XXX. I see thine image through my tears to-night – Elizabeth Barrett Browning‏

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

XXX. I see thine image through my tears to-night

I see thine image through my tears to-night,
And yet to-day I saw thee smiling. How
Refer the cause? – Belovèd, is it thou
Or I, who makes me sad? The acolyte
Amid the chanted joy and thankful rite
May so fall flat, with pale insensate brow
On the altar-stair. I hear thy voice and vow,
Perplexed, uncertain, since thou art out of sight,
As he, in his swooning ears, the choir’s amen.
Belovèd, dost thou love? or did I see all
The glory as I dreamed, and fainted when
Too vehement light dilated my ideal,
For my soul’s eyes? Will that light come again,
As now these tears come – falling hot and real?

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


it’s been a season since we left Elizabeth
Barrett Browning
, flushed by her ardent
metaphorical, surely, exertions, in the
throes of breath[ing] within thy shadow
a new air
“, but now it seems she has
returned to her crushing insecurity, her
winter must’ve been especially barren

you’ll note the distortions in the metre,
akin to musical atonalities

as a poet, Elizabeth, who was evidently
well versed, as it were, in the Classics,
would’ve tinkered away at the form much
the same way a composer would’ve
at the conventions of music, radically
but convincingly if they were good, the
trick was in the balance achieved between
eccentricity and entertainment, artistic
wizardry and Truth, would it work, jarring
incongruities had to rouse if not delight,
as often incongruities can, do, and

Elizabeth is talking like Schoenberg
here, a couple of generations at least
later, notorious for dismantling harmony
in music with his rejection of the tonic
scale, allowing the neighbours to say
about his atonal music, my children
could do it, with patience and time of
course, for his works could often be

her distorted cadences mirror also here,
however, her harried state, and are
mimetically instructive, in other words,
you can feel her distress in the erratic
pulse, or beat

she compares herself to an acolyte, an
attendant at mass, made often to look
like an angel – a boy, incidentally, always,
though that, by now, might’ve changed, I
haven’t kept up with ecclesiastical politics
– who has fainted, “fall[en] flat”, the musical
allusion, you’ll note here, unmistakable

in her consequent netherworld she
wonders if the love you take is equal to
the love you make
is her golden ideal
merely all in her head, or, in himself,
alive before her and apparent, its
actual incarnation

haven’t we all been there

and we’ve all, o, Elizabeth, moved on

though, I’ll grant, nobody has still said
what she had to say better