Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnet 14
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
The speaker insists that her paramour love her only for the sake of love and not for any qualities that she possesses, such as her smile or the way she speaks.
The speaker in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s "Sonnet 14" from Sonnets from the Portuguese now graciously receives her suitor’s affection; however, she wishes to alert him to what she expects from their relationship. She therefore defines the nature of the love she expects the two to share.
First Quatrain: "If thou must love me, let it be for nought"
The speaker's tentativeness remains even as she contemplates the joy of such a love relationship. Her feeling of procrastination is all she has to shield her heart if things should later go wrong. She signals the possibility of acceptance by saying, "If thou must love me," and not by the usual insulting phrase, if-you-really-love-me.
The simple, single term "must" heralds a change is on the horizon. It shows that she does realize the true nature of the man's love, even though she cannot bring herself to have complete faith that something in her nature might not spoil even such a true love.
The speaker asks pragmatically that he love her for love alone, and not for the physical, superficial qualities that so often attract lovers. She does not want her lover to be in love merely with her smile or the way she speaks.
Second Quatrain: "That falls in well with mine, and certes brought"
The speaker now unveils her reason for disdaining the superficial kind of attention often engaged in by lovers. Those qualities all too often provide "a trick of thought." Suppose her smile is pleasant to him one day but not the next. If he were fixated on that smile, she fears his love for her would suffer.
The speaker does not want her partner's love to be ruled by moods. She again supposes that if she offers him a kind glance but then later a melancholic sadness appears, that love might again be affected negatively. Her speech to him may also vary and not always delight him. She knows she cannot always engage in conversation that is filled only with pleasantries.
The speaker well understands that love founded on change is not a lasting, solid love. Thus, she instructs him that she knows that the physical is wont to change, but love should not. She wishes to make him know that she can only accept an unconditional love based on permanence—not change.
First Tercet: "May be unwrought so. Neither love me for"
The speaker then offers a further demand that he not love her out of pity. She has often delved into the depths of her melancholy which has caused her to weep long and often. And if his love were tinged with sympathy for her sad lot, what would happen if were to "forget to weep"?
She fears that even if or when she likely becomes a happy woman, her lover would then have one less reason to love her, if he had based his love on giving the poor thing sympathy.
Second Tercet: "Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!"
It is very important to the speaker to make known to her beloved that she wants to be loved for no other reason than that she exists. If loved because of physical attributes, or the mere fact that she has suffered and somehow deserves to be happy, true love could never exist under those influences.
Therefore, if her lover will do as she requests and just love her for "love's sake," she is confident that their love will remain "through love's eternity."
Reading of Sonnet 14
Sonnets from the Portuguese
The collection contains all 44 sonnets in the sequence known as Sonnets from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes