XXXV. If I leave all for thee, wilt thou exchange – Elizabeth Barrett Browning‏

by richibi

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

XXXV. If I leave all for thee, wilt thou exchange

If I leave all for thee, wilt thou exchange
And be all to me? Shall I never miss
Home-talk and blessing and the common kiss
That comes to each in turn, nor count it strange,
When I look up, to drop on a new range
Of walls and floors, another home than this?
Nay, wilt thou fill that place by me which is
Filled by dead eyes too tender to know change?
That’s hardest. If to conquer love, has tried,
To conquer grief, tries more, as all things prove;
For grief indeed is love and grief beside.
Alas, I have grieved so I am hard to love.
Yet love me – wilt thou? Open thine heart wide,
And fold within the wet wings of thy dove.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


though I’d assumed throughout that Elizabeth
was already married to Robert Browning while
she was writing these poems, the first line of
this sonnet got me wondering, “If I leave all
for thee”,
what “all” could she be leaving if
she were already ensconced in his
metaphorical arms, even bedchamber

it turns out the poems, written from 1845
to 1846, were a prelude to their conjugal
knot, in 1846

well gee, so bold, even unbuttoned, I’ve
often thought, and yet evidently so
persuasive, or even conversely, maybe,
for him, irresistible, ultimately, who’d o’
thunk it

“If I leave all for thee”, “wilt thou”, she asks
“be all to me”, he must’ve asked her here,
just then, to be his bride

will I miss the place I’m leaving, will you
leave me more barren than in the “tender”
world I’m used to, than in the one I at least
know now, indeed an ever most adequate

do not trip on the word “tried” in the first line
of the first triplet, which is to say, line nine,
which here means “has been a challenge”,
and not “has attempted”, Elizabeth is, of
course, a poet, poets do things like that,
supposing it to be good for your vocabulary

to conquer grief, she says, is even more trying
than conquering love, for grief is both together

tell me about it

her sadness, she feels, might have disqualified
her from ever being loved, would he chance it,
“wilt thou”, she questions him

about “the wet wings of [her] dove”, I’ll let you
figure it out


psst: he said yes