Sonnets from the Portuguese

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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Last Updated on June 28, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 665

Sonnet 7

The face of all the world is changed, I think,
Since first I heard the footsteps of thy soul
Move still, oh, still, beside me

In these lines, the speaker ponders how all the world is a different place since she has grown close to her lover. In this recognition, she doesn't just note a simple connection but one in which she has heard "the footsteps of [his] soul." She knows his innermost desires, and she is part of that desire. This has reshaped the face of everything she once thought she knew and recognized.

Sonnet 11

And yet, because I love thee, I obtain
From that same love this vindicating grace
To live on still in love, and yet in vain,—
To bless thee, yet renounce thee to thy face.

A love that cannot be is a universal experience, and the narrator touches on that despair in these lines. While she pledges to "live on still in love," she realizes that she must reject the man she loves to his face. Likely, this reflects Moulton's own fears that her father would never approve of her union to Robert Browning, and she was right.

Sonnet 14

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"

The speaker does not want to be loved for things that are temporal. She realizes that physical attributes like a smile or a voice often attract lovers, and she later comments that all those attributes will fade. Instead, she wants to be remembered for more, for things that cannot be diminished with the passing of time. She also uses the phrase "If thou must love me" (italics added), indicating that this connection between the two of them is increasingly deep.

Sonnet 35

If I leave all for thee, wilt thou exchange
And be all to me? Shall I never miss
Home-talk and blessing and the common kiss
That comes to each in turn, nor count it strange

In these lines, the speaker narrates a feeling that many have when embarking on a new, serious relationship. Will she miss the life she's leaving behind? Will she miss the conversations she has at home and the "common kiss" (not the romantic ones) that will no longer be her ordinary life? And if she leaves it all behind for her lover, will he do the same? Will he fulfill all these roles for her? And will it ever cease to be strange? She has lots of questions as she begins this sonnet, and they are universal ones of a deep sense of security in what is already known—and the sense of apprehension about leaving that behind.

Sonnet 43

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.

In this sonnet, the speaker tries to explain how she can measure or quantify the depth of her love. In this image, she explains that when she feels that even God's "ideal grace" is out of her reach, and when she feels that the end of her "being" is approaching, the love she shares with her unnamed lover will carry her through. Her love is boundless, reaching as high and as deep as her "soul can reach." Theirs is an infinite love.

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life

The speaker has put her faith in things which have let her down in the past. These "saints" could point to religious saints, or they could point toward people in her life whom she once held in high regard but who eventually fell from grace. Regardless, she now directs all this love toward her lover and acknowledges that she will love him through the good and the bad for the rest of her life.

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