About Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) was an English poet of the Victorian era. She started writing poetry from the young age of 11. Her earliest collection is called juvenilia. She is most remembered for the poems “How Do I Love thee?” (Sonnet 43, 1845) and “Aurora Leigh” (1856).
Her poetry reflected her passion in politics and the spiritual. She has been described as honest and noble because she stood against social injustice, slavery, and child labour. She had a frail health and became dependent on laudanum and morphine. As a result, most critics of her work believe the drugs helped contributed to her vivid imagination and creative nature. Her relationship with her father was estranged when he disinherited her after her marriage to Robert Browning, another poet.
The Sonnets from the Portuguese and Aurora Leigh (an epic poem/novel) were both written after she met Browning. Publication of the Sonnets were personal and the poet was hesitant to publish them. Consequently, it was published as a translation of foreign sonnets. The name was a reflection of her husband’s nickname for her “My little Portuguese”. The sonnet contained 44 interlocking poems.
Two popular Poems from the sonnets
1. (Sonnet 33) Yes call Me By My Pet Name!
Yes, call me by my pet-name! let me hear
The name I used to run at, when a child,
From innocent play, and leave the cowslips piled,
To glance up in some face that proved me dear
With the look of its eyes. I miss the clear
Fond voices, which, being drawn and reconciled
Into the music of Heaven’s undefiled,
Call me no longer. Silence on the bier,
While I call God…call God!—So let thy mouth
Be heir to those who are now exanimate:
Gather the north flowers to complete the south,
And catch the early love up in the late!
Yes, call me by that name,—and I, in truth,
With the same heart, will answer, and not wait.
Sonnet XXXIII from Sonnets from the Portuguese, 1845 (Published 1850)
2. (Sonnet 43) How do I love thee?
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
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.
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.
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; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
Sonnet XLII from Sonnets from the Portuguese, 1845 (Published 1850)
To Flush, My Dog
LOVING friend, the gift of one,
Who, her own true faith, hath run,
Through thy lower nature ;
Be my benediction said
With my hand upon thy head,
Gentle fellow-creature !
Like a lady’s ringlets brown,
Flow thy silken ears adown
Either side demurely,
Of thy silver-suited breast
Shining out from all the rest
Of thy body purely.
Darkly brown thy body is,
Till the sunshine, striking this,
Alchemize its dulness, —
When the sleek curls manifold
Flash all over into gold,
With a burnished fulness.
Underneath my stroking hand,
Startled eyes of hazel bland
Kindling, growing larger, —
Up thou leapest with a spring,
Full of prank and curvetting,
Leaping like a charger.
Leap ! thy broad tail waves a light ;
Leap ! thy slender feet are bright,
Canopied in fringes.
Leap — those tasselled ears of thine
Flicker strangely, fair and fine,
Down their golden inches
Yet, my pretty sportive friend,
Little is ‘t to such an end
That I praise thy rareness !
Other dogs may be thy peers
Haply in these drooping ears,
And this glossy fairness.
But of thee it shall be said,
This dog watched beside a bed
Day and night unweary, —
Watched within a curtained room,
Where no sunbeam brake the gloom
Round the sick and dreary.
Roses, gathered for a vase,
In that chamber died apace,
Beam and breeze resigning —
This dog only, waited on,
Knowing that when light is gone,
Love remains for shining.
Other dogs in thymy dew
Tracked the hares and followed through
Sunny moor or meadow —
This dog only, crept and crept
Next a languid cheek that slept,
Sharing in the shadow.
Other dogs of loyal cheer
Bounded at the whistle clear,
Up the woodside hieing —
This dog only, watched in reach
Of a faintly uttered speech,
Or a louder sighing.
And if one or two quick tears
Dropped upon his glossy ears,
Or a sigh came double, —
Up he sprang in eager haste,
Fawning, fondling, breathing fast,
In a tender trouble.
And this dog was satisfied,
If a pale thin hand would glide,
Down his dewlaps sloping, —
Which he pushed his nose within,
After, — platforming his chin
On the palm left open.
This dog, if a friendly voice
Call him now to blyther choice
Than such chamber-keeping,
Come out ! ‘ praying from the door, —
Presseth backward as before,
Up against me leaping.
Therefore to this dog will I,
Tenderly not scornfully,
Render praise and favour !
With my hand upon his head,
Is my benediction said
Therefore, and for ever.
And because he loves me so,
Better than his kind will do
Often, man or woman,
Give I back more love again
Than dogs often take of men, —
Leaning from my Human.
Blessings on thee, dog of mine,
Pretty collars make thee fine,
Sugared milk make fat thee !
Pleasures wag on in thy tail —
Hands of gentle motion fail
Nevermore, to pat thee !
Downy pillow take thy head,
Silken coverlid bestead,
Sunshine help thy sleeping !
No fly ‘s buzzing wake thee up —
No man break thy purple cup,
Set for drinking deep in.
Whiskered cats arointed flee —
Sturdy stoppers keep from thee
Cologne distillations ;
Nuts lie in thy path for stones,
And thy feast-day macaroons
Turn to daily rations !
Mock I thee, in wishing weal ? —
Tears are in my eyes to feel
Thou art made so straightly,
Blessing needs must straighten too, —
Little canst thou joy or do,
Thou who lovest greatly.
Yet be blessed to the height
Of all good and all delight
Pervious to thy nature, —
Only loved beyond that line,
With a love that answers thine,
Loving fellow-creature !