Mrs. Browning's Seventh

from Sonnets from the Portuguese
Elizabeth Barrett Browning


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 shall 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.

We continue the theme of the salvation that love has wrought.  This salvation makes itself known in a complete transformation of life--"The face of all the world is changed, I think. . . "  But it is a salvation with uncertainty.  The addition of "I think" at the end of this line is a particularly poignant reminder of the author's own uncertainty about herself and her experience.

But about the time of the transformation, there is little doubt "Since first I hear the footsteps of they soul//Move still, o still, beside me." Again the sheer artistry here of still movement--the paradox that is the unexpected salvation that leaps into mind is emphasized again.  Also, it is instructive to think long about how the word "still" might mean in this line.  Certainly there is the obvious meaning of "motionless," but there is also the meaning of still that means "as yet," the present door opening into the eternal. 

Then we move again--"as they stole//Betwixt me and the dreadful outer brink//Of obvious death, where I, who thought to sink. . ."  And again this thought is powerful.  These footsteps "stole" and the word again has the double intent of moving stealthily, but also the undertones of "took away from me."  Death had been desired, and these footsteps stole away that desire and transformed the world in such a way that the poet could see "the dreadful outer brink//Of obvious death."  Thus we are back to the first line-"the face of all the world is changed" indeed.

Perhaps it is better to leave the further reading of this very intricate and beautiful sonnet to the reader.  If you desire, I can approach the second half later.


Popular posts from this blog

Another Queen of Night

Structures--Ulysses and Mrs. Dalloway

Lewis Carroll and James Joyce