Sonnets from the Portuguese

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Sonnets from the Portuguese is a beautifully written collection of forty-four love sonnets by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (née Moulton) that are widely regarded as some of the best-written pieces of poetry in the English language, rivaling Shakespeare's sonnets.

Her writing in these sonnets is effusive and elaborate in how deep is the love of her poems' speaker (generally considered to be Browning herself) for her lover. She very effectively uses metaphor, imagery, and religious imagery to relay her depth of emotion.

One of the first things that is evident and prominent in her sonnets is religious and supernatural imagery. She spends a great deal of time in these sonnets speaking about the afterlife, the actions of God and angels, and the tenants of scripture. In doing this, she ties the relationship and the love and devotion the lovers share to heaven, making it greater than this earth. It is common to hear in wedding ceremonies "until death do us part," but Browning takes it a step further by saying, that nothing in heaven or hell can separate the lovers. This takes the connection in the relationship from being a merely human and natural one to one that transcends time and space itself.

Another stylistic choice is the use of imagery to convey deep emotions. For instance, in Sonnet 6, the speaker states that if her lover departs, she will forever stand in his shadow. This imagery is present throughout the entire collection of sonnets and is used to effectively convey emotions that aren't easily expressed in words. Being bathed in shadows for eternity is a much more powerful sentiment than simply being sad or feeling alone. It portrays a state of desolation, isolation, and complete brokenness that could otherwise sound very clumsy to express. One of Browning's clear talents is being able to skillfully weave together these complex types of imagery and religious symbolism with the threads of love and emotion to create a beautifully written work of poetry.

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