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Sonnets from portuguese

Title page of Sonnets from the Portuguese. London: George Harrap, 1916. Courtesy Luminous-Lint.

Sonnets from the Portuguese


 1 I thought once how Theocritus had sung
 2 But only three in all God's universe
 3 Unlike are we, unlike, O princely Heart!
 4 Thou hast thy calling to some palace-floor
 5 I lift my heavy heart up solemnly
 6 Go from me. Yet I feel that I shall stand
 7 The face of all the world is changed, I think
 8 What can I give thee back, O liberal
 9 Can it be right to give what I can give?
 10 Yet, love, mere love, is beautiful indeed
 11 And therefore if to love can be desert
 12 Indeed this very love which is my boast
 13 And wilt thou have me fashion into speech
 14 If thou must love me, let it be for nought
 15 Accuse me not, beseech thee, that I wear
 16 And yet, because thou overcomest so
 17 My poet, thou canst touch on all the notes
 18 I never gave a lock of hair away
 19 The soul's Rialto hath its merchandize
 20 Beloved, my Beloved, when I think
 21 Say over again, and yet once over again
 22 When our two souls stand up erect and strong
 23 Is it indeed so? If I lay here dead
 24 Let the world's sharpness like a clasping knife
 25 A heavy heart, Beloved, have I borne
 26 I lived with visions for my company
 27 My own Beloved, who hast lifted me
 28 My letters! all dead paper, mute and white!
 29 I think of thee! -- my thoughts do twine and bud
 30 I see thine image through my tears to-night
 31 Thou comest! all is said without a word
 32 The first time that the sun rose on thine oath
 33 Yes, call me by my pet-name! let me hear
 34 With the same heart, I said, I'll answer thee
 35 If I leave all for thee, wilt thou exchange
 36 When we met first and loved, I did not build
 37 Pardon, oh, pardon, that my soul should make
 38 First time he kissed me, he but only kissed
 39 Because thou hast the power and own'st
      the grace
 40 Oh, yes! they love through all this world of ours!
 41 I thank all who have loved me in their hearts
 42 My future will not copy fair my past
 43 How do I love thee? Let me count the ways
 44 Beloved, thou hast brought me many flowers

Sonnets from the Portuguese is a sonnet sequence by English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, first published in 1850. The collection was acclaimed and popular in the poet's lifetime and remains so today.

HistoryEdit

Sonnets from the Portuguese was written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning between May 1845 (when she met her future husband, Robert Browning) and September 1846 (when the couple were married).

Originally, she did not plan to publish the collection due to their extremely personal content, but changed her mind after Robert Browning insisted, saying they were perhaps the best sequence of English-written sonnets since Shakespeare's time. In order to maintain some privacy, Browning disguised the title in hopes people would believe they were translations from foreign sonnets. According to Wikipedia, the collection was originally called Sonnets from the Bosnian, but was changed to Portuguese after Robert's suggestion, perhaps stemming from his nick-name for Elizabeth, "my little Portuguese."

The sonnets were first published in 1850, in the second edition of Barrett Browning's Poems.[1]

OverviewEdit

The series is a collection of 44 love sonnets written to, and about her relationship with, Robert Browning.

The content and tone of the sonnets change as her relationship with Browning relationship progressed. The earlier sonnets express her doubt and fear about entering into the relationship with. As their relationship progressed Barrett Browning was able to overcome her anxieties, and eventually, the sequence took a more accepting and passionate tone.

The sonnets are some of the most famous love poems of the Victorian era or any other period. William Thomas Arnold, who wrote the introduction to Barrett's work for The English Poets, said of them:

Her Sonnets are among the very best work she has produced. Perhaps indeed her greatest poetic success is to be found in the Sonnets from the Portuguese,— sonnets, it need hardly be said, which are not "from the Portuguese" at all, but are the faintly disguised presentment of the writer’s most intimate experience. Into the "sonnet’s narrow room" she has poured the full flood of her profoundest thought, and yet the minuteness and exquisiteness of the mould has at the same time compelled a rigorous pruning alike of superabundant imagery and of harmonious verbosity, which has had the happiest results. She is one of the greatest sonnet writers in our language, worthy for this at all events to be ranked side by side with Milton and with Wordsworth.[2]

Sonnet 43Edit

The most famous poem in this collection, with one of the most well-known opening lines in English poetry , is sonnet 43:

XLIIIEdit

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 candlelight.
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.


The opening line of "Sonnet 43" has become so deeply embedded in our culture that even people who have never read the poem know it. However, Barret Browning's sonnets are so much more than just this one line. They are a work of passion, doubt, fear, and most importantly, love.

References Edit

  1. Glen Everett, "The Life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning," The Victorian Web, Web, Sep. 19, 2011.
  2. from William Thomas Arnold, "Critical Introduction: Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)," The English Poets: Selections with critical introductions (edited by Thomas Humphry Ward). New York & London: Macmillan, 1880-1918. Web, Jan. 5, 2016.

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