Sonnets from Portuguese is a collection of 44 sonnets written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning during the years 1845-1846 and published in 1850. The sonnets have been very popular since their publication.
Elizabeth Browning was a Victorian poet whose poetry was very popular in England as well as in the United States. All her sonnets revolve around her intense love for her would-to-be husband Robert Browning.
FORM & STRUCTURE:
The poem If Thou Must Love Me is a sonnet. A sonnet is a fourteen-line poem with a normal rhyming pattern in iambic pentameter. The rhyme scheme in this sonnet is abba/abba/cdc/dc. This sonnet If Thou Must Love Me is a combination of Petrarchan and Shakespearean conventions. The fusion of these two conventions adds unity to the sonnets and seems to echo the unity of the couple portrayed in the poem.
USE OF DIALOGUE:
The poet has used dialogue in the sonnet. She had put forth a quotation, an argumentation by a lover presented in a form of sonnet. Moreover, the sonnet seems like a discussion by the both parties about their relationship. The poem is more about the lady’s opinion about how her man should love her. It seems like she is not happy with the present idealism of her man.
The word ‘love’ has been repeated for at least ten times in the poem. It is used by the poet not just to praise the subject but has also focused on the intellectualism of what love should be. Barrett Browning is more concerned about the kind of love that lasts forever rather than ‘love for love’s sake.’
Personification is that figure of speech where abstract ideas are attributed human qualities. Again ‘love’ has been personified in If Thou Must Love Me, when the speaker says, ‘love’s sake’ and ‘love’s eternity.’
Cumulative Listing is a technique of listing similar ideas in poetry. Here in this sonnet, the poet has used this technique of Cumulative Listing. It emphasizes a particular statement. In the first two lines of If Thou Must Love Me, the poet wants her lover not to love her for love’s sake or for her physical attributes. In support of this statement, the speaker uses Cumulative Listing and enumerates her physical characteristics in the poem- her smile, her pleasant voice etc. The Cumulative Listing reinforces the idea presented in the first two lines of the poem.
Theme of Love:
Love is the most dominant theme in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnets. This poem shows her suggestion to her lover about how he should love her. Elizabeth Barrett Browning was disabled and had incurable diseases; therefore she was afraid that Robert Browning would leave her. That is why she says that her lover must not love her for her smile or gentle voice as these qualities fade with time. She wants Robert Browning to love her forever and such kind of love can only exist when he would love her as a person and not for her looks.
During the Victorian period, women did not have the right to vote or had any right to own property. They were not given the right to study classical and commercial subjects; they could only study history, geography and general literature. During that period, women were not treated equal to men. Therefore, Barrett Browning was against these social and gender differences and one will find that her writings were based on issues like child labour, ill treatment and oppression of women.
In this poem she mocks the idea of courtly love. Her sonnets give importance to the thinking of women and not to the male-dominated society. Here in the sonnet, If Thou Must Love Me, the speaker wants her lover not to love her for superficial qualities or out of pity but for what she is as a person. Thus this poem questions the idea of a woman and demands the right of woman to speak and to be heard.