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E. B. B. and Eros

"There's nothing low / in love, when love the lowest . . ." (ll.9-10).
Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "Sonnet X" (1845-47; 1850)


Points of Reflection

note #1: in the following poems, I use "narrator" and "EBB" (Elizabeth Barrett Browning) interchangeably since, in these case of this sonnet sequence, they are one and the same. These poems are written by EBB about EBB's affection for the poet Robert Browning

note #2: be sure to bring C. S. Lewis's The Four Loves to class this week as we discuss EBB's poetry.

"Sonnet X" (1845-47; 1850)

1. does EBB's narrator arrogate to her lover a power and influence that is God's alone in lines 6-7?

2. is the glorification process described in lines 6-9 mutual?

3. would C. S. Lewis concur with EBB's claim that there is nothing "low" about love that involves the "lowest" and "meanest" creatures (ll.9-11)?

4. to what "great work of Love" is EBB referring in line fourteen?

"Sonnet XIII" (1845-47; 1850)

1. identify the central paradox in EBB's sonnet #13.

2. does the narrator claim that impassioned words spoken by one lover to another iluminate truths about only the speaker her/himself, or about the listener as well as the speaker?

3. does the speaker use her gender as a rationale for reticence?

4. if the narrator's male lover believes she (the narrator) loves him (l.10), why might he ask for audible proof, and why is she so reluctant to give it (ll.11-14)?

5. why does the narrator speak of "rend[ing] the garment of [her] life" (l.12)? What is she mourning?

"Sonnet XIV" (1845-47; 1850)

1. for what two reasons does the narrator not wish to be loved for her appearance, way of speaking, or even her thoughts (ll.2-9)?

2. does the narrator wish to have her lover's affection woven through with pity (ll.9-12)?

3. what might it mean to love someone "for love's sake" (ll.2, 13)?

"Sonnet XVI" (1845-47; 1850)

1. does EBB's use of martial metaphor in this poem suggest that her relationship with her beloved (the poet Robert Browning) is combative and fraught with struggle?

2. exactly what is the narrator's lover fighting against (l.3)?

3. what is "purple (l.4) a metonymy for in this poem?

4. do the words "conquering" (l.6) and "vanquished" (l.9) retain their traditionally negative associations here?

"Sonnet XVIII" (1845-47; 1850)

1. does the narrator cast herself as young or old?

2. the narrator herself is surprised that she is relinquishing a lock of her hair to her lover, having long believed that her locks of hair would go to whom?

3. is the narrator's mother alive?

"Sonnet XX" (1845-47; 1850)

1. why might the narrator describe her life prior to meeting her lover as that of a prisoner bound in chains (ll.1-9)?

2. why does the narrator believe that she should have been able to "guess" of her lover's presence/being before ever meeting him?

"Sonnet XXI" (1845-47; 1850)

1. how many times does the narrator wish her lover to say the words "I love you" (ll.1-3, 9-13)?

2. presumably, the spring does not come until heralded by what (ll.4-6)?

3. what might be the "doubtful spirit-voice" which intermittently creates anxiety in the narrator (l.8)?

4. how does one love another "in silence with [her/his] soul" (l.14)?

"Sonnet XXVII" (1845-47; 1850)

1. does this poem strike you as heretical? Consider in particular lines 6-8 and 12-14.

2. as rendered in this poem, has EBB's lover Robert Browning lifted her up or grounded her?

"Sonnet XLIII" (1845-47; 1850)

1. does EBB's love for Robert Browning encourage her love of the Divine?

2. is the "Praise" of line eight a praise directed at the men of line seven, or God?

3. does EBB hope that romantic love lives on in the afterlife?

"The Enigma of Desire" (1929)
Salvador Dalí

Dr. Paul Marchbanks