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Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese: Sonnet 33 and Sonnet 34

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

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 33: "Yes, call me by my pet-name! let me hear"

In Elizabeth Barrett Browning's sonnet 33, from her classic sonnet sequence, Sonnets from the Portuguese, the speaker encourages her lover to call her by her childhood "pet-name," because it reminds her of a happy time in her life.

Sonnet 33: "Yes, call me by my pet-name! let me hear"

Yes, call me by my pet-name! let me hear
The name I used to run at, when a child,
From innocent play, and leave the cowslips piled,
To glance up in some face that proved me dear
With the look of its eyes. I miss the clear
Fond voices which, being drawn and reconciled
Into the music of Heaven’s undefiled,
Call me no longer. Silence on the bier,
While I call God—call God!—So let thy mouth
Be heir to those who are now exanimate.
Gather the north flowers to complete the south,
And catch the early love up in the late.
Yes, call me by that name,—and I, in truth,
With the same heart, will answer and not wait.

Reading of Sonnet 33: "Yes, call me by my pet-name! let me hear"

Commentary on Sonnet 33: "Yes, call me by my pet-name! let me hear"

The speaker is reliving a happy event of her childhood after her belovèd calls her by her childhood nickname.

First Quatrain: A Memory from Childhood

Yes, call me by my pet-name! let me hear
The name I used to run at, when a child,
From innocent play, and leave the cowslips piled,
To glance up in some face that proved me dear

The speaker addresses her belovèd; she exclaims, "Yes, call me by my pet-name!"—which indicates that he has, perhaps out-of-the-blue, called her by that name. Her reaction seems to surprise her, and she encourages him to continue to call her by that name.

The surprised speaker remembers that as a child a family member (or some other person whom she loved and respected) would call her by her pet-name "from innocent play," and she would come running, "leav[ing] the cowslips piled."

The speaker would look up into the pleasant face of the one who had called her and feel that she was cherished as she saw that love was beaming from the eyes of that person.

Second Quatrain: The Silence of the Departed

With the look of its eyes. I miss the clear
Fond voices which, being drawn and reconciled
Into the music of Heaven’s undefiled,
Call me no longer. Silence on the bier,

The speaker reports that she "miss[es] the clear / Fond voices." Those voices have gone to Heaven, and they "call [her] no longer." There is only "silence on the bier." The speaker drifts into her customary melancholy, decrying the silence that now emanates from the deceased.

The speaker does not identify who these "voices" are: it could be a mother, father, aunt, uncle, or any relative by whom she felt loved when they called her by her pet-name. The speaker's emphasis is on the feeling she is trying to recollect, however, not on the specific individual who engendered that fond feeling.

First Tercet: Appealing to God

While I call God—call God!—So let thy mouth
Be heir to those who are now exanimate.
Gather the north flowers to complete the south,

Continuing in the melancholy vain, the speaker reveals that with those fond voices silent in death, she called on God in her grief. She emphasizes her appeal to God by repeating, "call God—call God!"

The speaker then urges her belovèd to "let [his] mouth / Be heir to those who are now exanimate."

She asks him to do as her loving relatives had done and call her by her pet-name. By taking her back to a fond past memory, her belovèd is "gather[ing] the north flowers to complete the south." She metaphorically likens direction to time: north is past, south is present.

Second Tercet: Past Pleasantry, Present Passion

And catch the early love up in the late.
Yes, call me by that name,—and I, in truth,
With the same heart, will answer and not wait.

The emotional speaker adds, "catch the early love up in the late," again drawing together her past pleasantry with the present that now holds so much love for her.

Again the speaker exhorts him, "yes, call me by that name." And she adds that she will respond to him, feeling the same love that she felt before—this love that will not allow her to procrastinate in her response to his fond gesture.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 34: "With the same heart, I said, I’ll answer thee"

The character speaking in Barrett Browning's Sonnet 34 from Sonnets from the Portuguese has returned to her melancholy attitude. Now she is contrasting her happy, carefree childhood years to her very stern and serious life as a mature adult.

The speaker however is addressing her belovèd, imploring him to consider how important he is to her. As earnest, obedient, and steadfast as she was as a child, now her constancy with her belovèd is even more in evident.

The speaker continues to build her case for deserving the love of such an accomplished man, whom she considers to be much above her own station in life.

Sonnet 34: "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.

Reading of Sonnet 34

Commentary on Sonnet 34: "With the same heart, I said, I’ll answer thee"

Returning to the melancholy character she has so often maintained, the speaker contrasts her light-hearted childhood's response with her serious maturity.

First Quatrain: The Necessity of Consistency

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?

The pensive speaker professes a need to be consistent; thus, she repeats the word “same” three times in three lines. She is of the "same heart” as she was earlier in her lifetime. She is called by “[her] name. But she is unsure about “life's strategy.” She is even "perplexed and ruffled” by it.

The speaker hopes to convince herself that love has merely continued to flow into around her life. She also demands from her new love relationship a constant heart as she lovingly and gently makes demands on her belovèd.

Second Quatrain: The Obedient One

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

Earlier in her lifetime, the melancholy speaker had played the obedient one, coming when called, dropping her “flowers” or leaving off her “game.” She ran to answer and even "with a smile” she appeared. Such behavior continued because of her dedication to obedience.

The speaker needs to be always consistent in her emotional responses. The static melancholy that she has experienced has programmed her to need a steady environment, even if she must create it from fragments of memory and emotional responses from the past.

First Tercet: Adult Life Different Details

Through my obedience. When I answer now,
I drop a grave thought, break from solitude;
Yet still my heart goes to thee—ponder how—

Now the specific details of life are a bit different. Instead of games and flowers, she answers from the position of having dropped “a grave thought” or a “break from solitude.” But her heart goes now always to the belovèd. She spills out a command before venturing on, telling her beloved to “ponder how . . . .”

Even though the details of her adult life are different, her emotional responses are essentially the same. Her same heart-responses continue to guide her. Her new love relationship has become even more important to her than any relationship before.

Second Tercet: From Childhood to Adulthood

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.

The speaker then concludes that the good her beloved has done her is not one in one single area but in “all my good!” She asks her beloved to understand that as fleet foot as she was at obedience as child, she is much faster at running to her belovèd than she could have ever been in her earlier life.

The speaker's blood now runs faster and with more passion than ever her foot did as a child. As important to her as were her earlier loves, her new belovèd has become even more vital to her life.

The speaker's melancholy seems to be desperate for her lover to grasp his importance to her. Thus, she continues to compare and contrast her life's environments from childhood to maturity

The Brownings

The Brownings

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes