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Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnet 41: "I thank all who have loved me in their hearts"

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 41: "I thank all who have loved me in their hearts"

The speaker in Elizabeth Barrett Browning's sonnet 41, from her classic sonnet sequence, Sonnets from the Portuguese, is focusing on gratitude for all who have loved her, while hoping that she will be able to express the extent of her gratitude to her belovèd. Again, however, this speaker imparts her own short-comings. She will never be able to act with total confidence in her ability, it seems.

While expressing a special debt to her belovèd, the speaker explores her ability to experience gratitude for all the loves she has known in the past. Yet, the speaker again places her trust in her belovèd's ability to teach her true gratitude. She continues to rely on her suitor to offer her direction in how to feel as well as how to behave.

Sonnet 41: "I thank all who have loved me in their hearts"

I thank all who have loved me in their hearts,
With thanks and love from mine. Deep thanks to all
Who paused a little near the prison-wall
To hear my music in its louder parts
Ere they went onward, each one to the mart’s
Or temple’s occupation, beyond call.
But thou, who, in my voice’s sink and fall
When the sob took it, thy divinest Art’s
Own instrument didst drop down at thy foot
To hearken what I said between my tears, …
Instruct me how to thank thee! Oh, to shoot
My soul’s full meaning into future years,
That they should lend it utterance, and salute
Love that endures, from Life that disappears!

Reading of Sonnet 41

Commentary

The speaker in Barrett Browning's "Sonnet 41" expresses her gratitude for all those who have loved her-including, of course, a special debt to her belovèd.

First Quatrain: A Simple Statement of Gratitude

I thank all who have loved me in their hearts,
With thanks and love from mine. Deep thanks to all
Who paused a little near the prison-wall
To hear my music in its louder parts

The speaker begins with a simple statement thanking, “all who have loved me in their hearts.” She then offers her own heart’s love in return. Continuing, she expresses her gratitude as “deep thanks” to all those who have paid some attention to her, especially when they listened to her complaints.

The speaker then metaphorically characterizes her tantrum-like outbursts as “music” with “louder parts.” The speaker demands decorum for herself that will not allow her to demonize herself even as she freely admits error and sorrowful dissatisfaction. The pain in the speaker's life has motivated her to expressions, as heretofore love never had.

Second Quatrain: A Different Expression of Love

Ere they went onward, each one to the mart’s
Or temple’s occupation, beyond call.
But thou, who, in my voice’s sink and fall
When the sob took it, thy divinest Art’s

All the others who had paid the speaker attention, however, were otherwise engaged; some had to scurry off to shopping, others to church, and they all remained far from her. She could not reach them, if she even had needed them.

Of course, her belovèd not only is near and capable of listening to her pleasantries, but he also lovingly remains to listen to her sorrows. The speaker's belovèd would stop his own musing to attend to her, and she now feels safe in vocalizing her complete attention to his patience and devotion.

First Tercet: His Divinest Art

Own instrument didst drop down at thy foot
To hearken what I said between my tears, …
Instruct me how to thank thee! Oh, to shoot

The speaker is grateful that her belovèd would even interrupt his own work of “divinest Art’s” to attend to her needs and “hearken what I said between my tears.”

But in offering such gratitude, the speaker implies that she actually does not know how to thank him for such devotion.

Thus, the speaker demands of him, “Instruct me how to thank thee!” She feels she lacks the words to convey such gratitude; her need is so great, and her gratitude seems so paltry to fulfill the debt that she owes this man.

Second Tercet: Evidence of Thankfulness

My soul’s full meaning into future years,
That they should lend it utterance, and salute
Love that endures, from Life that disappears!

The speaker then projects a deep desire that her soul can reveal sometime in future just how grateful she is to her belovèd. She hopes that she can fill her “future years” with evidence of her thankfulness.

The humble speaker prays that her very being will be able to “salute / Love that endures, from Life that disappears!” Even though the living are in a state of gradual dying, the speaker prays that the love which she has received will somehow be returned along with the sincere gratitude she now feels.

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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