lV. Thou hast thy calling to some palace-floor – Elizabeth Barrett Browning‏

by richibi

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

lV. 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.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


you get called out to all the best parties, she says,
where all the guests hang on to your every word,
whose “pregnant lips” of course spew only poetry

yet this is where you come to roost – note how
“latch” suggests a humble cottage here – “The
bats and owlets builders in the roof!”
don’t help
of course either

nor are you aware, she continues, of the “golden
the bristling imagination, with which you
array my world so effortlessly, me, but a strident
“cricket” to your melodious “mandolin” – wonderful

I don’t even want to think about it, she insists,

in other words, I say “potato”, and “thou must”,
existentially, it appears, say “potahto”, and that’ll be
the end of that

but of course I’m right, I hear her subliminally saying,
it’s “potato”, but fate, cruel, cruel fate, has decreed
my abject and irrevocable subservience, to which I
must and will forthwith cede, “alone”, she decries
ever so forlornly, utterly, even ontologically, which
is to say, in her very essence, “aloof”

it is interesting to consider that of the two Brownings
the most famous must remain Elizabeth if only for
“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways”, which
every lover has declared to his love ever since, every
inamorata to hers

who will undoubtedly continue also to do so forever

Robert will be remembered of the two however as
finally, I think, the more significant poet