Sonnets from the Portuguese

- By Elizabeth Barrett Browning
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Elizabeth Barrett Browning (née Moulton-Barrett; /ˈbraʊnɪŋ/; 6 March 1806 – 29 June 1861) was an English poet of the Victorian era, popular in Britain and the United States during her lifetime. Born in County Durham, the eldest of 11 children, Elizabeth Barrett wrote poetry from the age of eleven. Her mother's collection of her poems forms one of the largest extant collections of juvenilia by any English writer. At 15 she became ill, suffering intense head and spinal pain for the rest of her life. Later in life she also developed lung problems, possibly tuberculosis. She took laudanum for the pain from an early age, which is likely to have contributed to her frail health.
I thought once how Theocritus had sung Of the sweet years, the dear and wished-for years, Who each one in a gracious hand appears To bear a gift for mortals, old or young: And, as I mused it in his antique tongue, I saw, in gradual vision through my tears, The sweet, sad years, the melancholy years, Those of my own life, who by turns had flung A shadow across me. Straightway I was 'ware, So weeping, how a mystic Shape did move Behind me, and drew me backward by the hair; And a voice said in mastery, while I strove,- "Guess now who holds thee!"-"Death," I said, But, there, The silver answer rang, "Not Death, but Love."
But only three in all God's universe Have heard this word thou hast said,-Himself, beside Thee speaking, and me listening! and replied One of us . . . that was God, . . . and laid the curse So darkly on my eyelids, as to amerce My sight from seeing thee,-that if I had died, The death-weights, placed there, would have signified Less absolute exclusion. "Nay" is worse From God than from all others, O my friend! Men could not part us with their worldly jars, Nor the seas change us, nor the tempests bend; Our hands would touch for all the mountain-bars: And, heaven being rolled between us at the end, We should but vow the faster for the stars.
Unlike are we, unlike, O princely Heart! Unlike our uses and our destinies. Our ministering two angels look surprise On one another, as they strike athwart Their wings in passing. Thou, bethink thee, art A guest for queens to social pageantries, With gages from a hundred brighter eyes Than tears even can make mine, to play thy part Of chief musician. What hast thou to do With looking from the lattice-lights at me, A poor, tired, wandering singer, singing through The dark, and leaning up a cypress tree? The chrism is on thine head,-on mine, the dew,- And Death must dig the level where these agree.
Thou hast thy calling to some palace-floor, Most gracious singer of high poems! where The dancers will break footing, from the care Of watching up thy pregnant lips for more. And dost thou lift this house's latch too poor For hand of thine? and canst thou think and bear To let thy music drop here unaware In folds of golden fulness at my door? Look up and see the casement broken in, The bats and owlets builders in the roof! My cricket chirps against thy mandolin. Hush, call no echo up in further proof Of desolation! there's a voice within That weeps . . . as thou must sing . . . alone, aloof.
I lift my heavy heart up solemnly, As once Electra her sepulchral urn, And, looking in thine eyes, I over-turn The ashes at thy feet. Behold and see What a great heap of grief lay hid in me, And how the red wild sparkles dimly burn Through the ashen greyness. If thy foot in scorn Could tread them out to darkness utterly, It might be well perhaps. But if instead Thou wait beside me for the wind to blow The grey dust up, . . . those laurels on thine head, O my Belovëd, will not shield thee so, That none of all the fires shall scorch and shred The hair beneath. Stand further off then! go!
Go from me. Yet I feel that I shall stand Henceforward in thy shadow. Nevermore Alone upon the threshold of my door Of individual life, I shall command The uses of my soul, nor lift my hand Serenely in the sunshine as before, Without the sense of that which I forbore- Thy touch upon the palm. The widest land Doom takes to part us, leaves thy heart in mine With pulses that beat double. What I do And what I dream include thee, as the wine Must taste of its own grapes. And when I sue God for myself, He hears that name of thine, And sees within my eyes the tears of two.
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, as they stole Betwixt me and the dreadful outer brink Of obvious death, where I, who thought to sink, Was caught up into love, and taught the whole Of life in a new rhythm. The cup of dole God gave for baptism, I am fain to drink, And praise its sweetness, Sweet, with thee anear. The names of country, heaven, are changed away For where thou art or shalt be, there or here; And this . . . this lute and song . . . loved yesterday, (The singing angels know) are only dear Because thy name moves right in what they say.
What can I give thee back, O liberal And princely giver, who hast brought the gold And purple of thine heart, unstained, untold, And laid them on the outside of the wall For such as I to take or leave withal, In unexpected largesse? am I cold, Ungrateful, that for these most manifold High gifts, I render nothing back at all? Not so; not cold,-but very poor instead. Ask God who knows. For frequent tears have run The colours from my life, and left so dead And pale a stuff, it were not fitly done To give the same as pillow to thy head. Go farther! let it serve to trample on.

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Word Lists:

Largesse : generosity in bestowing money or gifts upon others

Ashen : of the pale gray color of ash

Sepulchral : relating to a tomb or interment

Athwart : from side to side of; across

Urn : a tall, rounded vase with a base, and often a stem, especially one used for storing the ashes of a cremated person.

Gage : a valued object deposited as a guarantee of good faith.

Lute : a plucked stringed instrument with a long neck bearing frets and a rounded body with a flat front that is shaped like a halved egg.

Latch : a metal bar with a catch and lever used for fastening a door or gate.

Manifold : many and various

Unaware : having no knowledge of a situation or fact


Additional Information:

Rating: B

Words: 932

Unique Words : 455

Sentences : 50

Reading Time : 4:08

Noun : 269

Conjunction : 99

Adverb : 52

Interjection : 3

Adjective : 81

Pronoun : 120

Verb : 115

Preposition : 112

Letter Count : 3,758

Sentiment : Positive

Tone : Conversational

Difficult Words : 204

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