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Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnet 6

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 6

Barrett Browning's sonnet 6 from Sonnets from the Portuguese may be thought of as the seeming reversal of a seduction theme. At first, the speaker seems to be dismissing her lover. But as she continues, she shows just how close they already are.

The speaker's revelation that he will always be with her, even though she has sent him away from the relationship, is bolstered by many instances of intensity that is surely meant to keep the love attracted instead of repelling him.

Sonnet 6

Go from me. Yet I feel that I shall stand
Hence forward in thy shadow. Nevermore
Alone upon the threshold of my door
Of individual life, I shall command
The uses of my soul, nor lift my hand
Serenely in the sunshine as before,
Without the sense of that which I forbore—
Thy touch upon the palm. The widest land
Doom takes to part us, leaves thy heart in mine
With pulses that beat double. What I do
And what I dream include thee, as the wine
Must taste of its own grapes. And when I sue
God for myself, He hears that name of thine,
And sees within my eyes the tears of two.

Reading of Sonnet 6

Commentary

This sonnet is a clever seduction sonnet; as the speaker seems to be giving the suitor every reason to leave her, she is also giving him very good reasons to remain.

First Quatrain: Command to Leave

Go from me. Yet I feel that I shall stand
Hence forward in thy shadow. Nevermore
Alone upon the threshold of my door
Of individual life, I shall command

In Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet 6 from Sonnets from the Portuguese, the speaker is commanding her beloved to leave her. As she has protested in earlier sonnets, she does not believe she is equal to his stature, and such a match could not withstand the scrutiny of their class society.

But the clever speaker also hastens to add that his spirit will always remain with her, and she will henceforth be "[n]evermore / Alone upon the threshold of my door / Of individual life."

That the speaker once met and touched one so esteemed will continue to play as a presence in her mind and heart. She is grateful for the opportunity just to have briefly known him, but she cannot presume that they could have a permanent relationship.

Second Quatrain: A Treasured Memory

The uses of my soul, nor lift my hand
Serenely in the sunshine as before,
Without the sense of that which I forbore—
Thy touch upon the palm. The widest land

The speaker continues the thought that her beloved’s presence will remain with her as she commands her own soul’s activities. Even as she may "lift [her] hand" and view it in the sunlight, she will be reminded that a wonderful man once held it and touched "the palm."

The speaker has married herself so securely to her beloved’s essence that she avows that she cannot henceforth be without him. As she attempts to convince herself that such a life will suffice, she also attempts to convince her beloved that they are already inseparable.

First Tercet: Forever Together

Doom takes to part us, leaves thy heart in mine
With pulses that beat double. What I do
And what I dream include thee, as the wine

No matter how far apart the two may travel, no matter how many miles the landscape "doom[s]" them to separation, their two hearts will forever beat together, as "pulses that beat double." Everything she does in future will include him, and in her every dream, he will appear.

Second Tercet: Union

Must taste of its own grapes. And when I sue
God for myself, He hears that name of thine,
And sees within my eyes the tears of two.

They will be a union as close as grapes and wine: "as the wine / / Must taste of its own grapes." And when she supplicates to God, she will always include the name of her beloved. She will never be able to pray only for herself but will always pray for him as well.

And when the speaker sheds tears before God, she will be shedding "the tears of two." Her life will be so bound together with her beloved that there is no need for him to remain with her physically, and she has given reasons that he should depart and not feel any pangs of sorrow for her. In fact, he will not be leaving her if they are so closely untied already.

While the speaker seems to be giving the suitor every opportunity to leave her by exaggerating their union, her pleadings also reveal that she is giving him every reason to remain with her. If they are already as close and wine and grapes, and she adores him so greatly as to continue to remember that he touched her palm, such strong love and adoration would be difficult to turn down, despite the class differences that superficially separate them.

The Brownings

An Overview of Sonnets from the Portuguese

Robert Browning referred lovingly to Elizabeth as "my little Portuguese" because of her swarthy complexion—thus the genesis of the title: sonnets from his little Portuguese to her belovèd friend and life mate.

Two Poets in Love

Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese remains her most widely anthologized and studied work. It features 44 sonnets, all of which are framed in the Petrarchan (Italian) form.

The theme of the series explores the development of the budding love relationship between Elizabeth and the man who would become her husband, Robert Browning. As the relationship continues to flower, Elizabeth becomes skeptical about whether it would endure. She muses on examines her insecurities in this series of poems.

The Petrarchan Sonnet Form

The Petrarchan, also known as Italian, sonnet displays in an octave of eight lines and a sestet of six lines. The octave features two quatrains (four lines), and the sestet contains two tercets (three lines).

The traditional rime scheme of the Petrarchan sonnet is ABBAABBA in the octave and CDCDCD in the sestet. Sometimes poets will vary the sestet rime scheme from CDCDCD to CDECDE. Barrett Browning never veered from the rime scheme ABBAABBACDCDCD, which is a remarkable restriction imposed on herself for the duration of 44 sonnets.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Sectioning the sonnet into its quatrains and sestets is useful to the commentarian, whose job is to study the sections in order to elucidate meaning for readers unaccustomed to reading poems. The exact form of all of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's 44 sonnets, nevertheless, consists of only one actual stanza; segmenting them is for commentarian purposes primarily.

A Passionate, Inspirational Love Story

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnets begin with a marvelously fantastic open scope for discovery in the life of one who has a penchant for melancholy. One can imagine the change in environment and atmosphere from beginning with the somber thought that death may be one's only immediate consort and then gradually learning that, no, not death, but love is on one's horizon.

These 44 sonnets feature a journey to lasting love that the speaker is seeking—love that all sentient beings crave in their lives! Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s journey to accepting the love that Robert Browning offered remains one the most passionate and inspirational love stories of all time.

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on December 03, 2015:

Thank you so much, Venkatachari! I love EBB's various personalities in her Portuguese Sonnets. She can be so playful, dead serious, and profound as she moves through the sequence. A fascinating mind! No wonder Robert Browning was so taken by her depth of talent!

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on December 03, 2015:

A beautiful account of the sonnet's essence.