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Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnet 7: "The face of all the world is changed, I think"

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

Framed Portrait of Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Framed Portrait of Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 7: "The face of all the world is changed, I think"

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnet 7, from her classic sonnet sequence, Sonnets from the Portuguese, expresses the speaker’s astonishment and delight at her own transformation, as she extends her gratitude to her belovèd for her life transformation.

Sonnet 7: "The face of all the world is changed, I think"

The face of all the world is changed, I think,
Since first I heard the footsteps of thy soul
Move still, oh, still, beside me, as they stole
Betwixt me and the dreadful outer brink
Of obvious death, where I, who thought to sink,
Was caught up into love, and taught the whole
Of life in a new rhythm. The cup of dole
God gave for baptism, I am fain to drink,
And praise its sweetness, Sweet, with thee anear.
The names of country, heaven, are changed awa
For where thou art or shalt be, there or here;
And this … this lute and song … loved yesterday,
(The singing angels know) are only dear
Because thy name moves right in what they say.

Reading of Sonnet 7: "The face of all the world is changed, I think"

Commentary

Sonnet 7 offers a tribute to the speaker's lover, who has wrought deep and lasting important changes in the speaker's life.

First Quatrain: Changing Environment

The face of all the world is changed, I think,
Since first I heard the footsteps of thy soul
Move still, oh, still, beside me, as they stole
Betwixt me and the dreadful outer brink

The emotional speaker notes that all things in her environs have changed their appearance because of her new outlook after having become aware of her new love. Lovers traditionally begin to see the world through rose-colored glasses upon falling in love. Every ordinary object takes on a rosy glow that flows from the happiness in the heart of the romantic lover.

This deep-thinking speaker asserts that her lover has placed himself between her and the terrible "death" she has sensed to be engulfing her. His "footsteps" were so gentle that they seemed to be the soft sounds of only the soul.

Second Quatrain: Doomed Without Love

Of obvious death, where I, who thought to sink,
Was caught up into love, and taught the whole
Of life in a new rhythm. The cup of dole
God gave for baptism, I am fain to drink,

The speaker was convinced that without such a love to save her she was doomed to "obvious death." She finds herself suddenly transported to a new world, a new "life in a new rhythm" with the arrival of her beloved. She was so mired in sadness that it seemed that she was being "baptized" in that mindset, as one drowning in one’s own fears and tears.

The melancholy speaker finds herself reluctant to allow herself complete immersion in her newfound happiness, but still she has to admit that her new status is overcoming her prior terror.

First Tercet: A Universal Change

And praise its sweetness, Sweet, with thee anear.
The names of country, heaven, are changed away
For where thou art or shalt be, there or here;

The speaker must extol the "sweetness" that she receives from her new lover. Because he is beside her, she has changed in a universal way—"names of country, heaven, are changed away." Nothing is the same; all of her old cheerless, dreary life is transformed utterly.

The more confident speaker is now willing to entertain the notion that he will remain by her side to delight her life permanently, throughout time and space.

Second Tercet: The Singing of Angels

And this … this lute and song … loved yesterday,
(The singing angels know) are only dear
Because thy name moves right in what they say.

The glad speaker hears the angels sing in her lover’s voice, and as she loved his poems and music before, she has become even more enamored with them after a brief period of time has passed. His very name "moves right in what they say." As the angels sing and heavenly music delight her, she realizes that her beloved has brought about her pleasant state of mind.

The thankful speaker wants to give him all the tribute he deserves. She feels that she cannot exaggerate his magnitude, and everything she knows and feels now fills her heart and mind with new life—a life that she had become convinced she could never experience. With such a transformation, she feels that she cannot say enough to express the value of such an act.

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.

Questions & Answers

Question: What happens in BB's sonnet 7?

Answer: Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnet 7 expresses the speaker’s astonishment because of her transformation, as she extends her gratitude to her belovèd for her life transformation.

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes

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