Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Poems

The “Silence of Womanhood”: Paradox as Power in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet 13 College

In Sonnet 13 of Sonnets from the Portuguese, Elizabeth Barrett Browning skillfully manipulates the sonnet form to construct what is essentially a love poem, albeit an unusual one that paradoxically eschews the rote sentimentality associated with these works and emphasizes separation rather than blissful union. The poem’s variations in syntactic structure, rhyme scheme, and diction all contribute to developing the theme of detachment and impossibility that pervades the first two quatrains. Although laden with allusions to suffering not as an archetypal symptom of Petrarchan romance but as something that disables the rites of courtship and delays the admission of love, the poem does not present a wholly hopeless and futile situation for the two lovers. Following the turn that occurs in its final sestet, Sonnet 13 ultimately concludes on a note of possibility and empowering self-introspection: while the sonnet revolves around the complicated relationship between Browning and her future husband, it is the poet herself who emerges in the final lines of the poem, self-conscious of her roles as sonneteer, invalid, and woman in love. Browning’s exercise in poetic variation and virtuosity, then, can be viewed as an apt reflection both...

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