'Sonnet XLII' by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
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' My future will not copy fair my past'--
I wrote that once; and thinking at my side
My ministering life-angel justified
The word by his appealing look upcast
To the white throne of God, I turned at last,
And there, instead, saw thee, not unallied
To angels in thy soul ! Then I, long tried
By natural ills, received the comfort fast,
While budding, at thy sight, my pilgrim's staff
Gave out green leaves with morning dews impearled.
I seek no copy now of life's first half:
Leave here the pages with long musing curled,
And write me new my future's epigraph,
New angel mine, unhoped for in the world !
Editor 1 Interpretation
Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnet XLII: A Critical Analysis
Oh, how thrilling it is to delve into the depths of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poetry! And Sonnet XLII, with its poignant themes and masterful use of language, is an excellent example of her brilliance. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the poem's structure, imagery, and themes, as well as its historical and cultural context.
Sonnet XLII follows the traditional format of a sonnet- fourteen lines, iambic pentameter, and a rhyme scheme of ABBA ABBA CDCDCD. However, Browning deviates from the typical sonnet structure by splitting the rhyme scheme in the final six lines, creating a sense of tension and instability. This technique reflects the poem's themes of love and loss, as well as the speaker's internal conflict.
Browning employs vivid and sensory imagery throughout the poem to convey the speaker's emotions. In the first quatrain, the speaker describes her love as a "child" who "cried" and "laughed" in her "childhood's faith." This imagery evokes a sense of innocence and vulnerability, as well as the idea of love as a force beyond the speaker's control.
In the second quatrain, the speaker describes the effect of love on her life. She imagines herself as a "bird" who has lost its "wings," unable to fly or reach the heights she once did. This image of flightlessness and restriction reinforces the idea of love as a burden or constraint.
The final six lines of the poem are full of striking imagery. The speaker describes her love as a "star," "angel," and "guide," while also acknowledging its ephemeral nature. She compares her love to a "fountain" that "may rise and fall," suggesting that it is unpredictable and ever-changing. This imagery also reinforces the idea of the speaker's internal conflict, as she struggles to reconcile her feelings of love with the reality of loss.
The themes of love and loss dominate Sonnet XLII, as the speaker reflects on the past and the pain of separation. The poem also explores the idea of the self, particularly the ways in which love can shape and transform an individual. The speaker's internal conflict reflects the tension between the self and the Other, the individual and the beloved.
Another theme that emerges from the poem is the idea of temporality. The imagery of the "fountain" and the "star" suggests that love is fleeting and transitory, existing only in the moment. This idea is reinforced by the structure of the poem, with its split rhyme scheme and sense of instability.
Historical and Cultural Context
Sonnet XLII was written during the Victorian era, a time when traditional gender roles and social norms were deeply ingrained. Women were expected to be submissive and domestic, and romantic love was often idealized as a means of escape from the restrictions of society. Browning's poem challenges these norms by presenting a speaker who is conflicted and complex, rather than passive and idealized.
Furthermore, Browning's own life and experiences likely influenced the poem. She was a woman of great intellect and literary talent, but she also suffered from chronic illness and was confined to her home for much of her life. Her marriage to Robert Browning, a fellow poet, was also controversial at the time, as it challenged social conventions regarding gender and class.
In conclusion, Sonnet XLII is a masterful work of poetry that explores complex themes of love, loss, and identity. Browning's use of vivid imagery and traditional sonnet structure, as well as her challenges to Victorian social norms, make this poem a timeless classic. Its themes and insights continue to resonate with readers today, reminding us of the enduring power of love and the complexities of the human experience.
Word Count: 667
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet XLII is a classic piece of poetry that has stood the test of time. It is a sonnet that is filled with emotion, passion, and a deep sense of longing. The sonnet is a reflection of the poet’s own experiences and emotions, and it is a testament to her skill as a writer.
The sonnet is written in the traditional Shakespearean sonnet form, which consists of three quatrains and a final couplet. The rhyme scheme is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, which is a common rhyme scheme used in sonnets. The sonnet is written in iambic pentameter, which is a meter that consists of five iambs per line. An iamb is a metrical foot that consists of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.
The first quatrain of the sonnet sets the tone for the rest of the poem. The poet begins by asking a question: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” This question is a rhetorical device that is used to draw the reader in and to create a sense of intimacy between the poet and the reader. The poet then goes on to list the ways in which she loves her beloved. She loves him “to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach.” This line is a powerful statement of the depth of the poet’s love. She loves him with all of her being, and there are no limits to her love.
In the second quatrain, the poet continues to list the ways in which she loves her beloved. She loves him “with a love I seemed to lose with my lost saints.” This line is a reference to the poet’s religious faith, which she has lost. The poet is saying that her love for her beloved is greater than her love for God. She also loves him “with the breath, smiles, tears, of all my life.” This line is a powerful statement of the poet’s devotion to her beloved. She loves him with every breath she takes, every smile she gives, and every tear she sheds.
The third quatrain of the sonnet is a reflection on the poet’s own mortality. The poet says that she will love her beloved “better after death.” This line is a statement of the poet’s belief in the afterlife. She believes that her love for her beloved will continue even after she has passed away. She also says that she will love him “with the passion put to use in my old griefs.” This line is a reference to the poet’s own experiences of loss and grief. The poet is saying that her love for her beloved is born out of her own pain and suffering.
The final couplet of the sonnet is a powerful conclusion to the poem. The poet says that she loves her beloved “with the breath, smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death.” This final line is a statement of the poet’s unwavering love for her beloved. She loves him with every fiber of her being, and she believes that her love for him will continue even after she has passed away.
Overall, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet XLII is a powerful and emotional piece of poetry. It is a testament to the power of love and the depth of human emotion. The sonnet is a reflection of the poet’s own experiences and emotions, and it is a testament to her skill as a writer. The sonnet has stood the test of time and continues to be a beloved piece of poetry to this day.
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