Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnet 25
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Sonnets from the Portuguese
This volume includes all 44 sonnets in the sequence.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnet 25” from Sonnets from the Portuguese dramatizes the transformation of the speaker’s “heavy heart” of misery into a welcoming home of life and love. She credits her belovèd for her ability to transcend her earlier sorrows.
The speaker continues to gain confidence in herself and the possibility that she can be loved by one whose status she deems so far above her own. She began in utter denial of any such luck, but as the muses, prays, and contemplates the motives and the behavior of her beloved, she becomes more convinced of his genuine affection for her.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning's speaker revisits her former sadness and melancholy in order to contrast that earlier "heavy heart" with the light heartedness she now has begun to enjoy because of the genuine feelings she now detects in her belovèd.
First Quatrain: “A heavy heart, Belovèd, have I borne”
The speaker addressing her belovèd recalls that before she “saw [his] face,” she was afflicted with a “heavy heart.” She suffered a long line of sorrows instead of “all those natural joys” that young woman usually experience so easily.
This speaker has so often alluded to her sorrow that the reader is not surprised that it appears again for dramatization. Her storehouse of metaphors that elucidate her misery is large and varied.
Second Quatrain: “As the stringed pearls, each lifted in its turn”
The speaker compares that long life of “sorrow after sorrow” to a string of pearls and supplies the image of a young woman at a dance, who fingers her pearls as she waits with rapidly “beating heart” to be asked to dance.
The speaker sees herself as a wallflower and as that metaphoric self stood waiting to be chosen, her hopes were dashed and “were changed to long despairs.” She remained alone and lonely until her belovèd mercifully through the grace of God rescued her.
First Tercet: “My heavy heart. Then thou didst bid me bring”
Inordinately, she was so distressed with her burden of a “heavy heart” that it was difficult even for “God’s own grace” to “lift above the world” that “forlorn” dejected heart. But fortunately her belovèd appeared. He beckoned her, accepted her, and welcomed her to “let it drop adown thy calmly great /deep being!”
Her gentleman friend's loving affection was like a warm soothing pool of fresh water into which she could drop her painful “heavy heart” to have it washed clean of its sorrowful burden. Her heavy heart sank quickly to bottom of his welcoming comfort as if it belonged in that very place.
Second Tercet: “Which its own nature doth precipitate”
The speaker's emotional self was thus comforted by her belovèd’s adoring care; she felt that she had come home for the first time. His love enclosed her and lifted her to where she could sense her destiny as majestic as a celestial being “mediating / Betwixt the stars and the unaccomplished fate.”
The speaker has offered her belovèd a dramatic celebration of her change of heart and credited him with transforming her “heavy heart” into a light sensory gift that has become conducive of heaven.
Reading of Barrett Browning's Sonnet 25
© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes