Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-03-061861-06-29) was an English poet and the wife of fellow poet Robert Browning.


  • Or from Browning some "Pomegranate," which, if cut deep down the middle,
    Shows a heart within blood-tinctured of a veined humanity.
  • Do ye hear the children weeping, O my brothers,
    Ere the sorrow comes with years?
    They are leaning their young heads against their mothers—
    And that cannot stop their tears.
  • I tell you, hopeless grief is passionless.
  • Therefore to this dog will I,
    Tenderly not scornfully,
    Render praise and favor:
    With my hand upon his head,
    Is my benediction said
    Therefore and for ever.
  • "Yes," I answered you last night;
    "No," this morning, Sir, I say.
    Colours seen by candlelight,
    Will not look the same by day.
  • Unless you can muse in a crowd all day
    On the absent face that fixed you;
    Unless you can love, as the angels may,
    With the breadth of heaven betwixt you;
    Unless you can dream that his faith is fast,
    Through behoving and unbehoving;
    Unless you can die when the dream is past -
    Oh, never call it loving!
  • What was he doing, the great god Pan,
    Down in the reeds by the river?
    Spreading ruin and scattering ban,
    Splashing and paddling with hoofs of a goat,
    And breaking the golden lilies afloat
    With the dragon-fly on the river.
  • The cypress stood up like a church
    That night we felt our love would hold,
    And saintly moonlight seemed to search
    And wash the whole world clean as gold;
    The olives crystallized the vales'
    Broad slopes until the hills grew strong:
    The fireflies and the nightingales
    Throbbed each to either, flame and song.
    The nightingales, the nightingales.

A Vision of Poets

  • There Shakespeare, on whose forehead climb
    The crowns o’ the world; oh, eyes sublime
    With tears and laughter for all time!
  • And Chaucer, with his infantine
    Familiar clasp of things divine.
  • And Marlowe, Webster, Fletcher, Ben,
    Whose fire-hearts sowed our furrows when
    The world was worthy of such men.
  • Knowledge by suffering entereth,
    And life is perfected by death.

Sonnets from the Portugese (1850)

  • "Guess now who holds thee?"—"Death," I said. But there
    The silver answer rang—"Not Death, but Love."
    • No. I
  • 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.
    • No. IV
  • Hush, call no echo up in further proof
    Of desolation! there's a voice within
    That weeps . . . as thou must sing . . . alone, aloof.
    • No. IV
  • Go from me. Yet I feel that I shall stand
    Henceforward in thy shadow.
    • No. VI
If thou must love me, let it be for nought except for love's sake only...
  • 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, Beloved, 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'
    • No. XIV
  • 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 curvèd point,--what bitter wrong
    Can the earth do to us, that we should not long
    Be here contented?
    • No. XXII
  • God only, who made us rich, can make us poor.
    • No. XXIV
  • Because God's gifts put man's best dreams to shame.
    • No. XXVI
  • 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!
    • No. LXI
  • 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!
    • No. LXII
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach...
  • 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.
    • No. LXIII
  • 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.
    • No. LXIV

Aurora Leigh (1857)

  • Of writing many books there is no end;
    And I who have written much in prose and verse
    For others' uses, will write now for mine,—
    Will write my story for my better self,
    As when you paint your portrait for a friend,
    Who keeps it in a drawer and looks at it
    Long after he has ceased to love you, just
    To hold together what he was and is.
    • Bk. I, l. 1-8
  • Life, struck sharp on death,
    Makes awful lightning. His last word was, 'Love–'
    'Love, my child, love, love!'–(then he had done with grief)
    'Love, my child.' Ere I answered he was gone,
    And none was left to love in all the world.
    • Bk. I, l. 210-214
  • If I married him,
    I would not dare to call my soul my own,
    Which so he had bought and paid for: every thought
    And every heart-beat down there in the bill,–
    Not one found honestly deductible
    From any use that pleased him!
    • Bk. II, l. 785-790
  • God answers sharp and sudden on some prayers,
    And thrusts the thing we have prayed for in our face,
    A gauntlet with a gift in't.
    • Bk. II, l. 952-954
  • That he, in his developed manhood, stood
    A little sunburnt by the glare of life;
    While I . . it seemed no sun had shone on me.
    • Bk. IV, l. 1139-1141
  • Nay, if there's room for poets in the world
    A little overgrown, (I think there is)
    Their sole work is to represent the age,
    Their age, not Charlemagne's,–this live, throbbing age,
    That brawls, cheats, maddens, calculates, aspires,
    And spends more passion, more heroic heat,
    Betwixt the mirrors of its drawing-rooms,
    Than Roland with his knights, at Roncesvalles.
    • Bk. V, l. 200-207
  • Since when was genius found respectable?
    • Bk. VI, l. 275
  • Man, the two-fold creature, apprehends
    The two-fold manner, in and outwardly,
    And nothing in the world comes single to him.
    A mere itself,–cup, column, or candlestick,
    All patterns of what shall be in the Mount;
    The whole temporal show related royally,
    And build up to eterne significance
    Through the open arms of God.
    • Bk. VII, l. 801-808
  • And truly, I reiterate, . . nothing's small!
    No lily-muffled hum of a summer-bee,
    But finds some coupling with the spinning stars;
    No pebble at your foot, but proves a sphere;
    No chaffinch, but implies the cherubim:
    And,–glancing on my own thin, veined wrist,–
    In such a little tremour of the blood
    The whole strong clamour of a vehement soul
    Doth utter itself distinct. Earth's crammed with heaven,
    And every common bush afire with God:

    But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
    The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries,
    And daub their natural faces unaware
    More and more, from the first similitude.
    • Bk. VII, l. 812-826

De Profundis (1862)

"De Profundis" (1862) Full text online
  • The face, which, duly as the sun,
    Rose up for me with life begun,
    To mark all bright hours of the day
    With hourly love, is dimmed away —
    And yet my days go on, go on.
    • St. 1
  • The heart which, like a staff, was one
    For mine to lean and rest upon,
    The strongest on the longest day
    With steadfast love, is caught away,
    And yet my days go on, go on.

    And cold before my summer's done,
    And deaf in Nature's general tune,
    And fallen too low for special fear,
    And here, with hope no longer here,
    While the tears drop, my days go on.

    • St. 3 - 4
  • By anguish which made pale the sun,
    I hear Him charge his saints that none
    Among his creatures anywhere
    Blaspheme against Him with despair,
    However darkly days go on.
    • St. 19
  • Take from my head the thorn-wreath brown!
    No mortal grief deserves that crown.
    O supreme Love, chief misery,
    The sharp regalia are for Thee
    Whose days eternally go on!'

    For us, — whatever's undergone,
    Thou knowest, willest what is done,
    Grief may be joy misunderstood;
    Only the Good discerns the good.
    I trust Thee while my days go on.

    • St. 20-21
  • Whatever's lost, it first was won;
    We will not struggle nor impugn.
    Perhaps the cup was broken here,
    That Heaven's new wine might show more clear.
    I praise Thee while my days go on.
    • St. 22
  • I praise Thee while my days go on;
    I love Thee while my days go on
    Through dark and dearth, through fire and frost,
    With emptied arms and treasure lost,
    I thank Thee while my days go on.

    And having in thy life-depth thrown
    Being and suffering (which are one),
    As a child drops his pebble small
    Down some deep well, and hears it fall
    Smiling — so I. THY DAYS GO ON.

    • St. 23 -24

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