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Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnet 16: "And yet, because thou overcomest so"

Elizabeth Barrett Browning masterfully employs the Petrarchan form in her classic sonnet sequence, her tribute to her belovèd husband.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 16: "And yet, because thou overcomest so"

The speaker in Elizabeth Barrett Browning's sonnet 16, from her classic sonnet sequence, Sonnets from the Portuguese, dramatizes her nearly complete acceptance of the love from her "noble" suitor. She creates a colorful metaphor to elucidate her feelings.

Sonnet 16: "And yet, because thou overcomest so"

And yet, because thou overcomest so,
Because thou art more noble and like a king,
Thou canst prevail against my fears and fling
Thy purple round me, till my heart shall grow
Too close against thine heart henceforth to know
How it shook when alone. Why, conquering
May prove as lordly and complete a thing
In lifting upward, as in crushing low!
And as a vanquished soldier yields his sword
To one who lifts him from the bloody earth,
Even so, Belovèd, I at last record,
Here ends my strife. If thou invite me forth,
I rise above abasement at the word.
Make thy love larger to enlarge my worth.

Reading of Sonnet 16: "And yet, because thou overcomest so"

Commentary

The speaker can finally be seen as capitulating to the all consuming love that she has tried to deny herself, allowing herself only a speck of doubt.

First Quatrain: Overcoming Fears and Doubts

And yet, because thou overcomest so,
Because thou art more noble and like a king,
Thou canst prevail against my fears and fling
Thy purple round me, till my heart shall grow

The speaker, picking up from prior adversity, can now give in to her belovèd’s advances because he has, at last, been able to overcome her fears and doubts. She again likens him to royalty: "thou art more noble and like a king, / Thou canst prevail against my fears and fling / Thy purple round me, till my heart shall grow."

Her lover has the kingly powers of protecting even a doubtful heart such as her own. He can place his royal purple cape around her shoulders and affect the very beating of her heart.

Second Quatrain: A Fearful Heart

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Too close against thine heart henceforth to know
How it shook when alone. Why, conquering
May prove as lordly and complete a thing
In lifting upward, as in crushing low!

As her heart beats close to his, the speaker finds it difficult to grasp that it once felt so afraid of life and living when it found itself solitary and isolated. She has discovered that she can, in fact, imagine herself lifted from her self-imposed prison of melancholy. She can succumb to upward mobility as readily as she did to the downward spiral, "as in crushing low!"

First Tercet: A Bizarre Comparison

And as a vanquished soldier yields his sword
To one who lifts him from the bloody earth,
Even so, Belovèd, I at last record,

The speaker then dramatically and bizarrely compares her situation metaphorically to a "soldier" who surrenders in battle as "one who lifts him from the bloody earth." The enemy becomes nurturing once his foe has been vanquished. But for her, the battle was very real, and thus the metaphor remains quite apt. Thus she can finally and completely surrender.

Second Tercet: Reserving a Space to Doubt

Here ends my strife. If thou invite me forth,
I rise above abasement at the word.
Make thy love larger to enlarge my worth.

The speaker's handing over of weapons and defensive mechanisms is accompanied by her revelation that "here ends my strife." True to character, however, she must at least reserve some bit of possible future failure by stating her declaration in a conditional clause, "if thou invite me forth." She emphasizes "thou," to make it clear that her belovèd is the only one to whom she could ever say these things.

The speaker has quite likely almost one hundred per cent become convinced that he has invited her, but she still feels that she has to keep any downturn in her sights. But if he does, in fact, keep that invitation open for her, she will be able to transcend her pain and rise above all the sorrow that has kept her abased for so many years.

Once again, the speaker is giving him a great deal of power as she suggests that as her new attitude will "make thy love larger," it will also "enlarge my worth." Thus loving him will increase her own value, not in large part because, in her eyes, his value is as large as a king’s worth. His royalty will become hers.

The Brownings

The Brownings

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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