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Literature / Sonnets from the Portuguese

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The love of Robert Browning's life, and he was hers.

Forty-four love sonnets by Victorian era British poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Written in 1845–46 after she met fellow poet Robert Browning and before they married, the sonnets remain among the most popular love poetry of all time. The collection was published in 1850 as being translated "from the Portuguese" in order to provide some measure of privacy for the Brownings.

The most famous sonnet is undoubtedly number 43 (especially its first line):

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

The complete work is now in the public domain, and can be found on Project Gutenberg.

These poems provide examples of:

  • I Kiss Your Hand: In issue 38, Elizabeth counts as their first kiss Robert kissing her hand.
    First time he kissed me, he but only kissed
    The fingers of this hand wherewith I write;
    And ever since, it grew more clean and white.
  • Plausible Deniability: Claiming that the poems were translated from Portuguese. There is also a stealth reference in there. As "My Little Portuguese" was a pet name Robert gave to Elizabeth.
  • Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: Elizabeth describes her hair as very black and her skin as pale-white.
  • Undying Loyalty: In number 43, Elizabeth declares her body will die, but her love will not.