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.
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.
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.
- 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.
The most famous poem in this collection, with one of the most well-known opening lines in English poetry , is sonnet 43:
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.
- ↑ Glen Everett, "The Life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning," The Victorian Web, Web, Sep. 19, 2011.
- ↑ 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.
- Audio / video
- A Different Slant of Light: The Art and Life of Adelaide Hanscom Leeson: The Sonnets from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, a photo-illustration of The Sonnets from the Portuguese, includes select photo-illustrations.
- Sonnets from the Portuguese at the British Literary Wiki
- This page uses Creative Commons licensed text from the British Literary Wiki. The original article is at "Sonnets from the Portuguese"