A Paradigm of Love

from Sonnets from the Portuguese
Elizabeth Barrett Browning


And therefore if to love can be desert,
I am not all unworthy. Cheeks as pale
As these you see, and trembling knees that fail
To bear the burden of a heavy heart,---
This weary minstrel-life that once was girt
To climb Aornus, and can scarce avail
To pipe now 'gainst the valley nightingale
A melancholy music,---why advert
To these things? O Belovèd, it is plain
I am not of thy worth nor for thy place!
And yet, because I love thee, I obtain
From that same love this vindicating grace,
To live on still in love, and yet in vain,---
To bless thee, yet renounce thee to thy face.
The one who is loved protests that she is unworthy of love--a barren desert--a weary wandering life  ("this minstrel life that once was girt//to climb Aornus. . ."  Aornus is a mountain fortress in India that was captured as Alexander the Great invaded.  So what was once bound for glory is barren, empty, and alone. 

However, the last five lines of the poem state propose an inversion Christian view of love and put Robert at the center of it.  "I am not of thy worth nor for thy place."  I am not worthy of the love invested in me. The classic Christian stand would be that because God love me, I am made worthy of the love He bestows.  But Elizabeth inverts this and gives to the power of love alone the "vindicating grace."  Because she loves she "earns the right" to continue one in love--but it is all in vain because by her love she blesses him, but because she cannot show her love outright, she renounces him.  Her heart pulls, but her circumstances push him away.

Read it again and see how all the parts work together to bring us to this point in the theme.  And then glance back over some of the others and see how they all build toward this point and from this point on build toward the climax that spans sonnets 42-44.


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