Until my senior year of college, my impression of Elizabeth Barrett Browning was as follows: “She’s Robert Browning’s wife and she had ringlets and a dog, and she wrote that one poem I don’t like very much and had an awful father.” None of that is wrong, exactly, but it’s not quite right either.
Then I decided a little abruptly that in my last semester I wanted to do an independent study thesis on Christina Rossetti’s sonnet sequence, Monna Innominata. Since I like comparing works and since Rossetti was explicitly responding to Barrett Browning’s Sonnets to the Portuguese, I ended up doing the thesis on both. And I found out that I actually didn’t like Monna Innominata very much and loved Sonnets from the Portuguese.
What I see in Barrett Browning’s work is a kind of quiet tenacity that often looks like passivity but in fact is not–strength that does not need to announce itself. Moreover, the journey from despair to life and love that happens over the course of Sonnets is something I find very inspiring. So this week, I’ll be featuring five of my favorite sonnets from Sonnets from the Portuguese.
So here first is “XXI”:
Say over again, and yet once over again,
That thou dost love me. Though the word repeated
Should seem ‘a cuckoo song,’ as thou dost treat it,
Remember, never to the hill or plain,
Valley and wood, without her cuckoo-strain
Comes the fresh Spring in all her green completed.
Belovèd, 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.