Xlll. And wilt thou have me fashion into speech – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

by richibi

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

Xlll. And wilt thou have me fashion into speech

And wilt thou have me fashion into speech
The love I bear thee, finding words enough,
And hold the torch out, while the winds are rough,
Between our faces, to cast light on each? –
I dropt it at thy feet. I cannot teach
My hand to hold my spirits so far off
From myself – me – that I should bring thee proof
In words, of love hid in me out of reach.
Nay, let the silence of my womanhood
Commend my woman-love to thy belief, –
Seeing that I stand unwon, however wooed,
And rend the garment of my life, in brief,
By a most dauntless, voiceless fortitude,
Lest one touch of this heart convey its grief.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


there are circumlocutions in Romantic poetry
that are often hard to follow, and the work of
sorting these out just as often will lead to
giving the poem a pass, how pertinent can
a poem be, you ask, as you cursorily lay it
to rest

unless a line or two, a phrase, a cadence, an
arresting truth you find, becomes enough to
probe it further, to read again with a magnifying
glass this time, checking the entrails, the parts
of speech, the punctuation, their interactions,
the chemistry

this alone is good for your head

the word “rend” upended me here, who, I
wondered, rent, the text is clear but “however
interjects to sow confusion, a comma
after “wooed”, rather than a hyphen, confirms
that she herself is breaking up inside for fear
of speaking out her anguish, a hyphen
would’ve led us to him

still a bit convoluted, but the underlying
sentiment remains incontrovertibly raw
and clear

Elizabeth Barrett Browning is a mess, but
has found a solid anchor in the refuge of
her manifestly masterful, mistressful, if you’d
rather, poems, though I suspect she’ll never
attain belief in her own connubial validity

van Gogh was also so existentially rent

and also Goethe’s Werther, the premier Romantic
hero, who famously foregos his even life for lack
of validating love

Elizabeth Barrett Browning remains to bear it,
live it, for us, iconically

go, I would think, though ever so distraught,
dear and magnificent Elizabeth