Literature of Elizabeth Barrett Browning Analytical Essay

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The 19th-century poet, Elizabeth Browning was a wealthy young woman who began writing when she was very young. While she died at a relatively young age, she created many successful works. While living in London with her father and siblings, she became well known in literary circles for the work she created in The Seraphim and Other Poems (1838.) Shortly after meeting Robert Browning, the two ran off and got married. Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s new- found love played a distinct role in her poetic style, spotlighting her love for her new husband; this idea was emphasized in the poems Sonnet 43 and Sonnet 14.

Elizabeth Browning was born on March 6, 1806, in Kelloe, United Kingdom and died on June 29, 1861, in Florence, Italy. Browning was the oldest of twelve children. Growing up Elizabeth Browning was quite privileged. She and her family lived on the ‘Barrett Estate’ thanks to her father’s wealth that was derived from sugar plantations in Jamaica (“Elizabeth Barrett Browning.”) Elizabeth Browning was a strong reader but never had any formal education. According to an autobiographical sketch written when she was fourteen, when she was eleven years old she “felt the most ardent desire to understand the learned languages” (“Elizabeth Barrett Browning.”) By the time she was ten years old, she had read several pieces by Shakespeare including Othello and The Tempest, the histories of England, Greece, and Rome, parts of Pope’s Homeric translations, and passages from Paradise Lost. While Browning was recognized as one of England’s most original and gifted young poets, she was not very healthy. At the age of 15, she was injured while trying to saddle her horse. From that time forward, her health was frail and she suffered from a nervous condition that caused headaches. Her doctor ordered her to move to a warmer climate because she was so sickly and weak. She and her siblings were raised in a very strict household with a controlling father. As the oldest child, it was her responsibility to watch over the help and keep the house running. However, because of her poor health, she was “relieved of all household burdens and financial cares and was free to devote herself to reading English and French fiction and memoirs and to writing letters, essays, and poetry” (“Elizabeth Barrett Browning.”) Elizabeth Barrett was bound to her room to rest and recuperate and said, ‘Books and dreams were what I lived in and domestic life only seemed to buzz gently around, like bees about the grass’ (“Elizabeth Barrett Browning.”) She was the only sibling to become independently wealthy.

Elizabeth Browning was an English poet of the Victorian era, who began writing poetry as early as age six. At the age of twelve, she wrote ‘The Battle of Marathon’ which was privately printed by her father, Mr. Barrett. This is one of her rarest works and most of the fifty copies printed remain in Barrett’s estate. Throughout her long career, she published over 40 pieces. More than 20 of these were books of poetry, but she also penned 20 works of prose and an anthology. While Elizabeth Barrett Browning is best known for writing love poems, several of the pieces that she wrote later in her life focused on social and political themes.

Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning met through poetry. Robert Browning admired Browning’s work and the two began to write letters. Barrett defended a piece that Browning wrote and while hesitant, Barrett finally agreed to meet him. Barrett’s father considered Browning a fortune hunter and was not happy about the relationship. For this reason, the courtship was kept a secret and lasted over 20 months. During the courtship, Elizabeth Barrett began secretly writing love poems about their relationship and her love for Browning. Barrett named these 44 love poems ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’ because her soon to be husband called her ‘my little Portugee’ (“Elizabeth Browning” [Cummings Study Guide].) Robert Browning did not know about these poems until the summer of 1849, three years after they were married. On September 12, 1846, the couple snuck out of Barrett’s home and got married (“Elizabeth Barrett Browning.”) The couple ran to Italy and Barrett never saw her father again. Barrett-Browning’s health improved while in Italy and her writing took off. Her career as a poet surpassed her husband’s (“Elizabeth Barrett Browning.”) Elizabeth and Robert Browning had only one child. Their son was born in 1849 and was named after his father (“Elizabeth Barrett Browning.”) Elizabeth Barrett Browning did not have any intentions of stopping her literary career when her son was born and continued her writing career for more than 20 years after his birth.

“Sonnets from the Portuguese” is a compilation of 44 of Barrett’s most famous poems. The works were written when Barret was still single and living with her father. They were written to document her love for Robert Browning who would soon become her husband. The poems were most likely not meant for publication, but at the urging of her husband, she did have them published. The sonnets included in the “Sonnets from the Portuguese” focus on of love and Barrett has been criticized for writing in such a personal nature. The idea of love, expressed by Barrett, is not limited by one’s physical beauty or other tangible characteristics. Instead, the love she writes of has no limits and runs deep within the person. Both Sonnet 43 and Sonnet 14 exemplify Barrett’s idea of love and some of her most famous poems.

The poem Sonnet 43 is one of many sonnets written by Elizabeth Browning dedicated to her husband. Sonnet 43 is a love poem in the form of a sonnet. The poem was first published in 1850 and was part of Sonnets of the Portuguese. Sonnet 43 is the next to the last sonnet in the set and holds a position of importance because of that. It is noted to be a major factor in Elizabeth Browning’s importance as a poet. In the poem, Browning uses the word ‘thee’ when speaking of her husband, Robert Browning. She spends the entirety of the poem listing and describing the ways that she loves him and explains that she will love him as long as God will allow her to do so.

In Browning’s 43rd sonnet to her husband, she writes about the many ways that she loves him. In the first part of the poem, she explains when she loves her spouse, ‘When my soul feels its way into the spiritual realm (out of sight) to find the goal of being alive and living uprightly.’ She goes on to say ‘I love you enough to meet all of your simple needs during the day (sun) and even during the night (candlelight.) With the second part of the poem, the reader can see more of a description of the love itself with her explaining how she loves. In line seven she uses the word freely meaning ‘willingly and just as intense as the men who fight for freedom.’ Lastly inline eight the word purely is interpreted as meaning ‘genuinely, without desire for praise’ (“Elizabeth Browning” [Cummings Study Guide].)

In the poem Sonnet 43 Browning uses anaphoras to help broaden others perspective on how deep her love is for her husband. Using this literary device, she reinforces the theme of love by repeating the statement ‘I love thee…’ and describing the different ways that she loves her husband. Throughout Sonnet 43 Browning uses the phrase ‘I love thee…’ eight times. (“Elizabeth Browning” [Cummings Study Guide].) Additionally, Browning includes several internal rhymes. In line 2 the words breadth and depth are internal rhymes (“Elizabeth Browning” [Cummings Study Guide].) In the first stanza, Browning expresses the different ways she loves her husband.

Sonnet 43 is a written description of how Elizabeth Browning loves her husband, Robert Browning. The poem includes the many ways and times that she loves him and then shifts to a description or an explanation of how her love is for him. In comparison to Sonnet 14, this poem is more about her way of loving someone rather than how not only she wants to be loved but also how others should be loved.

Sonnet 14 is another love sonnet out of her work ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese.’ This poem is really about the nature of love, explaining that if the love is not natural, it will be a temporary love that will fade with the unnatural elements it relies upon. Elizabeth Browning is not hesitant when she names all the ways she wants to be loved and is insistent that the love must be one that does not fail. The poem is divided clearly into two parts, with the poet explaining in the first half all the ways that she wants to be loved and using the second part to confirm and clarify her desires.

In the beginning lines, Browning seems to be speaking directly to her husband, saying that she hopes he will only love her with genuine and unconditional love. She wants to be loved for the sake of apparent love and yearns for a love that is genuine and unconditional. She says that to be loved by your looks, voice, and smile is unwelcome because moods change every day and that type of love will not stick. Browning wishes to be loved by qualities that bring comfort (Educational School, Narsee Monjee.) She continues into the second half of the poem, reiterating how she wants love to be given to her and explaining how she does not want love. She does not want to be loved for pity and explains that being loved that way will not last. In line eleven she uses the word ‘creature’ (meaning animal) to describe herself because humans tend to pity animals quickly and then to quickly forget about them. Like all of Browning’s poems, Sonnet 14 is quite literal with very few literary devices heard. She does end the poem using repetition in lines 13 and 14 to emphasize the fact that she wants to be loved for love’s sake only so that she will be loved forever (Educational School, Narsee Monjee.) An additional literary device found in the poem is that of personification as Browning indicates that “pity” will wipe away the tears.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s new-found love played a distinct role in her poetic style, spotlighting her love for her new husband; this idea was emphasized in the poems Sonnet 43 and Sonnet 14. Browning had a somewhat of protected childhood and did not marry until she was 40 years old. She was not highly educated but gained much knowledge through her passion for reading. When faced with a long courtship with another poet, Robert Browning, she found not only her soulmate but an outlet to share both the love between the two and her talent for writing. Through the Sonnet’s from the Portuguese, Elizabeth Barrett Browning share how two lovers came to know each other through the written word,

Works Cited

  1. “Elizabeth Barrett Browning.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, 2018, www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/elizabeth-barrett-browning.
  2. Dow, Miroslava Wein. “XIV.” Variorum Edition of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese, Jan. 1980, pp. 49–52. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lkh&AN=43261374&site=eds-live&scope=site.
  3. Educational School, Narsee Monjee. “If Thou Must Love Me.” Jambanai Narsee School. Https://www.browningscorrespondence.comm/about/the-edition
  4. https://www.poemsofquotes.com/elizabethbarretbrowning.
  5. Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. “Sonnet 43.” Prentice Hall Literature, Pearson Education Inc., 2007.
  6. Cummings, Michael J. “Sonnet 43.” Cummings Study Guide, Cummings Study Guide, June 2012, cummingsstudyguides.net/Guides2/Sonnet43.html

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Literature of Elizabeth Barrett Browning Analytical Essay. (2022, Apr 01). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/literature-of-elizabeth-barrett-browning/

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