Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s audience probably understood the author of her sonnets to be a woman and probably read them as an expression of love from a woman to a man. It is known that before Elizabeth Barrett met her future husband, her health was very delicate and that it improved after their marriage. This much biographical information is useful, for it heightens the experience of the poem, especially since the sonnet deals with the poet herself nearly having died; knowing that two real-life lovers stand behind the poem increases its emotional impact.
The poem opens with the poet declaring that she sees the world differently since she “heard the footsteps” of her lover’s “soul” beside her. Adding “I think” (line 1) to this declaration, however, suggests uncertainty as to the world-encompassing nature of the change. Her lover’s footsteps moved between her and death (lines 3-7). She implies that her lover somehow saved her from “obvious death” and, in addition, taught her “the whole/ Of life in a new rhythm” (lines 6-7). Her recovery has given her new life and enough spirit to be glad (“fain”) to drink the cup of sorrow or destiny (“dole”), which God “gave for baptism.” She would even praise its sweetness, she says, addressing her lover, with him nearby.
The first six-and-a-half lines of the poem explain Barrett Browning’s recovery from near death, a recovery of both life and spirit, because her lover...
(The entire section is 453 words.)