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Month: April, 2013

XXXV. If I leave all for thee, wilt thou exchange – Elizabeth Barrett Browning‏

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

XXXV. If I leave all for thee, wilt thou exchange

If I leave all for thee, wilt thou exchange
And be all to me? Shall I never miss
Home-talk and blessing and the common kiss
That comes to each in turn, nor count it strange,
When I look up, to drop on a new range
Of walls and floors, another home than this?
Nay, wilt thou fill that place by me which is
Filled by dead eyes too tender to know change?
That’s hardest. If to conquer love, has tried,
To conquer grief, tries more, as all things prove;
For grief indeed is love and grief beside.
Alas, I have grieved so I am hard to love.
Yet love me – wilt thou? Open thine heart wide,
And fold within the wet wings of thy dove.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


though I’d assumed throughout that Elizabeth
was already married to Robert Browning while
she was writing these poems, the first line of
this sonnet got me wondering, “If I leave all
for thee”,
what “all” could she be leaving if
she were already ensconced in his
metaphorical arms, even bedchamber

it turns out the poems, written from 1845
to 1846, were a prelude to their conjugal
knot, in 1846

well gee, so bold, even unbuttoned, I’ve
often thought, and yet evidently so
persuasive, or even conversely, maybe,
for him, irresistible, ultimately, who’d o’
thunk it

“If I leave all for thee”, “wilt thou”, she asks
“be all to me”, he must’ve asked her here,
just then, to be his bride

will I miss the place I’m leaving, will you
leave me more barren than in the “tender”
world I’m used to, than in the one I at least
know now, indeed an ever most adequate

do not trip on the word “tried” in the first line
of the first triplet, which is to say, line nine,
which here means “has been a challenge”,
and not “has attempted”, Elizabeth is, of
course, a poet, poets do things like that,
supposing it to be good for your vocabulary

to conquer grief, she says, is even more trying
than conquering love, for grief is both together

tell me about it

her sadness, she feels, might have disqualified
her from ever being loved, would he chance it,
“wilt thou”, she questions him

about “the wet wings of [her] dove”, I’ll let you
figure it out


psst: he said yes

XXXlV. With the same heart, I said, I’ll answer thee – Elizabeth Barrett Browning‏

from “Sonnets from the Portuguese”

XXXlV. With the same heart, I said, I’ll answer thee

With the same heart, I said, I’ll answer thee
As those, when thou shalt call me by my name –
Lo, the vain promise! is the same, the same,
Perplexed and ruffled by life’s strategy?
When called before, I told how hastily
I dropped my flowers or brake off from a game,
To run and answer with the smile that came
At play last moment, and went on with me
Through my obedience. When I answer now,
I drop a grave thought, break from solitude;
Yet still my heart goes to thee – ponder how –
Not as to a single good, but all my good –
Lay thy hand on it, best one, and allow
That no child’s foot could run fast as this blood.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


despite the fact that this poem is evidently
a continuation of the last one, her XXXlllrd,
Yes, call me by my pet-name! let me hear“,
it is interesting to note that this XXXlVth
can stand entirely on its own, a separate
and independently cohesive entity, having
in this present iteration revisited all the
points that make the previously rendered
account wholly here a recapitulation, in all
even its intricate detail, superimposed upon
the other, or, more accurately here, after the
other, like skilled and artful embroidery, or
like Russian, maybe, nesting dolls

again it’s wise to watch the commas, and
read the lines as you would prose, if you’ll
pardon my, perhaps impertinent,

but even then you’ll come up short, in the
second line at “those”, whose referents
are only inferred, though indeed still only
dimly, by the end of the poem

“those” are of course those she ran to, her
elders, and by extension their plural, note,
“eyes”, a wonderful, and shimmering, dare
I say, stitch, a reverberant metonymy, where
the “eyes” are not only those of one “some
but apparently various also others, a
veritable prism ultimately in which she had
been severally reflected

and we’re just at line two, the second verse,
Elizabeth is manifestly a poet

in the third verse, “the same, the same”
juxtaposes twin statements, the point is
that these identities are now timeworn,
[p]erplexed and ruffled by life’s strategy”,
by life’s disaffections and dislocations,
and become entirely opposite

but this remains

she says that her step is even more nimble,
now, fleeter, “no child’s step could run as
fast as this blood”,
“this blood” being her
ardent, of course, devotion, she asks that
he be her purpose, [n]ot as to a single
good, but all my good”

but isn’t that like saying God, in a world,
the Romantic Age, become then, if you’ll
remember, much more secular, this
position no longer a blasphemy, a heresy,
however unconsciously publically, even
scandalously, subversive

may he [l]ay [his] hand on it”, she invokes,
his metaphysical hand on her metaphorical
heart, and “allow”, confirm, indeed consecrate,
this fervent declaration, which she has signed
with, assigned her last word to, note, her very


“To These Eyes” – W.S. Merwin‏

this poem, Nemo, my most recent
favourite, seems particularly
germane to our conversation
           To These Eyes
               You only ones
               I ever knew
               you that have shown me
               what I came to see
               from the beginning
               just as it was leaving
               you that showed me the faces
               in the realms of summer
               the rivers the moments of gardens
               all the roads that led here
               the smiles of recognition
               the silent rooms at nightfall
               and have looked through the glasses
               my mother was wearing when she died
               you that I have never seen
               except nowhere in a mirror
               please go on showing me
               faces you led me to
               daylight the bird moment
               the leaves of morning
               as long as I look
               hoping to catch sight
               of what has not yet been seen
                                     W.S. Merwin