Sonnets from the Portuguese "God's Gifts Put Man's Best Dreams To Shame"
by Elizabeth Barrett Moulton

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"God's Gifts Put Man's Best Dreams To Shame"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

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Context: In the octave of this autobiographical love sonnet, Mrs. Browning portrays her companions during her years of invalidism as being "visions" rather than actual people. She says that these images satisfied her for a while. But the "visions" began to fade as years passed, and her senses began to dull from lack of contact with people. Then her lover, Robert Browning, whom she married in 1846, came into her life "to be . . . what they seemed." He fulfilled the greatest dreams of her "soul" and gave even more soul satisfaction than her visions. Thus, she reflects, "God's gifts put man's best dreams to shame."

I lived with visions for my companyInstead of men and women, years ago,And found them gentle mates, nor thought to knowA sweeter music than they played to me.But soon their trailing purple was not freeOf this world's dust, their lutes did silent grow,And I myself grew faint and blind belowTheir vanishing eyes. Then THOU didst come–to be,Belovèd, what they seemed, Their shining fronts,Their songs, their splendors (better, yet the same,As river-water hallowed into fonts),Met in thee, and from out thee overcameMy soul with satisfaction of all wants:Because God's gifts put man's best dreams to shame.