Sonnets from the Portuguese

610px-Adelaide_Hanscom_Sonnets_from_the_Portuguese_004

Phoebe Anna Traquair’s illuminated copy of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese – Sonnet 30

The Sonnets of the Portuguese, published by Adelaide Hanscom Leeson.

Sonnets from the Portuguese, written ca. 1845–1846 and first published in 1850, is a collection of 44 love sonnets written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The poems largely chronicle the period leading up to her 1846 marriage to Robert Browning. The collection was acclaimed and popular in the poet’s lifetime and it remains so today.

Title

Barrett Browning was initially hesitant to publish the poems, feeling that they were too personal. However, her husband insisted that they were the best sequence of English-language sonnets since Shakespeare‘s time and urged her to publish them. To offer the couple some privacy, she decided that she might publish them as translations of foreign sonnets. Therefore, the collection was first to be known as Sonnets from the Bosnian, until Robert suggested that she change their imaginary original language to Portuguese, probably after her admiration for Camões and his nickname for her: “my little Portuguese.” The title is also a reference to Les Lettres portugaises.

Numbers 33 and 43

By far the most famous poems from this collection, with one of the most famous opening lines in the English language, are numbers 33 and 43:

Number 33

Yes, call me by my pet-name! let me hear
The name I used to run at, when a child,
From innocent play, and leave the cow-slips piled,
To glance up in some face that proved me dear
With the look of its eyes. I miss the clear
Fond voices which, being drawn and reconciled
Into the music of Heaven’s undefiled,
Call me no longer. Silence on the bier,
While I call God–call God!–So let thy mouth
Be heir to those who are now exanimate.
Gather the north flowers to complete the south,
And catch the early love up in the late.
Yes, call me by that name,–and I, in truth,
With the same heart, will answer and not wait.

Number 43

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
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