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Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnet 4: "Thou hast thy calling to some palace-floor"

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 4: "Thou hast thy calling to some palace-floor"

In sonnet 4 from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's classic sonnet sequence, Sonnets from the Portuguese, the speaker appears to be searching for a reason to believe that such a match with a suitor as illustrious as hers is even possible. She continues to brood in a melancholy line of thought, even as she seems to be becoming enthralled with the notion of having a true love in her life.

Sonnet 4: "Thou hast thy calling to some palace-floor"

Thou hast thy calling to some palace-floor,
Most gracious singer of high poems! where
The dancers will break footing, from the care
Of watching up thy pregnant lips for more.
And dost thou lift this house’s latch too poor
For hand of thine? and canst thou think and bear
To let thy music drop here unaware
In folds of golden fulness at my door?
Look up and see the casement broken in,
The bats and owlets builders in the roof!
My cricket chirps against thy mandolin.
Hush, call no echo up in further proof
Of desolation! there’s a voice within
That weeps … as thou must sing … alone, aloof.

Reading of Sonnet 4

Commentary

Sonnet 4 marches on with the speaker's musing on her new relationship with her suitor, who seems too good to be true.

First Quatrain: "Thou hast thy calling to some palace-floor"

Thou hast thy calling to some palace-floor,
Most gracious singer of high poems! where
The dancers will break footing, from the care
Of watching up thy pregnant lips for more.

In Sonnet 4 from Sonnets from the Portuguese, the speaker addresses directly her suitor, as she continues her metaphorical comparison between the two lovers in a similar vain as she did with Sonnet 3.

Once again, she takes note of her suitor’s invitations to perform for royalty, "Thou hast thy calling to some palace-floor." He has been a "[m]ost gracious singer of high poems," and the royal guests curiously stop dancing to listen to him recite his poetry.

The speaker visualizes the dashing Robert Browning at court, mesmerizing the king, queen, and royal guest with the poetic prowess.

Second Quatrain: "And dost thou lift this house's latch too poor"

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And dost thou lift this house’s latch too poor
For hand of thine? and canst thou think and bear
To let thy music drop here unaware
In folds of golden fulness at my door?

In the second quatrain, the speaker puts forth a rhetorical question in two-parts: 1) Being one of such high breeding and accomplishment, are you sure that you want to visit one who is lower class than you? 2) Are you sure that you do not mind reciting your substantial and rich poetry in such a low class place with one who is not of your high station?

First Tercet "Look up and see the casement broken in"

Look up and see the casement broken in,
The bats and owlets builders in the roof!
My cricket chirps against thy mandolin.

The speaker then insists that her royalty-worthy suitor to take a good look at where she lives. The windows of her house are in disrepair, and she cannot afford to have "the bats and owlets" removed from the nests that they have built in the roof of her house.

The final line of the first sestet offers a marvelous comparison that metaphorically states the difference between the suitor and speaker: "My cricket chirps against thy mandolin." On the literal level, she is only a plain woman living in a pastoral setting with simple possessions, while he is the opposite, cosmopolitan and richly endowed, famous enough to be summoned by royalty, possessing the expensive musical instrument with which he can embellish his already distinguished art.

The lowly speaker's "crickets" also metaphorically represent her own poems, which she likens to herself, poor creatures compared to the "high poems" and royal music of her illustrious suitor. The suitor’s "mandolin," therefore, literally exemplifies wealth and leisure because it accompanies his poetry performance, and it figuratively serves as a counterpart to the lowly crickets of the speaker.

Second Tercet: "Hush, call no echo up in further proof"

Hush, call no echo up in further proof
Of desolation! there’s a voice within
That weeps … as thou must sing … alone, aloof.

The speaker again makes a gentle demand of her suitor, begging him, please do not be concerned or troubled for my rumblings about poverty and my lowly station. The speaker is asserting her belief that it is simply her natural mode of expression; her "voice within" is one that is given to melancholy, even as his voice is given to singing cheerfully.

The speaker implies that because she has lived "alone, aloof," it is only natural that her voice would reveal her loneliness and thus contrast herself somewhat negatively with one as illustrious as her suitor.

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.

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes

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