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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Selected Sonnets from the Portuguese
By Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)
 
UNLIKE are we, unlike, O princely Heart!
  Unlike our uses and our destinies.
  Our ministering two angels look surprise
On one another as they strike athwart
Their wings in passing. Thou, bethink thee, art        5
  A guest for queens to social pageantries,
  With gages from a hundred brighter eyes
Than tears even can make mine, to play thy part
  Of chief musician. What hast thou to do
With looking from the lattice-lights at me,        10
  A poor, tired, wandering singer, singing through
The dark, and leaning up a cypress tree?
  The chrism is on thine head; on mine the dew:
And Death must dig the level where these agree.
 
THOU hast thy calling to some palace-floor,        15
  Most gracious singer of high poems, where
  The dancers will break footing, from the care
Of watching up thy pregnant lips for more.
And dost thou lift this house’s latch, too poor
  For hand of thine? and canst thou think, and bear        20
  To let thy music drop here unaware
In folds of golden fulness at my door?
  Look up, and see the casement broken in,
The bats and owlets builders in the roof!
  My cricket chirps against thy mandolin.        25
Hush, call no echo up in further proof
  Of desolation! there’s a voice within
That weeps—as thou must sing—alone, aloof.
 
WHAT can I give thee back, O liberal
  And princely giver, who hast brought the gold        30
  And purple of thine heart, unstained, untold,
And laid them on the outside of the wall
For such as I to take or leave withal,
  In unexpected largesse? Am I cold,
  Ungrateful, that for these most manifold        35
High gifts, I render nothing back at all?
  Not so; not cold, but very poor instead.
Ask God, who knows. For frequent tears have run
  The colors from my life, and left so dead
And pale a stuff, it were not fitly done        40
  To give the same as pillow to thy head.
Go farther! let it serve to trample on.
 
IF thou must love me, let it be for naught
  Except for love’s sake only. Do not say
  “I love her for her smile, her look, her way        45
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        50
  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        55
Thou mayst love on through love’s eternity.
 
FIRST time he kissed me, he but only kissed
  The fingers of this hand wherewith I write;
  And ever since it grew more clean and white,
Slow to world-greetings, quick with its “Oh list!”        60
When the angels speak. A ring of amethyst
  I could not wear here plainer to my sight
  Than that first kiss. The second passed in height
The first, and sought the forehead, and half missed,
  Half falling on the hair. Oh, beyond meed!        65
That was the chrism of love, which love’s own crown
  With sanctifying sweetness did precede.
The third upon my lips was folded down
  In perfect purple state; since when, indeed,
I have been proud, and said “My love, my own!”        70
 
I LIVED with visions for my company,
  Instead of men and women, years ago,
  And found them gentle mates, nor thought to know
A sweeter music than they played to me.
But soon their trailing purple was not free        75
  Of this world’s dust, their lutes did silent grow,
  And I myself grew faint and blind below
Their vanishing eyes. Then THOU didst come—to be,
  Beloved, what they seemed. Their shining fronts,
Their songs, their splendors (better, yet the same,        80
  As river-water hallowed into fonts),
Met in thee, and from out thee overcame
  My soul with satisfaction of all wants,
Because God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.
 
BELOVED, my beloved, when I think        85
  That thou wast in the world a year ago,
  What time I sat alone here in the snow,
And saw no footprint, heard the silence sink
No moment at thy voice, but, link by link,
  Went counting all my chains as if that so        90
  They never could fall off at any blow
Struck by thy possible hand—why, thus I drink
  Of life’s great cup of wonder! Wonderful,
Never to feel thee thrill the day or night
  With personal act or speech, nor ever cull        95
Some prescience of thee with the blossoms white
  Thou sawest growing! Atheists are as dull,
Who cannot guess God’s presence out of sight.
 
BECAUSE thou hast the power and own’st the grace
  To look through and behind this mask of me,        100
  (Against which years have beat thus blanchingly
With their rains!) and behold my soul’s true face,
The dim and weary witness of life’s race;
  Because thou hast the faith and love to see,
  Through that same soul’s distracting lethargy,        105
The patient angel waiting for his place
  In the new heavens; because nor sin nor woe,
Nor God’s infliction, nor death’s neighborhood,
  Nor all which others viewing, turn to go,
Nor all which makes me tired of all, self-viewed,—        110
  Nothing repels thee.—Dearest, teach me so
To pour out gratitude, as thou dost, good!
 
I THANK all who have loved me in their hearts,
  With thanks and love from mine. Deep thanks to all
  Who paused a little near the prison-wall,        115
To hear my music in its louder parts,
Ere they went onward, each one to the mart’s
  Or temple’s occupation, beyond call.
  But thou, who in my voice’s sink and fall,
When the sob took it, thy divinest Art’s        120
  Own instrument didst drop down at thy foot,
To hearken what I said between my tears,
  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        125
Love that endures! with Life that disappears!
 
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.        130
I love thee to the level of every day’s
  Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
  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        135
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.        140
 
 
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