Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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Compare the speaker and her beloved in Sonnet 16 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. How do the poem’s language and images affect your understanding of its two main figures? What is the central theme expressed in this work?

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This poem seems to be a statement between a lover and her beloved. However, much in the poem might remind a reader of the type of imagery Donne uses in his Holy Sonnets, such as "Batter My Heart, Three Person'd God."

Barrett Browning uses violent imagery, in which the speaker beckons the beloved to overpower her, as a warrior would a conquest. She abases herself to the lover as one would a conquering ruler, a king who has vanquished the speaker.

Should the beloved accept the speaker's subjugation, the merging of identities will erase these power dynamics in a blending of hearts:

my heart shall grow
Too close against thine heart henceforth to know
How it shook when alone

The final lines do offer a slight shift or resolution.

If thou invite me forth,
I rise above abasement at the word.
Make thy love larger to enlarge my worth.

Here, the beloved's expanding love will elevate the speaker. Like Donne's metaphysical conceits, Barrett Browning indulges in shocking metaphors to describe the overpowering love she finds in the beloved and her inability to resist its claim on her.

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