Sonnet 6 Elizabeth Barrett Browning Analysis Essay

In this sonnet, the reader is in the world of profound feelings in the presence of spirit, although the physical world is not ignored. Indeed, it is used to convey the poet’s feelings and inner states. She sees aspects of the physical world as an expression of the spiritual or abstract realm within her own being. The “threshold” of her “individual life” is a metaphorical expression of her inner state, though “sunshine” (line 6) moves thought into the physical realm despite its symbolic value. In subsequent lines, “palm,” “land,” “heart,” “grapes,” “eyes,” and “tears” all refer to physical things, but their meanings in the poem relate to and reflect spiritual and emotional qualities. In them, her thoughts and feelings are embodied. What they represent, in the poem, explains how the poet sees her condition, herself, and her feelings.

As early as line 2, Barrett Browning suggests that she will be incapacitated by her lover’s departure—she cannot act “Without the sense of. . ./ Thy touch upon the palm.” Rather than rendering her helpless, however, her denial of his presence (“that which I forbore”) will leave a “sense” of him with her, his “touch upon the palm.” This image deftly suggests a strengthening, but his presence—no more than a “sense” and “touch”—nevertheless increases her, both spiritually and physically. Separation has taught her that she is both weakened by her lover’s...

(The entire section is 418 words.)

from Sonnets from the Portuguese
Elizabeth Barrett Browing

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 forebore---
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.

Once again, one is left almost breathless with the depth of feeling exposed here.  The circuit of their love and relationship is once again opened--the approach/avoidance encouraged by Robert on the one hand and her father on the other leave Elizabeth torn.  Here, she turns away again and makes a prophetic statement that turns out to be true: "Yet I feel that I shall stand//Henceforward in thy shadow."  While she wasn't speaking of the realm of poetry, the effect here is to let us think about the relative standing (as poets). 

But Elizabeth goes on to explain that even if Robert should leave here, even if love departs, he will not love, she will never stand alone--there is no "I" anymore even if these advances are rejected and the suitor turned out.   ("Nevermore//Alone upon the threshold of my door//of Individual live. . . without the sense of that which I forebore. . . ")

Most powerful of all the images of the sestet--the double heart and the suit of God which see her with tears of two in her eyes.

There is no denying that these are love poems.  But they are not thin, weedy, etiolated things that one would expect from their common presentation.  These are powerful sonnets that get at the heart of what it is to be truly in love and to be all and hope all and expect all and dream of all.  They get at the heart of torment as two divided loyalties command one's attention.  It is hard to think of a round of sonnets that gets so close to the heart of the matter and dwells on it continuously and in such deep and intimate imagery.

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