ll. But only three in all God’s universe – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

by richibi

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

ll. But only three in all God’s universe

But only three in all God’s universe
Have heard this word thou hast said,—Himself, beside
Thee speaking, and me listening! and replied
One of us . . . that was God, . . . and laid the curse
So darkly on my eyelids, as to amerce
My sight from seeing thee,—that if I had died,
The deathweights, placed there, would have signified
Less absolute exclusion. ‘Nay’ is worse
From God than from all others, O my friend!
Men could not part us with their worldly jars,
Nor the seas change us, nor the tempests bend;
Our hands would touch for all the mountain-bars:
And, heaven being rolled between us at the end,
We should but vow the faster for the stars.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


it took me a week to sort out the obscurities in this
poem, God, she says, put me through so much physical
stress that I, so challenged, could have let myself not
know you – “laid the curse/ So darkly on my eyelids,
as to amerce/My sight from seeing thee” – that
would’ve been existentially, – “had I died” – more
absolute and stark and egregiously black than what
I’ve learned through our conjunction of the bliss and
eternity of such a love, invincible, propelled inexorably
– by the intensity of our shared devotion, despite even
“worldly jars”, worldly distempers, “seas”, “tempests”,
[m]ountain-bars” – that much “faster for the stars”

these obscurities are what steered me away from
poetry when I was younger until a more direct and
less ambiguous parlance emerged

but Elizabeth Barrett Browning has always remained
despite some literary difficulties poignant enough
for me and indeed emotionally reverberant that
she has steadfastly endured, she is too honest
and raw and of course articulate to not be warmly