Of Life’s Great Cup of Wonder

Elizabeth Barret Browning
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 – 1861)

“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made. Our times are in his hand who saith, ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!

Robert Browning

Sonnets From The Portuguese
XX

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Beloved, my Beloved, when I think
That thou wast in the world a year ago,
What time I sate alone here in the snow
And saw no footprint, heard the silence sink
No moment at thy voice … but, link by link,
Went counting all my chains, as if that so
They never could fall off at any blow
Struck by thy possible hand … why, thus I drink
Of life’s great cup of wonder! Wonderful,
Never to feel thee thrill the day or night
With personal act or speech,—nor ever cull
Some prescience of thee with the blossoms white
Thou sawest growing! Atheists are as dull,
Who cannot guess God’s presence out of sight.


Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote one of the most famous sonnets, a poem written in secret to her husband before their elopement and marriage. Their love story an iconic example of the power of love and poetry to transform lives. It is also a powerful of example of a writer writing for herself and the enjoyment it brought to her life.

Although during her lifetime and well into the 20th Century her husband’s work overshadowed Elizabeth’s in literary circles, if you were to ask someone to quote a Robert Browning poem from memory all but the most astute literary minds would likely come up blank.  However, I would fancy a modest bet that almost everyone can complete the first line of one of Elizabeth’s Sonnet’s From The Portuguese, if they hear the title; “How Do I Love Thee.”  Elizabeth and Robert met on the basis of her courage to write and publish despite the lack of acceptance of such pursuits by her controlling father. Elizabeth wrote a poem in which she praised work of Robert’s. He returned the favor, sending her a fan letter, telling of his admiration for her work in both poetry and her unique translation of Prometheus Bound.  The two proceeded to fall in love through correspondence of a combined more than 500 letters over 2 years, in which Robert slowly helped Elizabeth overcome her reluctance to wed, stemming from her emotional devastation caused by her brother’s tragic death from drowning during a period of Elizabeth’s convalescence seaside to help alleviate the symptoms of lung disease which effected her throughout her life.  She blamed herself for her brother’s death through what she felt was her own selfish need for him to be by her side while she was away recuperating and worried what giving her heart to Robert might bring in terms of sorrows as well as joys.   Fortunately for both, love prevailed and their marriage proved successful in all facets of their partnership.

As both Elizabeth’s and Robert’s body of work grew and their stature in the literary  world became established, she steadfastly maintained her independence. Elizabeth wrote:  “I never wrote to please any of you, not even to please my own husband”.  Good advice for all writers. Write what pleases you, regardless of whether it is met with ignorance, admonishment or acclaim. Sometimes the best work is written for an audience of one.


 

Epilogue

by Robert Browning

At the midnight in the silence of the sleep-time,
When you set your fancies free,
Will they pass to where—by death, fools think, imprisoned—
Low he lies who once so loved you, whom you loved so,
—Pity me?

Oh to love so, be so loved, yet so mistaken!
What had I on earth to do
With the slothful, with the mawkish, the unmanly?
Like the aimless, helpless, hopeless, did I drivel
—Being—who?

One who never turned his back but marched breast forward,
Never doubted clouds would break,
Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph,
Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better,
Sleep to wake.

No, at noonday in the bustle of man’s work-time
Greet the unseen with a cheer!
Bid him forward, breast and back as either should be,
“Strive and thrive!” cry “Speed,—fight on, fare ever
There as here!”

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A Sonnet Obsession

I am a life-long Minnesotan who resides in Minneapolis. I hope you enjoy my curated selection of sonnets, short poems and nerdy ruminations.

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