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Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnet 33: "Yes, call me by my pet-name! let me hear"

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 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

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.

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.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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