Sonnets from the Portuguese is Barrett Browning’s most enduring and popular poem, although it has been undervalued by critics. The sequence of sonnets was new and experimental when it was written. It adopted a poetic form and subject matter reserved for the expression of male amatory experience and depicted modern life and domestic events in a traditionally high literary form used to express the pursuit of ideal love and the poet’s failure to translate it into the actual world. Instead, Barrett Browning replaced the male poetic voice with her own and related the feelings that she experienced during Robert Browning’s courtship. The sonnets bring together the voice of a woman and the voice of the poet and make them one. They not only relate a courtship between a man and a woman but also relate the transformation of a woman into a poet. They authorize the woman to be a poet and ponder the problem of being both the object and the subject of love and poetic thought.
For a full understanding of the poems, it must be remembered that they are a sequence that forms a complete work describing a process that ends with achieved love and realized poetic power. Helen Cooper, in Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Woman and Artist (1988), divides the poems into three groups: woman seen as the object of a man’s desire and love (Sonnets 1 and 2), the woman struggling to free herself from being objectified and maintaining her own subjectivity (Sonnets 3...
(The entire section is 522 words.)