Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. IV. Wordsworth to Rossetti
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. IV. The Nineteenth Century: Wordsworth to Rossetti
 
Extracts from Sonnets from the Portuguese
By Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)
 
I.
I THOUGHT once how Theocritus had sung
Of the sweet years, the dear and wished for years,
Who each one in a gracious hand appears
To bear a gift for mortals, old or young:
And, as I mused it in his antique tongue,        5
I saw, in gradual vision through my tears,
The sweet, sad years, the melancholy years,—
Those of my own life, who by turns had flung
A shadow across me. Straightway I was ’ware,
So weeping, how a mystic Shape did move        10
Behind me, and drew me backward by the hair;
And a voice said in mastery while I strove,—
‘Guess now who holds thee?’—‘Death,’ I said. But, there
The silver answer rang—‘Not Death, but Love.’
 
IV.
Thou hast thy calling to some palace floor,
        15
Most gracious singer of high poems! where
The dancers will break footing from the care
Of watching up thy pregnant lips for more.
And dost thou lift this house’s latch too poor
For hand of thine? and canst thou think and bear        20
To let thy music drop here unaware
In folds of golden fulness at my door?
Look up and see the casement broken in,
The bats and owlets builders in the roof!
My cricket chirps against thy mandolin.        25
Hush! call no echo up in further proof
Of desolation! there ’s a voice within
That weeps—as thou must sing—alone, aloof.
 
VI.
Go from me. Yet I feel that I shall stand
Henceforward in thy shadow. Nevermore        30
Alone upon the threshold of my door
Of individual life, I shall command
The uses of my soul, nor lift my hand
Serenely in the sunshine as before,
Without the sense of that which I forbore,—        35
Thy touch upon the palm. The widest land
Doom takes to part us, leaves thy heart in mine
With pulses that beat double. What I do
And what I dream include thee, as the wine
Must taste of its own grapes. And when I sue        40
God for myself, He hears that name of thine,
And sees within my eyes, the tears of two.
 
XXVII.
My own beloved, who hast lifted me
From this drear flat of earth where I was thrown,
And in betwixt the languid ringlets, blown        45
A life-breath, till the forehead hopefully
Shines out again, as all the angels see,
Before thy saving kiss! My own, my own,
Who camest to me when the world was gone,
And I who looked for only God, found thee!        50
I find thee; I am safe, and strong, and glad.
As one who stands in dewless asphodel,
Looks backward on the tedious time he had
In the upper life—so I, with bosom-swell,
Make witness, here, between the good and bad,        55
That Love, as strong as Death, retrieves as well.
 
XXVIII.
My letters! all dead paper, mute and white!
And yet they seem alive and quivering
Against my tremulous hands which loose the string
And let them drop down on my knee to-night.        60
This said,—he wished to have me in his sight
Once, as a friend: this fixed a day in spring
To come and touch my hand—a simple thing,
Yet I wept for it! this—the paper ’s light—
Said, Dear, I love thee; and I sank and quailed        65
As if God’s future thundered on my past.
This said, I am thine—and so its ink has paled
With lying at my heart that beat too fast:
And this—O Love, thy words have ill availed,
If, what this said, I dared repeat at last!        70
 
XLIII.
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        75
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;        80
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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