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Title: Sonnets from the Portuguese
Author: Browning, Elizabeth Barrett
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Sonnets from the Portuguese" ***

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Transcribed from the 1906 Caradoc Press edition by David Price, email

                          [Picture: Book cover]

                             SONNETS FROM THE

                                * * * * *

                             BARRETT BROWNING

                                * * * * *

                      [Picture: Decorative graphic]

                      THE CARADOC PRESS BEDFORD PARK
                   CHISWICK LONDON             MDCCCCVI


          I  I thought once how Theocritus had sung
         II  But only three in all God’s universe
        III  Unlike are we, unlike, O princely Heart!
         IV  Thou hast thy calling to some palace-floor
          V  I lift my heavy heart up solemnly
         VI  Go from me.  Yet I feel that I shall stand
        VII  The face of all the world is changed, I think
       VIII  What can I give thee back, O liberal
         IX  Can it be right to give what I can give?
          X  Yet, love, mere love, is beautiful indeed
         XI  And therefore if to love can be desert
        XII  Indeed this very love which is my boast
       XIII  And wilt thou have me fashion into speech
        XIV  If thou must love me, let it be for nought
         XV  Accuse me not, beseech thee, that I wear
        XVI  And yet, because thou overcomest so
       XVII  My poet thou canst touch on all the notes
      XVIII  I never gave a lock of hair away
        XIX  The soul’s Rialto hath its merchandize
         XX  Beloved, my beloved, when I think
        XXI  Say over again, and yet once over again
       XXII  When our two souls stand up erect and strong
      XXIII  Is it indeed so?  If I lay here dead
       XXIV  Let the world’s sharpness like a clasping knife
        XXV  A heavy heart, Beloved, have I borne
       XXVI  I lived with visions for my company
      XXVII  My own Beloved, who hast lifted me
     XXVIII  My letters! all dead paper, mute and white!
       XXIX  I think of thee!—my thoughts do twine and bud
        XXX  I see thine image through my tears to-night
       XXXI  Thou comest! all is said without a word
      XXXII  The first time that the sun rose on thine oath
     XXXIII  Yes, call me by my pet-name! let me hear
      XXXIV  With the same heart, I said, I’ll answer thee
       XXXV  If I leave all for thee, wilt thou exchange
      XXXVI  When we met first and loved, I did not build
     XXXVII  Pardon, oh, pardon, that my soul should make
    XXXVIII  First time he kissed me, he but only kissed
      XXXIX  Because thou hast the power and own’st the grace
         XL  Oh, yes! they love through all this world of ours!
        XLI  I thank all who have loved me in their hearts
       XLII  My future will not copy fair my past
      XLIII  How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways
       XLIV  Beloved, thou hast brought me many flowers


   I thought once how Theocritus had sung
   Of the sweet years, the dear and wished-for years,
   Who each one in a gracious hand appears
   To bear a gift for mortals, old or young:
   And, as I mused it in his antique tongue,
   I saw, in gradual vision through my tears,
   The sweet, sad years, the melancholy years,
   Those of my own life, who by turns had flung
   A shadow across me.  Straightway I was ’ware,
   So weeping, how a mystic Shape did move
   Behind me, and drew me backward by the hair;
   And a voice said in mastery, while I strove,—
   “Guess now who holds thee!”—“Death,” I said, But, there,
   The silver answer rang, “Not Death, but Love.”


   But only three in all God’s universe
   Have heard this word thou hast said,—Himself, beside
   Thee speaking, and me listening! and replied
   One of us . . . that was God, . . . and laid the curse
   So darkly on my eyelids, as to amerce
   My sight from seeing thee,—that if I had died,
   The death-weights, placed there, would have signified
   Less absolute exclusion.  “Nay” is worse
   From God than from all others, O my friend!
   Men could not part us with their worldly jars,
   Nor the seas change us, nor the tempests bend;
   Our hands would touch for all the mountain-bars:
   And, heaven being rolled between us at the end,
   We should but vow the faster for the stars.


   Unlike are we, unlike, O princely Heart!
   Unlike our uses and our destinies.
   Our ministering two angels look surprise
   On one another, as they strike athwart
   Their wings in passing.  Thou, bethink thee, art
   A guest for queens to social pageantries,
   With gages from a hundred brighter eyes
   Than tears even can make mine, to play thy part
   Of chief musician.  What hast thou to do
   With looking from the lattice-lights at me,
   A poor, tired, wandering singer, singing through
   The dark, and leaning up a cypress tree?
   The chrism is on thine head,—on mine, the dew,—
   And Death must dig the level where these agree.


   Thou hast thy calling to some palace-floor,
   Most gracious singer of high poems! where
   The dancers will break footing, from the care
   Of watching up thy pregnant lips for more.
   And dost thou lift this house’s latch too poor
   For hand of thine? and canst thou think and bear
   To let thy music drop here unaware
   In folds of golden fulness at my door?
   Look up and see the casement broken in,
   The bats and owlets builders in the roof!
   My cricket chirps against thy mandolin.
   Hush, call no echo up in further proof
   Of desolation! there’s a voice within
   That weeps . . . as thou must sing . . . alone, aloof.


   I lift my heavy heart up solemnly,
   As once Electra her sepulchral urn,
   And, looking in thine eyes, I over-turn
   The ashes at thy feet.  Behold and see
   What a great heap of grief lay hid in me,
   And how the red wild sparkles dimly burn
   Through the ashen greyness.  If thy foot in scorn
   Could tread them out to darkness utterly,
   It might be well perhaps.  But if instead
   Thou wait beside me for the wind to blow
   The grey dust up, . . . those laurels on thine head,
   O my Belovëd, will not shield thee so,
   That none of all the fires shall scorch and shred
   The hair beneath.  Stand further off then! go!


   Go from me.  Yet I feel that I shall stand
   Henceforward in thy shadow.  Nevermore
   Alone upon the threshold of my door
   Of individual life, I shall command
   The uses of my soul, nor lift my hand
   Serenely in the sunshine as before,
   Without the sense of that which I forbore—
   Thy touch upon the palm.  The widest land
   Doom takes to part us, leaves thy heart in mine
   With pulses that beat double.  What I do
   And what I dream include thee, as the wine
   Must taste of its own grapes.  And when I sue
   God for myself, He hears that name of thine,
   And sees within my eyes the tears of two.


   The face of all the world is changed, I think,
   Since first I heard the footsteps of thy soul
   Move still, oh, still, beside me, as they stole
   Betwixt me and the dreadful outer brink
   Of obvious death, where I, who thought to sink,
   Was caught up into love, and taught the whole
   Of life in a new rhythm.  The cup of dole
   God gave for baptism, I am fain to drink,
   And praise its sweetness, Sweet, with thee anear.
   The names of country, heaven, are changed away
   For where thou art or shalt be, there or here;
   And this . . . this lute and song . . . loved yesterday,
   (The singing angels know) are only dear
   Because thy name moves right in what they say.


   What can I give thee back, O liberal
   And princely giver, who hast brought the gold
   And purple of thine heart, unstained, untold,
   And laid them on the outside of the wall
   For such as I to take or leave withal,
   In unexpected largesse? am I cold,
   Ungrateful, that for these most manifold
   High gifts, I render nothing back at all?
   Not so; not cold,—but very poor instead.
   Ask God who knows.  For frequent tears have run
   The colours from my life, and left so dead
   And pale a stuff, it were not fitly done
   To give the same as pillow to thy head.
   Go farther! let it serve to trample on.


   Can it be right to give what I can give?
   To let thee sit beneath the fall of tears
   As salt as mine, and hear the sighing years
   Re-sighing on my lips renunciative
   Through those infrequent smiles which fail to live
   For all thy adjurations?  O my fears,
   That this can scarce be right!  We are not peers
   So to be lovers; and I own, and grieve,
   That givers of such gifts as mine are, must
   Be counted with the ungenerous.  Out, alas!
   I will not soil thy purple with my dust,
   Nor breathe my poison on thy Venice-glass,
   Nor give thee any love—which were unjust.
   Beloved, I only love thee! let it pass.


   Yet, love, mere love, is beautiful indeed
   And worthy of acceptation.  Fire is bright,
   Let temple burn, or flax; an equal light
   Leaps in the flame from cedar-plank or weed:
   And love is fire.  And when I say at need
   I love thee . . . mark! . . . I love thee—in thy sight
   I stand transfigured, glorified aright,
   With conscience of the new rays that proceed
   Out of my face toward thine.  There’s nothing low
   In love, when love the lowest: meanest creatures
   Who love God, God accepts while loving so.
   And what I feel, across the inferior features
   Of what I am, doth flash itself, and show
   How that great work of Love enhances Nature’s.


   And therefore if to love can be desert,
   I am not all unworthy.  Cheeks as pale
   As these you see, and trembling knees that fail
   To bear the burden of a heavy heart,—
   This weary minstrel-life that once was girt
   To climb Aornus, and can scarce avail
   To pipe now ’gainst the valley nightingale
   A melancholy music,—why advert
   To these things?  O Belovëd, it is plain
   I am not of thy worth nor for thy place!
   And yet, because I love thee, I obtain
   From that same love this vindicating grace
   To live on still in love, and yet in vain,—
   To bless thee, yet renounce thee to thy face.


   Indeed this very love which is my boast,
   And which, when rising up from breast to brow,
   Doth crown me with a ruby large enow
   To draw men’s eyes and prove the inner cost,—
   This love even, all my worth, to the uttermost,
   I should not love withal, unless that thou
   Hadst set me an example, shown me how,
   When first thine earnest eyes with mine were crossed,
   And love called love.  And thus, I cannot speak
   Of love even, as a good thing of my own:
   Thy soul hath snatched up mine all faint and weak,
   And placed it by thee on a golden throne,—
   And that I love (O soul, we must be meek!)
   Is by thee only, whom I love alone.


   And wilt thou have me fashion into speech
   The love I bear thee, finding words enough,
   And hold the torch out, while the winds are rough,
   Between our faces, to cast light on each?—
   I drop it at thy feet.  I cannot teach
   My hand to hold my spirits so far off
   From myself—me—that I should bring thee proof
   In words, of love hid in me out of reach.
   Nay, let the silence of my womanhood
   Commend my woman-love to thy belief,—
   Seeing that I stand unwon, however wooed,
   And rend the garment of my life, in brief,
   By a most dauntless, voiceless fortitude,
   Lest one touch of this heart convey its grief.


   If thou must love me, let it be for nought
   Except for love’s sake only.  Do not say
   “I love her for her smile—her look—her way
   Of speaking gently,—for a trick of thought
   That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
   A sense of pleasant ease on such a day”—
   For these things in themselves, Belovëd, may
   Be changed, or change for thee,—and love, so wrought,
   May be unwrought so.  Neither love me for
   Thine own dear pity’s wiping my cheeks dry,—
   A creature might forget to weep, who bore
   Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
   But love me for love’s sake, that evermore
   Thou may’st love on, through love’s eternity.


   Accuse me not, beseech thee, that I wear
   Too calm and sad a face in front of thine;
   For we two look two ways, and cannot shine
   With the same sunlight on our brow and hair.
   On me thou lookest with no doubting care,
   As on a bee shut in a crystalline;
   Since sorrow hath shut me safe in love’s divine,
   And to spread wing and fly in the outer air
   Were most impossible failure, if I strove
   To fail so.  But I look on thee—on thee—
   Beholding, besides love, the end of love,
   Hearing oblivion beyond memory;
   As one who sits and gazes from above,
   Over the rivers to the bitter sea.


   And yet, because thou overcomest so,
   Because thou art more noble and like a king,
   Thou canst prevail against my fears and fling
   Thy purple round me, till my heart shall grow
   Too close against thine heart henceforth to know
   How it shook when alone.  Why, conquering
   May prove as lordly and complete a thing
   In lifting upward, as in crushing low!
   And as a vanquished soldier yields his sword
   To one who lifts him from the bloody earth,
   Even so, Belovëd, I at last record,
   Here ends my strife.  If thou invite me forth,
   I rise above abasement at the word.
   Make thy love larger to enlarge my worth!


   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.


   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.


   The soul’s Rialto hath its merchandize;
   I barter curl for curl upon that mart,
   And from my poet’s forehead to my heart
   Receive this lock which outweighs argosies,—
   As purply black, as erst to Pindar’s eyes
   The dim purpureal tresses gloomed athwart
   The nine white Muse-brows.  For this counterpart, . . .
   The bay crown’s shade, Belovëd, I surmise,
   Still lingers on thy curl, it is so black!
   Thus, with a fillet of smooth-kissing breath,
   I tie the shadows safe from gliding back,
   And lay the gift where nothing hindereth;
   Here on my heart, as on thy brow, to lack
   No natural heat till mine grows cold in death.


   Belovëd, my Belovëd, when I think
   That thou wast in the world a year ago,
   What time I sat alone here in the snow
   And saw no footprint, heard the silence sink
   No moment at thy voice, but, link by link,
   Went counting all my chains as if that so
   They never could fall off at any blow
   Struck by thy possible hand,—why, thus I drink
   Of life’s great cup of wonder!  Wonderful,
   Never to feel thee thrill the day or night
   With personal act or speech,—nor ever cull
   Some prescience of thee with the blossoms white
   Thou sawest growing!  Atheists are as dull,
   Who cannot guess God’s presence out of sight.


   Say over again, and yet once over again,
   That thou dost love me.  Though the word repeated
   Should seem a “cuckoo-song,” as thou dost treat it,
   Remember, never to the hill or plain,
   Valley and wood, without her cuckoo-strain
   Comes the fresh Spring in all her green completed.
   Belovëd, I, amid the darkness greeted
   By a doubtful spirit-voice, in that doubt’s pain
   Cry, “Speak once more—thou lovest!”  Who can fear
   Too many stars, though each in heaven shall roll,
   Too many flowers, though each shall crown the year?
   Say thou dost love me, love me, love me—toll
   The silver iterance!—only minding, Dear,
   To love me also in silence with thy soul.


   When our two souls stand up erect and strong,
   Face to face, silent, drawing nigh and nigher,
   Until the lengthening wings break into fire
   At either curvëd point,—what bitter wrong
   Can the earth do to us, that we should not long
   Be here contented?  Think!  In mounting higher,
   The angels would press on us and aspire
   To drop some golden orb of perfect song
   Into our deep, dear silence.  Let us stay
   Rather on earth, Belovëd,—where the unfit
   Contrarious moods of men recoil away
   And isolate pure spirits, and permit
   A place to stand and love in for a day,
   With darkness and the death-hour rounding it.


   Is it indeed so?  If I lay here dead,
   Wouldst thou miss any life in losing mine?
   And would the sun for thee more coldly shine
   Because of grave-damps falling round my head?
   I marvelled, my Belovëd, when I read
   Thy thought so in the letter.  I am thine—
   But . . . so much to thee?  Can I pour thy wine
   While my hands tremble?  Then my soul, instead
   Of dreams of death, resumes life’s lower range.
   Then, love me, Love! look on me—breathe on me!
   As brighter ladies do not count it strange,
   For love, to give up acres and degree,
   I yield the grave for thy sake, and exchange
   My near sweet view of heaven, for earth with thee!


   Let the world’s sharpness like a clasping knife
   Shut in upon itself and do no harm
   In this close hand of Love, now soft and warm,
   And let us hear no sound of human strife
   After the click of the shutting.  Life to life—
   I lean upon thee, Dear, without alarm,
   And feel as safe as guarded by a charm
   Against the stab of worldlings, who if rife
   Are weak to injure.  Very whitely still
   The lilies of our lives may reassure
   Their blossoms from their roots, accessible
   Alone to heavenly dews that drop not fewer;
   Growing straight, out of man’s reach, on the hill.
   God only, who made us rich, can make us poor.


   A heavy heart, Belovëd, have I borne
   From year to year until I saw thy face,
   And sorrow after sorrow took the place
   Of all those natural joys as lightly worn
   As the stringed pearls, each lifted in its turn
   By a beating heart at dance-time.  Hopes apace
   Were changed to long despairs, till God’s own grace
   Could scarcely lift above the world forlorn
   My heavy heart.  Then thou didst bid me bring
   And let it drop adown thy calmly great
   Deep being!  Fast it sinketh, as a thing
   Which its own nature does precipitate,
   While thine doth close above it, mediating
   Betwixt the stars and the unaccomplished fate.


   I lived with visions for my company
   Instead of men and women, years ago,
   And found them gentle mates, nor thought to know
   A sweeter music than they played to me.
   But soon their trailing purple was not free
   Of this world’s dust, their lutes did silent grow,
   And I myself grew faint and blind below
   Their vanishing eyes.  Then thou didst come—to be,
   Belovëd, what they seemed.  Their shining fronts,
   Their songs, their splendours, (better, yet the same,
   As river-water hallowed into fonts)
   Met in thee, and from out thee overcame
   My soul with satisfaction of all wants:
   Because God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.


   My own Belovëd, who hast lifted me
   From this drear flat of earth where I was thrown,
   And, in betwixt the languid ringlets, blown
   A life-breath, till the forehead hopefully
   Shines out again, as all the angels see,
   Before thy saving kiss!  My own, my own,
   Who camest to me when the world was gone,
   And I who looked for only God, found thee!
   I find thee; I am safe, and strong, and glad.
   As one who stands in dewless asphodel,
   Looks backward on the tedious time he had
   In the upper life,—so I, with bosom-swell,
   Make witness, here, between the good and bad,
   That Love, as strong as Death, retrieves as well.


   My letters! all dead paper, mute and white!
   And yet they seem alive and quivering
   Against my tremulous hands which loose the string
   And let them drop down on my knee to-night.
   This said,—he wished to have me in his sight
   Once, as a friend: this fixed a day in spring
   To come and touch my hand . . . a simple thing,
   Yet I wept for it!—this, . . . the paper’s light . . .
   Said, Dear I love thee; and I sank and quailed
   As if God’s future thundered on my past.
   This said, I am thine—and so its ink has paled
   With lying at my heart that beat too fast.
   And this . . . O Love, thy words have ill availed
   If, what this said, I dared repeat at last!


   I think of thee!—my thoughts do twine and bud
   About thee, as wild vines, about a tree,
   Put out broad leaves, and soon there’s nought to see
   Except the straggling green which hides the wood.
   Yet, O my palm-tree, be it understood
   I will not have my thoughts instead of thee
   Who art dearer, better!  Rather, instantly
   Renew thy presence; as a strong tree should,
   Rustle thy boughs and set thy trunk all bare,
   And let these bands of greenery which insphere thee,
   Drop heavily down,—burst, shattered everywhere!
   Because, in this deep joy to see and hear thee
   And breathe within thy shadow a new air,
   I do not think of thee—I am too near thee.


   I see thine image through my tears to-night,
   And yet to-day I saw thee smiling.  How
   Refer the cause?—Belovëd, is it thou
   Or I, who makes me sad?  The acolyte
   Amid the chanted joy and thankful rite
   May so fall flat, with pale insensate brow,
   On the altar-stair.  I hear thy voice and vow,
   Perplexed, uncertain, since thou art out of sight,
   As he, in his swooning ears, the choir’s amen.
   Belovëd, dost thou love? or did I see all
   The glory as I dreamed, and fainted when
   Too vehement light dilated my ideal,
   For my soul’s eyes?  Will that light come again,
   As now these tears come—falling hot and real?


   Thou comest! all is said without a word.
   I sit beneath thy looks, as children do
   In the noon-sun, with souls that tremble through
   Their happy eyelids from an unaverred
   Yet prodigal inward joy.  Behold, I erred
   In that last doubt! and yet I cannot rue
   The sin most, but the occasion—that we two
   Should for a moment stand unministered
   By a mutual presence.  Ah, keep near and close,
   Thou dove-like help! and when my fears would rise,
   With thy broad heart serenely interpose:
   Brood down with thy divine sufficiencies
   These thoughts which tremble when bereft of those,
   Like callow birds left desert to the skies.


   The first time that the sun rose on thine oath
   To love me, I looked forward to the moon
   To slacken all those bonds which seemed too soon
   And quickly tied to make a lasting troth.
   Quick-loving hearts, I thought, may quickly loathe;
   And, looking on myself, I seemed not one
   For such man’s love!—more like an out-of-tune
   Worn viol, a good singer would be wroth
   To spoil his song with, and which, snatched in haste,
   Is laid down at the first ill-sounding note.
   I did not wrong myself so, but I placed
   A wrong on thee.  For perfect strains may float
   ’Neath master-hands, from instruments defaced,—
   And great souls, at one stroke, may do and doat.


   Yes, call me by my pet-name! let me hear
   The name I used to run at, when a child,
   From innocent play, and leave the cowslips plied,
   To glance up in some face that proved me dear
   With the look of its eyes.  I miss the clear
   Fond voices which, being drawn and reconciled
   Into the music of Heaven’s undefiled,
   Call me no longer.  Silence on the bier,
   While I call God—call God!—so let thy mouth
   Be heir to those who are now exanimate.
   Gather the north flowers to complete the south,
   And catch the early love up in the late.
   Yes, call me by that name,—and I, in truth,
   With the same heart, will answer and not wait.


   With the same heart, I said, I’ll answer thee
   As those, when thou shalt call me by my name—
   Lo, the vain promise! is the same, the same,
   Perplexed and ruffled by life’s strategy?
   When called before, I told how hastily
   I dropped my flowers or brake off from a game.
   To run and answer with the smile that came
   At play last moment, and went on with me
   Through my obedience.  When I answer now,
   I drop a grave thought, break from solitude;
   Yet still my heart goes to thee—ponder how—
   Not as to a single good, but all my good!
   Lay thy hand on it, best one, and allow
   That no child’s foot could run fast as this blood.


   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 thy heart wide,
   And fold within, the wet wings of thy dove.


   When we met first and loved, I did not build
   Upon the event with marble.  Could it mean
   To last, a love set pendulous between
   Sorrow and sorrow?  Nay, I rather thrilled,
   Distrusting every light that seemed to gild
   The onward path, and feared to overlean
   A finger even.  And, though I have grown serene
   And strong since then, I think that God has willed
   A still renewable fear . . . O love, O troth . . .
   Lest these enclaspëd hands should never hold,
   This mutual kiss drop down between us both
   As an unowned thing, once the lips being cold.
   And Love, be false! if he, to keep one oath,
   Must lose one joy, by his life’s star foretold.


   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
   Thy 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.


   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.
   Slow to world-greetings, quick with its “O, list,”
   When the angels speak.  A ring of amethyst
   I could not wear here, plainer to my sight,
   Than that first kiss.  The second passed in height
   The first, and sought the forehead, and half missed,
   Half falling on the hair.  O beyond meed!
   That was the chrism of love, which love’s own crown,
   With sanctifying sweetness, did precede
   The third upon my lips was folded down
   In perfect, purple state; since when, indeed,
   I have been proud and said, “My love, my own.”


   Because thou hast the power and own’st the grace
   To look through and behind this mask of me,
   (Against which, years have beat thus blanchingly,
   With their rains,) and behold my soul’s true face,
   The dim and weary witness of life’s race,—
   Because thou hast the faith and love to see,
   Through that same soul’s distracting lethargy,
   The patient angel waiting for a place
   In the new Heavens,—because nor sin nor woe,
   Nor God’s infliction, nor death’s neighbourhood,
   Nor all which others viewing, turn to go,
   Nor all which makes me tired of all, self-viewed,—
   Nothing repels thee, . . . Dearest, teach me so
   To pour out gratitude, as thou dost, good!


   Oh, yes! they love through all this world of ours!
   I will not gainsay love, called love forsooth:
   I have heard love talked in my early youth,
   And since, not so long back but that the flowers
   Then gathered, smell still.  Mussulmans and Giaours
   Throw kerchiefs at a smile, and have no ruth
   For any weeping.  Polypheme’s white tooth
   Slips on the nut if, after frequent showers,
   The shell is over-smooth,—and not so much
   Will turn the thing called love, aside to hate
   Or else to oblivion.  But thou art not such
   A lover, my Belovëd! thou canst wait
   Through sorrow and sickness, to bring souls to touch,
   And think it soon when others cry “Too late.”


   I thank all who have loved me in their hearts,
   With thanks and love from mine.  Deep thanks to all
   Who paused a little near the prison-wall
   To hear my music in its louder parts
   Ere they went onward, each one to the mart’s
   Or temple’s occupation, beyond call.
   But thou, who, in my voice’s sink and fall
   When the sob took it, thy divinest Art’s
   Own instrument didst drop down at thy foot
   To harken what I said between my tears, . . .
   Instruct me how to thank thee!  Oh, to shoot
   My soul’s full meaning into future years,
   That they should lend it utterance, and salute
   Love that endures, from life that disappears!


   My future will not copy fair my past—
   I wrote that once; and thinking at my side
   My ministering life-angel justified
   The word by his appealing look upcast
   To the white throne of God, I turned at last,
   And there, instead, saw thee, not unallied
   To angels in thy soul!  Then I, long tried
   By natural ills, received the comfort fast,
   While budding, at thy sight, my pilgrim’s staff
   Gave out green leaves with morning dews impearled.
   I seek no copy now of life’s first half:
   Leave here the pages with long musing curled,
   And write me new my future’s epigraph,
   New angel mine, unhoped for in the world!


   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.


   Belovëd, thou hast brought me many flowers
   Plucked in the garden, all the summer through,
   And winter, and it seemed as if they grew
   In this close room, nor missed the sun and showers.
   So, in the like name of that love of ours,
   Take back these thoughts which here unfolded too,
   And which on warm and cold days I withdrew
   From my heart’s ground.  Indeed, those beds and bowers
   Be overgrown with bitter weeds and rue,
   And wait thy weeding; yet here’s eglantine,
   Here’s ivy!—take them, as I used to do
   Thy flowers, and keep them where they shall not pine.
   Instruct thine eyes to keep their colours true,
   And tell thy soul, their roots are left in mine.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Sonnets from the Portuguese" ***

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