"Sonnets From The Portugues" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
My copy of the book is reprinted from the fourth edition of "Poems" by Barrett Browning which was published in 1856.
Source: this one's mine--although when I got it, I can't recall. Strangely there is no publication in my slim, leather-bound edition. I know I've had it more than 30 years.
Reading these sonnets, I was struck by several things. They just don't right 'em like this any more and I'm not sure anyone else ever did. These sonnets are a collection of very personal poems, not just love sonnets. The Barret family was once well-to-do but when Elizabeth was 18 her family fell on hard time. Depending on the source, she began to suffer from a mysterious ailment at 15 or 20 that doctors at the time were never able to accurately diagnosis, leaving her something of an invalid and a morphine addict. Both of these circumstances were very obvious this collection as was a strong sense of God.
Elizabeth Barret met Robert Browning after he wrote to her because he enjoyed one of her poetry collections. Six years younger than her and far more worldly, she seemed to have trouble believing that he loved her as much as he professed. The collection that is now referred to as "Sonnets From The Portuguese" is a very personal journey through the course of their courtship including her questioning of his assertions of love and her doubts about leaving her family for him. Robert convinced her to publish the collection even though Elizabeth felt they were too personal; they came upon the title as a way to disguise the fact that Elizabeth had written them to Robert. "My little Portuguese" was his nickname for her, hence the choice to pretend that the collection was a translation of Portuguese poetry.
There are many lovely poems in this collection, although some of them left me scratching my head. Of course, Barret Browning's most famous oem is this one:
"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.I love thee to the depth and breadth and heightMy soul can reach, when feeling out of sightFor the ends of Being and ideal Grace.I love thee to the level of everyday'sMost 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 useIn my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.I love thee with a love I seemed to loseWith 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."