Sonnets from the Portuguese is a collection of forty-four love poems written to Robert Browning by Elizabeth Barrett Browning during their courtship. Apparently, they were not shown to him until three years after their marriage.
The poems are beautiful and lyrical verses that express love, fear, and doubts. Love came late into Miss Barrett’s life, and at a time she wasn’t expecting it.
She writes “Straightway I was ‘ware, So weeping, how a mystic Shape did move Behind me, and drew me backward by the hair; And a voice said in mastery, while I strove,— “Guess now who holds thee!”—”Death,” I said, But, there, The silver answer rang, “Not death, but Love.”.
She also writes “A heavy heart, Beloved, have I borne From year to year until I saw thy face, And sorrow after sorrow took the place Of all those natural joys as lightly worn As the stringed pearls, each lifted in its turn By a beating heart at dance-time.”
According to her biography, Miss Barrett had been suffering from poor health from a very young age. So what was naturally expected was death but in its stead love gives her a new life.
She writes “The face of all the world is changed, I think, Since first I heard the footsteps of thy soul Move still, oh, still, beside me, as they stole Betwixt me and the dreadful outer brink Of obvious death, where I, who thought to sink, Was caught up into love, and taught the whole Of life in a new rhythm.”
The verses are full of love and happiness, but they also have a share of doubts and fears.
She writes “I hear thy voice and vow, Perplexed, uncertain, since thou art out of sight, As he, in his swooning ears, the choir’s amen. Beloved, dost thou love? or did I see all The glory as I dreamed,”
“If I leave all for thee, wilt thou exchange And be all to me? Shall I never miss Home-talk and blessing and the common kiss That comes to each in turn, nor count it strange, When I look up, to drop on a new range Of walls and floors, another home than this?”
The poems come from within a loving heart. They are genuine and very personal. They are also very expressive. This is why it is easy to connect with her beautiful lines. I really enjoyed this personal collection of love poems. The fact that these poems rose from real feelings was alluring. I can go on quoting many lines, but that would turn the review into an analysis. 🙂 So I will stop here quoting only one of the most popular ones of the collection which shows how strong her love for Robert Browning was.
“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.”