Elizabeth Barrett Browning
1806 Born lived, during early years at Hope End, Herefordshire, in large, picturesque house with Moorish windows; recollections of her happy childhood are echoed in Little Ellie . Was precocious; at eight could read Home in Greek.
1820 Father printed Battle of Marathonm one of her early poems. When she was fifteen, in trying to saddle her pony, she was injured and became an invalid for many years.
1846 Married Robert Browning, contrarty to the wishes of her father who regarded her as a confirmed invalid; in the following year, settled in Florence in the Casa Guidi. In 1849, their son was born.
1850 Published Sonnets from the Portuguese which had been written before her marriage; "Portuguese" was a pet name which Browning had given her.
1861 Died in Florence.
SONNETS FROM THE PORTUGUESE
I thought once how Theocritus had sung
Of the sweet years, the dear and wished-for years,
Who each one in a grqacious hadn appears
To bear a gift for mortals, old or young:
And, as I mused it in his antique tongue,
I saw, in gradual vision through my tears,
The sweet, sad years, the melancholy years,
Those of my own life, who by turns had flung
A shadow across me. 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.".
Can it be right to give what I can give?
To let thee sit beneath the fall of tears
As salt as mine, and hear the sighing years
Re-sighing on my lips renunciative
Through those infrequent smiles which fail to live
For all they adjurations? O my fears,
That this can scarce be right! We are not peers,
So to be lovers; and I own, and grieve
That givers of such gifts of mine are, must
Be counted with the ungenerous. Out, alas!
I will not soil they purple with my dust,
Nor breathe my poison on thy Venice-glass,
Nor' give thee any love--which were unjust.
Beloved, I only love thee! let it pass.
Yet, love, mere, love, is beautiful indeed
And worthy of acceptation. Fire is bright,
Let temple burn, or glas' an equal light
Leaps in the flame from cedar-plank or weed:
And love is fire. And when I say at need
I love thee...mark!...I love thee... in thy sight
I stand transfigured, glorified aright,
With conscience of the new rays that proceed
Out of my face toward thine. There's nothing low
In love, when love the lowest: meanest creatures
Who love God, God accepts while loving so.
And what I feel, across the inferior features
Of what I am, doth flash itself, and show
How that great work of Love enhances Nature's.
And therefore if no love can be desert,
I am not all unworthy. Cheeks as pale
As these you see, and trembling knees that fail
To bear the burden of a heavy heart,--
This weary minstrel-life that once was girt
To climb Aaornus, and can scarce avail
To pipe now 'gainst the valley nightingale
A melancholy, music,--why advert
To these things? O Beloved', it is plain
I am not of thy worth nor for thy place!
And yet, because I love thee, I obtain
From that same love this vindicating grace,
To live on still in love, and yet in vain,--
To bless thee, yet renounce thee to thy face.
I need this very love which is my boast,
And which when rising up from breast to brow,
Doth crown me with a ruby large enow
To draw men's eyes and prove the inner cost,--
This love even, all my worth, to be the uttermost,
I should not love withal, unless that thou
Hadst set me an example, shown me how,
When first thine earnest eyes with mine were crossed,
And love called love. And thus, I cannot speak
Of love even, as a good thing of my own:
Thy soul hath snatched up mine all faint and weak,
And placed it by thee on a golden throne,--
And that I love (O soul, we must be meek!)
Is by thee only, whom I love alone
And wilt thou have me fashion into speech
The love I bear thee, finding words enough,
And hold the torch out, while the winds are rough,
Between our faces, to cast light on each?--
I drop it at thy feet. I cannot teach
My hand to hold my spirit so far off
From myself-me-that I should bring thee proof
In words, of love hid in me out of reach.
Nay, let the silenve of my womanhood,
Commend my woman-love to thy belief,--
Seeing that I stand unwon, however wooed,
And rend the garment of my life, in breif,
By a most dauntless, voiceless fortitude,
Lest one touch of this heart convey it's grief.
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
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
But love me for love's sake, that evermore.
Thou mayst love on, through love's eternity.
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
Come thes fresh Spring in all her green completed.
Beloved, I, amid the darkness greeted
By a doubtful spirit-voice, in the doubt's pain
Cry, "Speak once more--thou lovest!" Who can fear
Too many stars, though ech in heaven shall roll,
Too many floers, 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.
When our two souls stand up erect and strong,
Face to face, silent, drawing nigh and nigher,
Until the lengthening wings break into fire
At either curved point,--what bitter wrong
Can the earth do to us, that we should not long
Be here contented? Think. In mounting higher,
The angels would press on us and aspire
To drop some golden orb of perfect song
Into our deep, dear silence. Let us stay
Rather on earth, Beloved,--where the unfit
Contratious moods of men recoil away
And isolate pure spirits, and permit
A place to stand and love in for a day,
With darkness and the death-hour rounding it.
First time he kissed me, he but only kissed
The fingers of this hand wherewith I write;
And ever sine, it grew more clean and white,
Slow to world-greetings, quick with its "Oh, list,"
When the angels speak. A ring of amethyst
I could not wear here, plainer to my sight,
Than that first kiss. The second passed in height
The first, and sought the forehead, and half missed
Half falling on the hair. O beyond meed!
That was the chrism of love, which love's own crown
With sanctifying sweetness, did precede.
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".
(This one I think is the most popular and the most
loved of Ms. Browning's, and a personal favorite)
How do I love thee? Let me count thy ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Bring 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.