Sonnet III

Again, I don't promise or threaten a daily dose of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, but I did want to get to this one because of an amusing and striking image.

from Sonnets from the Portuguese
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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.
 In the repertoire, a somewhat standard sonnet theme--"I am not worthy."  And here Ms. Browning emphasizes the strong differences between the two of them.  Robert, an up and coming poet, mingles with the august crowd--literati, glitterati, the figures and notables of his time-- whereas Elizabeth tends to be able to mingle with her family only.   What I liked and find remarkable and amusing here is the image of two stunned guardian angels colliding into one another at this unlikely meeting.  Surely there is and can be no more striking image for the unlikeliness of a proposed match.  And the last image which suggests a more successful Orpheus raising Elizabeth from her death-in-life is also stunning and lovely.

Do you begin to see what I mean when I spoke of the strength of these poems? Not the maudlin or mawkish things one might have concluded from a single line too often used and used out of context, no indeed, these are strong poems, with strong images, richly laced together and brought to a head.  These poems are indeed a "twined crown" that made eternal a moment in time and gave us a rich panoply of images from which to draw our metaphors for unlikely and nevertheless deep love.


  1. Thanks for posting and commenting on these. I, like so many others I suspect, have only read THE sonnet from the cycle, so I appreciate the posting. I have never really looked into either Browning or Barrett, so this is very helpful and informative.

  2. Dear Fred,

    Thank you very much. I discovered them again and saw with new eyes and wanted to share--I'm glad that the sharing has been useful.




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