Skip to content
Home » Unveiling the Beauty of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’: A Summary

Unveiling the Beauty of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’: A Summary

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’ is a collection of love poems that have captured the hearts of readers for over a century. This article will provide a summary of the beauty and significance of these sonnets, exploring the themes of love, faith, and the human experience that Browning masterfully weaves throughout her work. From the tender intimacy of “How Do I Love Thee?” to the passionate declaration of “I Love Thee to the Depth and Breadth and Height,” this summary will showcase the depth and complexity of Browning’s poetry and the enduring power of her words.

Background Information on Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was a prominent Victorian poet who lived from 1806 to 1861. Born in Durham, England, she was the eldest of twelve children and was raised in a wealthy family. Despite her privileged upbringing, Barrett Browning suffered from poor health throughout her life and was often confined to her room. It was during this time that she began writing poetry, and her work quickly gained recognition. In 1846, she published “Sonnets from the Portuguese,” a collection of love poems that were inspired by her relationship with her husband, Robert Browning. The collection is considered one of her greatest works and has been praised for its emotional depth and lyrical beauty. Today, Elizabeth Barrett Browning is remembered as one of the most important poets of the Victorian era, and her work continues to inspire readers around the world.

The Inspiration Behind ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese” is a collection of 44 sonnets that were written during her courtship with Robert Browning. The title of the collection is a reference to the nickname that Robert gave Elizabeth, “my little Portuguese,” due to her dark complexion. The sonnets were written between 1845 and 1846, and were published in 1850. The collection is considered one of the greatest love poems in the English language, and has inspired countless poets and writers over the years. The inspiration behind the sonnets is Elizabeth’s love for Robert, and her desire to express that love in a way that was both beautiful and meaningful. The sonnets are a testament to the power of love, and to the enduring nature of true love.

The Structure and Form of the Sonnets

The sonnets in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese” follow a strict structure and form. Each sonnet consists of fourteen lines, with a rhyme scheme of ABBA ABBA CDCDCD. This rhyme scheme is known as the Petrarchan sonnet, named after the Italian poet Petrarch who popularized it in the 14th century.

The first eight lines of each sonnet, known as the octave, present a problem or question, while the final six lines, known as the sestet, provide a resolution or answer. This structure allows Browning to explore complex emotions and ideas in a concise and structured manner.

In addition to the strict rhyme scheme and structure, Browning also employs iambic pentameter, a rhythmic pattern of ten syllables per line with emphasis on every other syllable. This creates a musicality and flow to the sonnets, enhancing their emotional impact.

Overall, the structure and form of the sonnets in “Sonnets from the Portuguese” contribute to their beauty and power, allowing Browning to express her love and devotion to her husband in a structured and poetic manner.

Sonnet 1: “I thought once how Theocritus had sung”

In Sonnet 1 of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese,” the speaker reflects on the power of poetry to capture the essence of love. The poem begins with a reference to the ancient Greek poet Theocritus, who is known for his pastoral poetry. The speaker muses on how Theocritus had sung of love in his own time, and wonders if his words still hold the same power today.

The sonnet then shifts to the speaker’s own experience of love, as she declares that her love for her beloved is greater than any love that has been sung of before. She describes her love as “strong as death,” and declares that it will endure even beyond the grave.

Overall, Sonnet 1 sets the stage for the rest of the sonnet sequence, as the speaker grapples with the power and limitations of language in expressing the depth of her love. Through her references to Theocritus and other poets, she acknowledges the long tradition of love poetry that has come before her, while also asserting the uniqueness of her own experience.

Sonnet 2: “But only three in all God’s universe”

Sonnet 2 of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese” is a beautiful and poignant piece of poetry that explores the idea of love and its place in the universe. The poem begins with the line “But only three in all God’s universe,” which immediately draws the reader in and sets the tone for the rest of the sonnet. From there, Browning goes on to describe the three types of love that exist in the world: the love between a man and a woman, the love between a mother and child, and the love between God and his creation.

Throughout the sonnet, Browning uses vivid imagery and powerful language to convey the depth and complexity of these different types of love. She describes the love between a man and a woman as “the love of true minds,” a love that is pure and unselfish. She then goes on to describe the love between a mother and child as “the love which is all in all,” a love that is unconditional and all-encompassing. Finally, she speaks of the love between God and his creation, which she describes as “the love of God towards his creatures.”

Overall, Sonnet 2 is a beautiful and moving piece of poetry that explores the many different facets of love and its place in the universe. Through her use of vivid imagery and powerful language, Elizabeth Barrett Browning is able to capture the essence of these different types of love and convey their importance in our lives. Whether you are a fan of poetry or simply appreciate beautiful writing, this sonnet is definitely worth a read.

Sonnet 3: “Unlike are we, unlike, O princely Heart!”

Sonnet 3 of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese” is a beautiful expression of the differences between the speaker and her beloved. The opening line, “Unlike are we, unlike, O princely Heart!” sets the tone for the rest of the poem, as the speaker goes on to describe the ways in which she and her beloved are different. Despite these differences, however, the speaker still longs for her beloved’s love and affection. This sonnet is a testament to the power of love to bridge even the widest gaps between people, and it is a beautiful example of Browning’s skill as a poet.

Sonnet 4: “Thou hast thy calling to some palace-floor”

In Sonnet 4, Elizabeth Barrett Browning addresses her beloved, telling him that he is destined for greatness and that he should not be content with a simple life. She compares him to a bird that is meant to soar high in the sky, not to be content with staying on the ground. The palace-floor that she refers to is a metaphor for a life of luxury and power, which she believes he is meant to have. This sonnet is a reflection of Browning’s own desire for a life of grandeur and her belief that her beloved is worthy of such a life. It is a beautiful expression of love and admiration, and it showcases Browning’s skill as a poet.

Sonnet 5: “I lift my heavy heart up solemnly”

Sonnet 5 of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese” is a poignant expression of the speaker’s heavy heart. The sonnet begins with the speaker lifting her heart up solemnly, as if it is a burden too heavy to bear. The use of the word “solemnly” suggests a sense of reverence and respect for the weight of her emotions. The speaker then goes on to describe her heart as “too heavy for the wings of vanity,” indicating that her feelings are too profound to be trivialized or dismissed.

Throughout the sonnet, the speaker grapples with the intensity of her emotions, acknowledging that they are both a source of pain and a testament to the depth of her love. She describes her heart as “aching with its fullness,” suggesting that her love is so overwhelming that it is almost unbearable. Despite this, the speaker remains steadfast in her devotion, declaring that she will continue to love even if it means enduring the pain of her heavy heart.

Overall, Sonnet 5 is a powerful expression of the complexities of love and the emotional toll it can take. Through her use of language and imagery, Barrett Browning captures the depth of the speaker’s feelings and the strength of her commitment to love.

Sonnet 6: “Go from me. Yet I feel that I shall stand”

Sonnet 6 of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese” is a poignant expression of the speaker’s conflicting emotions. The sonnet begins with the speaker urging her beloved to leave her, yet she admits that she will still feel his presence. The paradoxical nature of the speaker’s feelings is further emphasized in the lines “Yet, if thou wilt, / From all the depths of sin and sorrow, rise / To reach a purer air, meet my quick gaze, / Fixed on thee from the depths of Paradise.” Here, the speaker acknowledges her beloved’s flaws and the pain he has caused her, yet she still longs for him to rise above his faults and be with her in a pure and heavenly state. This sonnet is a beautiful example of Browning’s ability to capture the complexities of human emotion in her poetry.

Sonnet 7: “The face of all the world is changed, I think”

Sonnet 7 of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese” is a beautiful and poignant reflection on the transformative power of love. In this sonnet, the speaker describes how their perception of the world has changed since falling in love, noting that “the face of all the world is changed.” The speaker goes on to describe how even the most mundane things, like the sky and the trees, now seem imbued with a new beauty and significance. This sonnet is a testament to the transformative power of love, and to the way that it can change our perception of the world around us. It is a beautiful and moving piece of poetry, and one that is sure to resonate with anyone who has ever been in love.

Sonnet 8: “What can I give thee back, O liberal”

Sonnet 8 of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese” is a beautiful expression of love and gratitude. The speaker is overwhelmed by the generosity and kindness of their beloved and wonders what they can possibly give in return. The use of the word “liberal” in the opening line suggests that the beloved is not only generous with material possessions, but also with their love and affection. The speaker acknowledges that they cannot match this level of generosity, but promises to love their beloved with all their heart and soul. This sonnet is a testament to the power of love and the beauty of selflessness.

Sonnet 9: “Can it be right to give what I can give?”

Sonnet 9 of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese” is a contemplation on the nature of giving. The speaker questions whether it is right to give what they can give, or if they should hold back and give less. The sonnet explores the idea of selflessness and the fear of being taken advantage of. It is a poignant reflection on the complexities of human relationships and the struggle to balance one’s own needs with the needs of others. Through her masterful use of language and imagery, Browning captures the essence of the human experience and invites readers to reflect on their own relationships and the nature of giving.

Sonnet 10: “Yet, love, mere love, is beautiful indeed”

In Sonnet 10, Elizabeth Barrett Browning explores the beauty of love. She begins by acknowledging that love, in its purest form, is indeed beautiful. However, she also notes that love can be fleeting and temporary, and that it is often subject to change and uncertainty. Despite these challenges, Browning argues that love is still worth pursuing and cherishing. She suggests that even if love is not always perfect, it is still a powerful force that can bring joy and meaning to our lives. Ultimately, Sonnet 10 is a celebration of the beauty and complexity of love, and a reminder that it is a precious gift that should be treasured and nurtured.

The Themes and Motifs in ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’

The themes and motifs in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese” are varied and complex. One of the most prominent themes is love, which is explored in all its forms, from the initial stages of infatuation to the deep, enduring love that lasts a lifetime. Another important theme is the role of women in society, particularly in relation to men and marriage. Browning also touches on the themes of mortality, faith, and the power of language and poetry. Throughout the sonnets, there are several recurring motifs, including the use of nature imagery, references to classical mythology, and the idea of the poet as a creator and artist. Together, these themes and motifs create a rich and nuanced portrait of love and life, and showcase Browning’s skill as a poet and storyteller.

The Significance of ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’

‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’ is a collection of 44 sonnets written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The significance of this collection lies in its personal nature, as it was written during a time when Barrett Browning was falling in love with Robert Browning, who would later become her husband. The sonnets were originally written as a series of love letters to Browning, and were not intended for publication. However, after Browning convinced her to publish them, they became one of the most famous collections of love poetry in the English language. The sonnets are known for their emotional intensity, their use of religious imagery, and their exploration of the themes of love, faith, and mortality. They are also notable for their innovative use of the sonnet form, which Barrett Browning adapted to suit her own purposes. Overall, ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’ is a testament to the power of love and the enduring legacy of one of the greatest poets of the Victorian era.

The Legacy of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese” is a collection of 44 sonnets that were written during her courtship with Robert Browning. The sonnets were published in 1850 and are considered to be some of the most beautiful love poems ever written. The legacy of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and “Sonnets from the Portuguese” is one that has endured for over a century and continues to inspire poets and readers alike. The sonnets have been translated into numerous languages and have been adapted into various forms of art, including music and film. The themes of love, faith, and the power of the human spirit that are present in the sonnets continue to resonate with readers today. Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese” is a testament to the enduring power of love and the beauty of the written word.