Sonnets from the Portuguese

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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Based on Sonnets from the Portuguese, did Robert Browning truly love Elizabeth Barrett Browning for the right reasons?

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Based on Sonnets from the Portuguese, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning truly loved each other for the right reasons, as their love was natural and not superficial. 

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Sonnets from the Portuguese is a collection of forty-four love sonnets written by English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, first published in 1850. These poems are alleged to be personal poems which reflect the poet’s feelings towards her husband, Robert Browning.

In Sonnet 14 of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese, she discusses what she perceives as the wrong reasons to love someone:

If thou must love me, let it be for nought

Except for love's sake only. Do not say

I love her for her smile ... her look ... her way

Of speaking gently, ... for a trick of thought

That falls in well with mine, and certes brought

A sense of pleasant ease on such a day'—

Here, it is clear that Elizabeth Barrett Browning wishes her lover to love her for, simply, love’s own sake. She asserts that there are consequences to loving someone for the wrong reasons; if the reasons themselves are fleeting and superficial, so will the love borne out of them be.

This is in addition to Sonnet 43, one of the most famous sonnets from Sonnets from the Portuguese, where Elizabeth Barrett Browning discusses how she loves her husband:

I love thee to the level of every day’s

Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

I love thee freely, as men strive for right;

I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.

Here, the poet’s discussion of love is more descriptive, as she asserts how her love is a pure and natural thingas opposed to the superficial love she warns against in Sonnet 14.

The love affair of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning is one of the most well-renowned in literary history. Critics claim that Browning had reinvigorated Elizabeth’s poetry; in fact, she produced the best works of her lifeSonnets from the Portuguese, Aurora Leigh, and Men and Womenafter having met Browning in 1845. It is within reason, therefore, to assume that Robert Browning truly loved Elizabeth for all the right reasons. The two shared a strong, loving, and intimate bondup until Elizabeth’s death in June 1861, where she died in Browning’s arms.

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