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JudyReSonnetsfromthePortuguese

Now reading Dared and Done by Julia Markus, and supplementing with Sonnets from the Portuguese.

Sonnet #1 by Elizabeth Barrett was written at the end of her spinsterhood. Her repressive, Victorian father, perhaps suspecting mixed blood, forbade his adult children any romantic liaisons. Robert Browning, a young poet, fell in love with the poems of Elizabeth Barrett, and corresponded with her. When he visited her in her reclusiveness, he fell in love with the woman. Elizabeth, shocked to realize that her future held more for her than deterioration and solitude wrote:

 So weeping, how a mystic shape did move
 Behind me, and drew me backward by the hair;
 And a voice said in mastery, while I strove,_
 "Guess now who holds thee!"_  "Death" I said. But there
 The silver answer rang, _ "Not Death, but Love."

Julia Markus asks how such thoughts as these can, by literary fancy, end up on the "cute shelf".

I loved these sonnets in my college years, and as a woman past the middle years, appreciate them on an additional level, and so, wrote and tender this poem, shyly, to the reader, trusting your generosity and kindness.

 Before silent Death arrives
 How many times does a mystic shape
 tap us on the shoulder and ask,
    "Guess who?"  

 That husky voice discernible
 beyond the ruby edge of youth
 is heard a moment after the fleeting chest pain or physical anomaly
    that really is just nothing.

 "What was that?  Is this the moment?" The heart attack or stroke  
 that takes us into Mercy's arms, 
 or God forbid, 
 into indecision;
 to trust 
 those money makers 
 pandering poisons that may cure, 
 but kill the carefree life that might have been 
 without the dreaded knowing.

- Judy Decker


Paulette Dickerson (my wife) tells a story from one of her undergraduate classes where the professor was trying to demonstrate the treacle-cute nature of EBB's Sonnets from the Portuguese. He read one out loud, and at the end looked puzzled and admitted, "Well, that wasn't so bad." Then he read another to the students, came to the same conclusion, tried again to prove his point, failed, and eventually had to admit defeat. (^_^) Maybe the Sonnets had seemed cutesy to him only in retrospect, from having read them too long ago, or too hastily, or at too young an age, or in too frivolous a context, or ...?

(see also BarrettAndBrowning and ExpertPlayer)

- MarkZimmermann


(correlates: NotEasy, JudyReCommunication, LastGoodDeed, ...)