XXXVll. Pardon, oh, pardon, that my soul should make – Elizabeth Barrett Browning‏

by richibi

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

XXXVll. Pardon, oh, pardon, that my soul should make

Pardon, oh, pardon, that my soul should make,
Of all that strong divineness which I know
For thine and thee, an image only so
Formed of the sand, and fit to shift and break.
It is that distant years which did not take
Thy sovranty, recoiling with a blow,
Have forced my swimming brain to undergo
Their doubt and dread, and blindly to forsake
The purity of likeness and distort
Thy worthiest love to a worthless counterfeit:
As if a shipwrecked Pagan, safe in port,
His guardian sea-god to commemorate,
Should set a sculptured porpoise, gills a-snort
And vibrant tail, within the temple-gate

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


though Elizabeth Barrett Browning is ever
abstruse, dare I say, even Baroque – the
epoch of distorted perspectives and
dimensions which preceded the Classical
Era – in her not only grammatical but also
metaphorical constructions, to the point of,
as in the last, her XXXVlth sonnet, being
incomprehensible, too athwart for my taste,
or even my tolerance, here she returns to
form to shine again in her own Romantic
Age, a more literate time, as opposed to
our more visual one, where straight talk
would not ‘ve passed muster as worthy
of any art, that would happen only later
as a reaction to too elaborate artifice,
which you might already even decry,
for instance, in these sonnets

but to make distinctive the form – the sonnet
goes back to at least Shakespeare, who is
even an obvious inspiration for Elizabeth
she would’ve had to embroider her own
version of it, which she could only have
done with fresh artifice upon the ancient
structure, like decorative elaborations on
the traditional tablecloth

if they work it’s because the artifice meets
the substance equally, enough to give
meaning to the poem, verve to the
reinvigorated tabletop

but often, dear Elizabeth, for me, and I would
think for many others in our Twitter age, for
the most part your poems do only just, albeit
enough to make you nevertheless iconic

for Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Chopin
represent for us now more than any of the
other Romantics their distinctive Age, and
with great, let there be no doubt, and easily
demonstrated, authority

Pardon, oh, pardon is not a breeze but it
expands admirably, and distinctively, on her
other masterpieces, or should I say here,

forgive my soul, she asks, for mistaking your
“strong divineness” for something as fleeting
as “sand”, something “fit to shift and break”

his “sovranty” – sovereignty, which finds its
etymological roots in the French word
“souveraineté”, should you be wondering –
had not been a part of her past, her “distant
and therefore led to her confusion,
her “swimming brain”, imagining he might
be “a worthless counterfeit” – haven’t we all
been there – instead of the “worthiest love”

she compares herself to a “shipwrecked
who, saved, “safe in port”, gives
thanks, pays homage, to “a sea-god”, “a
sculptured porpoise, gills a-snort”,
than, of course, her One and True
Christian God, an interesting instance
of religious iconographical inflexibility,
as though her Christian God had more
authenticity than the sea deity

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, it should be
noted, remained ever to her Divinity devout
despite the intermittent fluctuations of her
less religiously committed husband

who nevertheless remained ever to her
true, and ever, both romantically and
Romantically, by her, stalwart