XXV. A heavy heart, Belovèd, have I borne – Elizabeth Barrett Browning‏

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

XXV. A heavy heart, Belovèd, have I borne

A heavy heart, Belovèd, have I borne
From year to year until I saw thy face,
And sorrow after sorrow took the place
Of all those natural joys as lightly worn
As the stringed pearls, each lifted in its turn
By a beating heart at dance-time. Hopes apace
Were changed to long despairs, till God’s own grace
Could scarcely lift above the world forlorn
My heavy heart. Then thou didst bid me bring
And let it drop adown thy calmly great
Deep being! Fast it sinketh, as a thing
Which its own nature doth precipitate,
While thine doth close above it, mediating
Betwixt the stars and the unaccomplished fate.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


despite a rigorous rhyme scheme and a mostly
strict iambic pentameter here, which is to say
each verse is given five, or penta, metres, or
beats, where iambic means that the accent is
on the second syllable of each of those five
individual metres, ta-da, ta-da, ta-da times
five, should your Greek be understandably
amiss, Elizabeth still manages to skew the
pace of the piece again in this instance,
turning her poetry, as always, into a more
direct and purposeful prose

just try to follow the sentence metrically as
in a more traditional poem, or song, you’ll
block her headlong and unfettered propulsion

alteration of the beat is not much different
from what composers were doing then with
music, the early eighteen-hundreds, not much
different indeed at all, and which they did for
the very same particular reason, greater
authenticity, the truth part of the iconic
imperatives of beauty and truth

incidentally, where Elizabeth was trying to
invigorate poetry by giving it the apparent
immediacy of prose you might’ve noted
that in my own flurry of literary tidbits,
however ever so humble, I’ve been quite
consciously peppering prose rather with
the elements of poetry, for better or for
worse, but in my mind to reflect a less,
dare I say, prosaic, more inherently
enchanting, vision of the world