Love's Excellences--The Sonnets X

from Sonnets from the Portuguese
Elizabeth Barrett Browning


Yet, love, mere love, is beautiful indeed
And worthy of acceptation. Fire is bright,
Let temple burn, or flax; and equal light
Leaps in the flame from cedar-plank or weed:
And love is fire. And when I say at need
I love thee ... mark! ... I love thee---in thy sight
I stand transfigured, glorified aright,
With conscience of the new rays that proceed
Out of my face toward thine. There's nothing low
In love, when love the lowest: meanest creatures
Who love God, God accepts while loving so.
And what I feel, across the inferior features
Of what I am, doth flash itself, and show
How that great work of Love enhances Nature's.

We continue to wander, slowly, through The Sonnets from the Portuguese.  And I would venture to guess that if you are the average reader, the pace at which we progress is probably just right--not too much poetry to have to deal with in a day.  But one a day (or less as it has been) seems a good pace.  And this one alone is worth a day.

While this works just fine as a straightforward love poem, there is so much loveliness here.  "Fire is bright, //Let temple burn [Robert] or flax [Elizabeth]."  The "equal light//Leaps in the flame from cedar-plank or weed."  If something burns, it burns, whether noble or low.  And love is the fire that ignites. The theme of the lover making the beloved worthy of that love is as old as the Song of Songs. "O love thee. . . mark!. . . I love thee--in thy sight//I stand transfigured, glorified aright. . ."  Because I love a worthy object, I am ennobled and perhaps brought close to being worthy of both loving and being loved.

"There's nothing low // In love when love the meanest. . ."  The least worthy being that exhibits love is exalted by that exhibition.  Love is not low no matter how lowly the one giving the love: "meanest creatures//Who love God, God accepts while loving so."  No matter how low, when love is shown, love is accepted and enhances the donor.  And so, Elizabeth is able to say that while I love, I am made better by being able to feel and show this to all.

Read it again and put it all together--witness an artist at work and see how nimbly she works her wonders.


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