I thought that it was really interesting to see Elizabeth Barrett Browning write about the anxieties that go hand in hand with love. One thing I noticed throughout a lot of the sonnets was that the speaker seemed to feel inadequate, especially when compared to her beloved. In EBB’s eight sonnet, the speaker calls her lover a “princely giver, who hast brought the gold / And purple of thine heart, unstained, untold,” (l. 2). The use of “princely,” “purple” and “gold” are all associated with wealth and royalty, which help convey how highly the speaker thinks of her beloved. EBB also notes that the heart of this “princely giver” is “unstained” and therefore his heart and love are pure. These descriptions of her beloved help the speaker convey how much she adores him and values his love.
While praising her beloved, the speaker of the poem starts to doubt herself and tear down her worth. At the start of the sonnet the speaker immediately asks, “What can I give thee back…” (l. 1). The speaker is thrown off by everything her beloved has given her and she is unsure whether she should accept it since she has nothing to give him in return. This starts to unravel her doubts as the speaker asks, “…am I cold, / Ungrateful, that for these most manifold / High gifts, I render nothing back at all?” (l. 6-8). Now the speaker fears how she will be perceived if she gives her beloved nothing in return, adding to her prior worries. By doing this, EBB draws the reader’s attention to the speaker’s insecurities and the complex emotions that come with love. The speaker doesn’t feel that she is enough or deserving of her lover because she can’t repay his gifts to her.
The speaker also worries that she cannot love her beloved as much as he deserves. EBB writes, “For frequent tears have run / The colours from my life, and left so dead / And pale a stuff, it were not fitly done / To give the same as pillow to thy head,” (l. 10-13). Here EBB illustrates how the speaker has been grieving and it took a huge toll on her. As a result the speaker feels she is unable to match her beloved’s level of devotion. In this poem, and the rest of the collection, Elizabeth Barrett Browning shows how complex love can be, especially by discussing her speaker’s insecurities and hesitations. This in turn depicts a more realistic love in comparison to other poems where love is simpler and fairytale-like.