father has disowned her and her family has abandoned her due to her marriage.)

My future will not copy fair my past---
I wrote that once; and thinking at my side
My ministering life………
I seek no copy now of life’s first half:
Leave here the pages with long musing curled,
And write me new my future’s epigraph,
New angel mine, unhoped for in the world!

Sonnet XLIII, in its entirety: The most famous – to have love that is complete, free, pure, passionate, and also enduring even after death.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, --- I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! ---and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death. ( )
1 vote varwenea | Jul 27, 2012 |
At the outset I was a little worried “Sonnets from the Portuguese” may be nothing but stuffy, out-of-date Victorian poetry; I knew little more about Browning than the oft-quoted lines “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways?” which has always sounded a bit trite and cliché.

Boy was I wrong to think that. This book may contain the purest and most intimate expression of love I’ve ever read.

Elizabeth Barrett was nearly 39 when fellow poet Robert Browning first wrote to her. He expressed adoration for her and her poetry at a point in her life when she had all but given up on the possibility of love. The sonnets start from those first feelings and then span a spectrum of emotions to a love which has been fully realized. Elizabeth was six years older than Robert and an invalid, spending most of her time in her room and seeing few people outside of her family. The sonnets reveal her doubt that she was worthy of him, how she considered herself damaged, and how she believed she could not adequately return his love. They paint a picture of Robert as very supportive and nurturing, but she occasionally doubted his love or worried it might be transient, and needed reassurance. Ultimately love prevailed, both in the sonnets and in real life. :)

The Brownings married in secret a year and a half after their first correspondence, eloped to Italy, and lived in happiness for fifteen years. She gave the poems to Robert in 1849, at age 43, and they were not originally intended for publication. This adds to their power: they are deeply personal, beautiful, and ring of truth. This particular edition is also very nicely put together, containing a handful of illustrations and a nice introduction. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Quotes:
On her skepticism:
“When we first met and loved, I did not build
Upon the event with marble. Could it mean
To last, a love set pendulous between
Sorrow and sorrow? Nay, I rather thrilled,
Distrusting every light that seemed to gild
The onward path, and feared to over-lean
A finger even. …”

The desire for his love to be permanent:
“If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love’s sake only. Do not say
‘I love her for her smile – her look – her way
Of speaking gently, - for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day’ –
For these things in themselves, Beloved, may
Be changed, or change for thee, - and love,
so wrought.
May be unwrought so. Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity’s wiping my cheeks dry, -
A creature might forget to weep, who bore
They comfort long, and lose they love thereby!
But love me for love’s sake, that evermore
Thou may’st love on, through love’s eternity.”

Her doubt:
“Beloved, I amid the darkness greeted
By a doubtful spirit-voice, in that doubt’s pain
Cry, ‘Speak once more – thou lovest!’ Who can fear
Too many stars, though each in heaven shall roll,
Too many flowers, though each shall crown the year?
Say thou dost love me, love me, love me – toll
The silver iterance! - only minding, Dear,
To love me also in silence with thy soul.”

Again:
“I see thine image through my tears tonight,
And yet today I saw thee smiling. How
Refer the cause? – Beloved, is it thou
Or I, who makes me sad?...

Beloved, dost thou love? or did I see all
The glory as I dreamed, and fainted when
Too vehement light dilated my ideal,
For my soul’s eyes? Will that light come again,
As now these tears come – falling hot and real?”

Needing reassurance:
“…Ah, keep near and close,
Thou dove-like help! and, when my fears would rise,
With thy broad heart serenely interpose:
Brood down with thy divine sufficiencies
These thoughts which tremble when bereft of those,
Like callow birds left desert to the skies.”

I love the innocence and purity of their love. She sends him a lock of her hair, and then treasures the lock he returns:
“…And lay the gift where nothing hindereth;
Here on my heart, as on thy brow, to lack
No natural heat till mine grows cold in death.”

She treasures his letters:
“My letters! All dead paper, mute and white!
And yet they seem alive and quivering
Against my tremulous hands which loose the string
And let them drop down on my knee tonight.
This said, - he wished to have me in his sight
Once, as a friend: this fixed a day in Spring
To come and touch my hand .. a simple thing,
Yet I wept for it! - this … the paper’s light …
Said Dear, I love thee; and I sank and quailed
As if God’s future thundered on my past.
This said, I am thine – and so its ink has paled
With lying at my heart that beat too fast.
And this … O Love, thy words have ill availed
If, what this said, I dared repeat at last!”

And the delight of kissing innocently, and with a treasured progression because it is out of love:
“First time he kissed me, he but only kissed
The fingers of this hand wherewith I write;
And ever since, it grew more clean and white,…”

The realization she is difficult to love:
“Alas, I have grieved so I am hard to love.
Yet love me – wilt thou? Open thine heart wide,
And fold within, the wet wings of thy dove.”

On being accepted for who she is:
“Because thou hast the power and own’st the grace
To look through and behind this mask of me,
(Against which, years have beat thus blenchingly
With their rains,) and behold my soul’s true face,
The dim and weary witness of life’s race, -
Because thou hast the faith and love to see,
Through that same soul’s distracting lethargy,
The patient angel waiting for a place
In the new Heavens, - because nor sin nor woe,
Nor God’s infliction, nor death’s neighborhood,
Nor all which other’s viewing, turn to go,
Nor all which makes me tired of all, self-viewed, -
Nothing repels thee … Dearest, teach me so
To pour gratitude, as thou dost, good!”

On starting a new life, hitherto unforeseen, in middle age:
“I seek no copy now of life’s first half:
Leave here the pages with long musing uncurled,
And write me new my future’s epigraph,
New angel mine, unhoped for in the world!”

Lastly, on love which is complete, free, pure and yet passionate, from the most famous of the sonnets:
“I love freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old grief’s, and with my childhood’s faith.” ( )
3 vote gbill | Apr 12, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (73 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Elizabeth Barrett Browningprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dean, ChristopherCalligraphersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Duncan, J.A.Calligraphersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mersand, JosephNotessecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rilke, Rainer MariaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 031274501X, Hardcover)

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was a prolific writer and reviewer in the Victorian period, and in her lifetime, her reputation as a poet was at least as great as that of her husband, poet Robert Browning. Some of her poetry has been noted in recent years for strong feminist themes, but the poems for which Elizabeth Barrett Browning is undoubtedly best know are Sonnets from the Portuguese.

Written for Robert Browning, who had affectionately nicknamed her his "little Portuguese," the sequence is a celebration of marriage, and of one of the most famous romances of the nineteenth century. Recognized for their Victorian tradition and discipline, these are some of the most passionate and memorable love poems in the English language. There are forty-four poems in the collection, including the very beautiful sonnet, "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways."

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:26:44 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Forty-four poems examine the depth and complexities of married love and shares a wife's feelings for her husband.

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