Thursday, July 31, 2008

Sonnets from the Portuguese--XXXV

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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,
When I look up, to drop on a new range
Of walls and floors, another home than this?
Nay, wilt thou fill that place by me which is
Filled by dead eyes too tender to know change
That's hardest. If to conquer love, has tried,
To conquer grief, tries more, as all things prove,
For grief indeed is love and grief beside.
Alas, I have grieved so I am hard to love.
Yet love me--wilt thou? Open thy heart wide,
And fold within, the wet wings of thy dove.

* * *

I just finished the letters of the Brownings today. Elizabeth Barrett wrote to her future husband, Robert Browning, every day, and sometimes twice. Her life was a sad one before her marriage: her father refused to allow his daughters to marry, and her own ill health kept her in her room almost constantly. When Robert was, after much pleading, allowed to meet her, he wrote her a letter declaring his love. She destroyed the letter and urged him never to speak to her of love again. But after a long correspondence, she finally did accept his love.

In this poem, she speaks of her fear of leaving her home and family to marry Robert. This was a very real fear--when she ran away from home to Italy with Robert, her father cast her off completely, returning her letters unopened.

Here Elizabeth expresses her hope that Robert will fill the empty place in her heart from her family. Since her mother, to whom she was close, had died some years before, she feels much of what she would have possessed in home-life is already gone. She hopes grief will be easier to conquer than love has been--since, try as she might, she has not been able to drive away love. Grief, however, may well be passing.

I am tempted to go on strike until I get more ballades--but I won't. I'll just warn you that time is running out on that contest!

No comments: