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l. I thought once how Theocritus had sung – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

from “Sonnets from the Portuguese

1. I thought once how Theocritus had sung

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,
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
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.’

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


despite trying to deflect attention from her own love
and muse, her husband, by calling her collection of
poems Sonnets from the Portuguese“, as though these
were translations from existing texts, no such template
exists, so that the truth, the now legendary truth, has
always been known

there is no higher Romanticism than these poems


psst: Elizabeth was six years older than her husband,
she was already 39, when they met, this adds
context to the poem, she had also been always
very sickly, deathly frail

“I love your verses” – Robert Browning‏

I am overwhelmed, a letter from Robert Browning to
Elizabeth Barrett Browning congratulating her on her
poetry, and essentially declaring his, ultimately
legendary, love, they hadn’t even met yet, no wonder
I love Robert Browning

later she would write her Sonnets from the Portuguese“,
he would become, well, of course, him

“January 10th, 1845
New Cross, Hatcham, Surrey

I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett,–and this is no off-hand
complimentary letter that I shall write,–whatever else, no prompt matter-of-
course recognition of your genius and there a graceful and
natural end of the
thing: since the day last week when I first read your poems, I quite laugh to
remember how I have been turning again in my mind what I should be able to
tell you of their effect upon me–for in the first flush of delight I thought I would
this once get out of my habit of purely passive enjoyment, when I do really enjoy, and thoroughly justify my admiration–perhaps even, as a loyal fellow-craftsman should, try and find fault and do you some little good to be proud of herafter!–but
nothing comes of it all–so into me has it gone, and part of me has it become, this great living poetry of yours, not a flower of which but took root and grew… oh, how different that is from lying to be dried and pressed flat and prized highly and put in a book with a proper account at bottom, and shut up and put away… and the book called a ‘Flora’, besides! After all, I need not give up the thought of doing that, too, in time; because even now, talking with whoever is worthy, I can give reason for my faith in one and another excellence, the fresh strange music, the affluent language, the exquisite pathos and true new brave thought–but in this addressing myself to you, your own self, and for the first time, my feeling rises altogher. I do, as I say, love these Books with all my heart– and I love you too: do you know I was once seeing you? Mr. Kenyon said to me one morning “would you like to see Miss Barrett?”–then he went to announce me,–then he returned… you were too unwell — and now it is years ago–and I feel as at some untorward passage in my travels–as if I had been close, so close, to some world’s-wonder in chapel on crypt,… only a screen to push and I might have entered — but there was some slight… so it now seems… slight and just-sufficient bar to admission, and the half-opened door shut, and I went home my thousands of miles, and the sight was never to be!

Well, these Poems were to be–and this true thankful joy and pride with which I feel myself. Yours ever faithfully Robert Browning”

recently I saw a show, an opera cabaret they called it,
Sonnets from the Portuguese had been set to music, for
soprano, mezzo, tenor, and baritone, two men, two women,
music by a local composer, lyrics of course by Ms Barrett

except for the first piece, the prologue, the letter above

can you even dig it, for me cerebral nirvana

what the opera cabaret lacked in polish it made up for in
evident devotion, nor did the music disappoint, an esoteric
idea had been brought to heartfelt life enough to entertain
and indeed to inspire

I’m now reading the poems