Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Poems

Critical reception

How Do I Love Thee? 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. 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 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.

“ ” Sonnet XLIII from Sonnets from the Portuguese, 1845 (published 1850)[27]

Barrett Browning was widely popular in the U.K. and America during her lifetime.[1] American poet Edgar Allan Poe was inspired by her poem Lady Geraldine's Courtship and specifically borrowed the poem's meter for his poem The Raven.[28] Poe had reviewed Barrett Browning's work in the January 1845 issue of the Broadway Journal and said that "her poetic inspiration is the highest — we can conceive of nothing more august. Her sense of Art is pure in itself."[29] In return, she praised The Raven and Poe dedicated his 1845 collection The Raven and Other Poems to her, referring to her as "the noblest of her sex".[30]

Her poetry greatly influenced Emily Dickinson, who admired her as a woman of achievement. Her popularity in the United States and Britain was further advanced by her stands against social injustice, including slavery in the United States, injustice toward Italian citizens by foreign rulers, and child labour.

Lilian Whiting published a biography of Barrett Browning (1899) which describes her as "the most philosophical poet" and depicts her life as "a Gospel of applied Christianity". To Whiting, the term "art for art's sake" did not apply to Barrett Browning's work for the reason that each poem, distinctively purposeful, was borne of a more "honest vision". In this critical analysis, Whiting portrays Barrett Browning as a poet who uses knowledge of Classical literature with an "intuitive gift of spiritual divination".[31] In Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Angela Leighton suggests that the portrayal of Barrett Browning as the "pious iconography of womanhood" has distracted us from her poetic achievements. Leighton cites the 1931 play by Rudolf Besier, The Barretts of Wimpole Street, as evidence that 20th-century literary criticism of Barrett Browning's work has suffered more as a result of her popularity than poetic ineptitude.[32] The play was popularized by actress Katharine Cornell, for whom it became a signature role. It was an enormous success, both artistically and commercially, and was revived several times and adapted twice into movies.

Throughout the 20th century, literary criticism of Barrett Browning's poetry remained sparse until her poems were discovered by the women's movement. She once described herself as being inclined to reject several women's rights principles, suggesting in letters to Mary Russell Mitford and her husband that she believed that there was an inferiority of intellect in women. In Aurora Leigh, however, she created a strong and independent woman who embraces both work and love. Leighton writes that because Elizabeth participates in the literary world, where voice and diction are dominated by perceived masculine superiority, she "is defined only in mysterious opposition to everything that distinguishes the male subject who writes..."[32] A five-volume scholarly edition of her works was published in 2010, the first in over a century.[12]

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