XVll. My poet, thou canst touch on all the notes – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

by richibi

from “Sonnets from the Portuguese

XVll. My poet, thou canst touch on all the notes

My poet, thou canst touch on all the notes
God set between His After and Before,
And strike up and strike off the general roar
Of the rushing worlds a melody that floats
In a serene air purely. Antidotes
Of medicated music, answering for
Mankind’s forlornest uses, thou canst pour
From thence into their ears. God’s will devotes
Thine to such ends, and mine to wait on thine.
How, Dearest, wilt thou have me for most use?
A hope, to sing by gladly? or a fine
Sad memory, with thy songs to interfuse?
A shade, in which to sing – of palm or pine?
A grave, on which to rest from singing? Choose.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


it is to be remembered that Robert Browning at the
time was considered a poet of growing authority
though Elizabeth herself had not been of no
consequence, and her star was not to lose its
brilliance in the literary firmament throughout her
lifetime and beyond, but Robert was a man and
benefited therefore from greater consideration
than would’ve then a woman, a not unfamiliar
situation even now

the institutional role of women was pretty well
the one that Elizabeth naturally took on, when
women had no other recourse but to be
dependent, if not graced with comfortable
independent means, which in fact Elizabeth

with such an unmistakable gift as hers, however,
I can’t imagine that beyond the genuine love she
manifests for her husband throughout her poems
she would have been unaware of her own
considerable worth, ever granting that love can
be even ever so blind, my own love for instance
riding each morning for me preternaturally and
however improbably the very chariot of a
blinding, mesmerizing, sun

“Choose” though, she at the very last commands,
striking again a telling imperative

note the elision of the rhyme through several
verses in the poem giving the lines a momentum
that lets the poem fly, making the matter
compelling, urgent

compare Mozart soaring above the bar lines
when the piano is comparably unleashed, to
let the music make a similar irrepressible magic

prose is finding its way into poetry here, poetry
conversely into prose