Not as Lovely-Dovey

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.

3 thoughts on “Not as Lovely-Dovey”

  1. This post really helped me understand the ways that EBB’s sonnets portray the “double poem”. Because the sonnets portray contrasting, or “double”, themes of love and anguish, I think it would be interesting to compare the moments of anguish/anxiety/grief (as you did in this post) with those of love/confidence/security. I think the extreme differences, as well as the interconnected nature, of these two themes would support your main claim that the “doubleness” of EBB’s sonnets shows the complexities of relationships.

  2. Dear Magnolia,
    you’re certainly right about the complexities of love. I found myself drawn to your analysis of how EBB conveys to readers that love also comes with a self evaluation and critique of ourselves next to our respective partner, especially if we feel that said partner is too good for us. I would like to point out that color choice between the speaker and her lover is another tool in emphasizing the speaker’s critical view of herself; While the speaker’s beloved is described as ” ‘princely,’ ‘purple’ and ‘gold’, the speaker imagines herself as “pale” and essentially colorless which is a stark contrast to her majestically colorful lover. In pointing this out, I would like to propose a question to you: Is there possibly an allusion to gender play here? That the comparison of the purple of her lover to that of a prince, a man of great status and power, serves to further downplay the speaker as just a plain pale woman incapable of properly worshipping this man? Does he even deserved to be worshipped to this extent because I sure don’t see a proper description from EBB of how wonderful his personality is…whether its actual personality or “personality” 😉

  3. I was also struck by the emotionally distressing aspect of love shown in the sonnets. I think there is something beautiful about showing the journey of learning to love someone, rather than just focusing on the happiest or saddest parts of a relationship. EBB’s work is so nuanced and real that I felt like I was living through her experiences while reading her work. Your post perfectly highlights the brilliance of characterization in her writing. The way she writes not just about love as a concept, but the people in the relationship makes the story vibrant and honestly got me so much more invested; great blog post!

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