Elizabeth Barrett Browning- “England has given to the world one great poetess – Elizabeth Barrett Browning.” This opening salvo of the 1888 essay “English Poetess” by poet, dramatist, and critic Oscar Wilde pays tribute to the woman poet who, in his view was “the only one that we could name in any possible or remote conjunction with Sappho.” He believed that Elizabeth was “an imperishable glory of our literature”. And this was so because of the social and political import, variety, scope, and cultural impact of her poetry. She “heard the cry of the children from dark mine and crowded factory” in the feigned sonnets from the Portuguese and sang of the “spiritual mystery of Love”. Her works were widely known and cited not only in England but also in North America and in Europe. She is said to have lived “in the heart of “Dante’s Italy,” where her ” human passion for Liberty” was “to a certain extent a real factor in bringing about the unity of Italy that was Dante’s dream.” Dante had also emphasised the crucial role played by her to progressive women writers: “To her influence, almost as much as to the higher education of women, I would be inclined to attribute the really remarkable awakening of women’s song that characterises the latter half of our century in England.” To conclude in brief, it can be asserted that Elizabeth Barrett Browning was the most admired poet, held in higher esteem, of the English-speaking world, in the nineteenth century, for the independence and courage of her views.
Setting of Love-
The poem under consideration “Love” is an exploration of the feeling ‘love’ and its meaning to the speaker and his absent addressee, his lover. Metaphorically, the poem intends to depict the intimate and indispensable relationship of love between the couple, and can be read in the light of Elizabeth’s relationship with Robert Browning. Though her father, Mr. Barrett, had objections to their courtship, their relationship had still progressed. During the period of the exchange of letters and of Browning’s visits to her room, she had composed the poems later to be named “Sonnets from the Portuguese,” the collection which could be read in connection to the poem we are going to analyse herein. The poem”Love” seems to adopt a poetic form and subject matter reserved for the expression of male amatory experience, and depicted modern life and domestic events in a traditionally higher literary form used to express the pursuit of ideal love, like the one mentioned above in the context. She replaced the male poetic voice with her own and related the feelings that she experienced during her courtship with Robert Browning. The poem seems to bring together the voice of a woman and that of a poet and make them one. It not just relates a courtship between a man and a woman but also relates the transformation of a woman into a poet.
Poetic Devices in Love-
Enjambment: “mutually/ We alternate” ; ” bear/ Our virtue” ; “be/ Most instantly” ; “doth/ throw” ; “both/ make mere life”.
Anadiplosis: “Make mere life, Love. For life in perfect whole/ and aim consummated, is Love in sooth.”
Alliteration: “sun and sea” ; “choice and conscience” ; “full force” ; “life, Love” ; “pole with pole”.
Personification: The phrase “sun and sea” in line 8 is used as personification, here, to depict the feelings and sights, expressing the brightness and calmness of the future that lies ahead of the relationship.
Simile: Elizabeth B. Browning uses the simile to compare love to the truth like the “nature’s magnet-heat rounds pole with pole.” This is used to enhance the theme of love in the poem.
The poem “Love” is an explicitly love poem, written in the form of a sonnet, a fourteen-line poem with a specific rhyme scheme and meter (usually iambic pentameter). The poem has a number of indented lines: …most/air; …sun and/ sea; …choice and/ conscience doth; …concentration/ both; …perfect/ whole; …pole with/ pole. The rhyming scheme goes like the following: Lines(1-8 ): ABBA, ABBA; Lines(9-14): CD, CD, CD.
Summary of Love-
Elizabeth B.Browning’s poem “Love” is an expression of a female lover, one who is trying to demonstrate the intensity of feelings and emotions between two loved ones. The lines to whom they are addressed to, in the form of a poem, is to a speaker, though he remains silent throughout. Thus, it is only the female voice here, with her understanding of love and the intimate relation.
She begins with a line “We cannot live, except thus mutually/ We alternate…” which clearly indicates the intimate acquaintance of the speaker with her male lover. The love felt by either of them acts as stimulus for the other, she believes. And she continues to pour her thoughts saying that when they bear their virtue onward without a forethought and with full of invocation, they live their life in true sense, implying that the mutual understanding and assistance between the two is what helps her lead her life in its true sense. The speaker uses the personification of “sun and sea” to express the brightness and calmness of the future that she opines to be lying ahead.
In the following lines, the speaker ascertains the truth of love. She says that it is only when a soul, with its wish and conscience, reaches out for another soul, that the conscience and concentration make a mere life turn into a life accompanied with love. These lines imply the intensity of love, the depth with which one can make love. It enforces the fact that love is the ultimate truth, the logos, to say, that can only be realised if it is felt from the inner unconscious depths of oneself, that which cannot be thought and made possible through rationale. Love, she believes, can make one’s life blend with perfection, making it wholesome, for Love is the truth. To encapsulate the truthfulness of this feeling, she compares it to the “nature’s magnet-heat” that “rounds pole with pole.”
Critical Analysis of Love-
The poem “Love” is explicitly based on the theme of love. It begins with the expression on the part of the female speaker, who is trying to reflect upon her relationship with her lover. She opines the fact that love is the ultimate reality, the divine truth, that connects the souls of two; it is an emotion which cannot be expressed in words or under authority, but is always made by choice and conscience. Seeing it through the structuralist’s approach, it can be said to be the logos, the centre, that holds the two in an union.
Central Idea of Love-
The poem, like many other sonnets contained in Elizabeth B. Browning’s collection “Sonnets from the Portuguese,” contains the central idea of ‘love’. It tries to express the compelling love between the two people, that which is a close reflection of the poet’s own relation with Robert Browning. The poem tries to put forward the fact that intimate love/union is only possible if the feeling is not expressed with rationality, choice, authoritative power or subjugation.
Tone of Love-
The poem begins with a lighthearted and loving tone and ends with the same, establishing the superiority of love.
Conclusion- Elizabeth’s B. Browning’s poem “Love” establishes the idea that is most central to the life of human being, i.e ‘the love of love”. It is the guiding principle, a true feeling that can only be realised with the purest soul, without any kind of traces of conscience, for conscious mind brings in rationality, and love is not an emotion that takes birth or can be justified with this faculty of mind, but which is only a connection between the souls.