XVlll. I never gave a lock of hair away – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

by richibi

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

XVlll. I never gave a lock of hair away

I never gave a lock of hair away
To a man, Dearest, except this to thee,
Which now upon my fingers thoughtfully
I ring out to the full brown length and say
“Take it.” My day of youth went yesterday;
My hair no longer bounds to my foot’s glee,
Nor plant I it from rose- or myrtle-tree,
As girls do, any more: it only may
Now shade on two pale cheeks the mark of tears,
Taught drooping from the head that hangs aside
Through sorrow’s trick. I thought the funeral-shears
Would take this first, but Love is justified, –
Take it thou, – finding pure, from all those years,
The kiss my mother left here when she died.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


with her one word, “this”, peremptory and indicative,
Elizabeth anchors us to a common present, making
us witness to the scene, a scene of the most tender

these effortlessly transcend by their apparent
urgency and truth the usual meter of a sonnet,
leaving in the dust however always only perfect
rhymes, like wooden sentinels left twirling in too
strong a wind

enough of them however to constitute a poem

or what’s a poem

the same kind of thing happens in the history
of music, where notes skip deftly over a bar
without even the semblance of an
acknowledging curtsy, caught up in the more
compelling reality of their vivid and impetuous
imagination, like children who haven’t learned
quite all the rules yet

in Mozart, his piano sonata in D major, K576,
here for instance, the incorrigible child is
ever even present, even ever evident

both poets reflect a search for greater
authenticity, challenging established ideas
of beauty in its unending deliberation with
truth, see Keats on this irreducible dichotomy