Discuss Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnet 35 as a romantic sonnet.

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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Romantic poetry was a reaction against the Enlightenment and Neoclassicism. Romanticism emphasized intuition and emotion over reason and rural landscapes over urban. One of the most notable Romantic poets, William Wordsworth, famously defined poetry as the “spontaneous overflow of emotion, reflected in tranquility.” Romantic poetry also often involved introspection, nostalgia and a skeptical optimism about the future. In Sonnet 35, the speaker is addressing her lover but also herself, so it is introspective. This poem is kind of like a monologue but one intended for a specific person. She is describing her emotions and anxiety about making a change.

She first asks her lover if he will give her all that she intends to give him. This includes the sacrifice of leaving her home. She is asking for reassurance that she will not miss her home. She has a fear of leaving the past and what is familiar. She then mentions that she is in serious grief and this will make it harder to love her. Her grief and her anxiety about starting a new life have led her to conclude that the move she is contemplating is so bold that she will need a deep and meaningful love in order to be able to cope with it. When she says, “Open thy heart wide,” she has decided to take this plunge. The argument of the poem builds up her anxiety, grief and love to a tipping point and then it overflows with her decision. It is an orchestrated and then spontaneous overflow of emotion.

Other romantic poets have defined romantic poetry in different and similar ways but this poem fits Wordsworth’s description very well.

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