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Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out e'en to the edge of doom:-
HE while that in mine eyes tears yet may spring
To mourn past happiness beside thee spent,
135 SONNETS FROM THE PORTUGUESE 2
THOUGHT once how Theocritus had sung
Of the sweet years, the dear and wished-for years, Who each one in a gracious hand appears To bear a gift for mortals, old or young:
1 The translation is by George Wyndham, and is reprinted with the permission of Macmillan & Co., Ltd.
2 “Sonnets from the Portuguese,” as a whole, is a cycle of forty-four sonnets, in which the author has recorded the inner history of her love for Robert Browning. The main incidents or aspects of this history may be inferred from the twelve poems here reprinted. These are presented in their original order, and include the first, and the last two, of the cycle.
And, as I mused it in his antique tongue,
“Not Death, but Love.”
NLIKE are we, unlike, O princely Heart!
Unlike our uses and our destinies.
LIFT my heavy heart up solemnly,
As once Electra her sepulchral urn,
1 An allusion to a scene in Sophocles' Electra. See above, pp. 347f.
Could tread them out to darkness utterly,
.. those laurels on thine head,
SAN it be right to give what I can give?
To let thee sit beneath the fall of tears As salt as mine, and hear the sighing years Re-sighing on my lips renunciative Through those infrequent smiles which fail to live For all thy adjurations? O my fears, That this can scarce be right! We are not peers, So to be lovers; and I own, and grieve, That givers of such gifts as mine are, must Be counted with the ungenerous. Out, alas! I will not soil thy purple with my dust, Nor breathe my poison on thy Venice-glass, Nor give thee any love—which were unjust. Beloved, I only love thee! let it pass.
ND wilt thou have me fashion into speech
The love I bear thee, finding words enough, And hold the torch out, while the winds are rough, Between our faces, to cast light on each? I drop it at thy feet. I cannot teach My hand to hold my spirit so far off From myself-me-that I should bring thee proof In words, of love hid in me out of reach. Nay, let the silence of my womanhood Commend my woman-love to thy belief,Seeing that I stand unwon, however wooed,
And rend the garment of my life, in brief,
F thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love's sake only. Do not say “I love her for her smile-her look-her way Of speaking gently,—for a trick of thought That falls in well with mine, and certes brought A sense of pleasant ease on such a day”– For these things in themselves, Beloved, may Be changed, or change for thee,—and love, so wrought, May be unwrought so. Neither love me for Thine own dear pity's wiping my cheeks dry, A creature might forget to weep, who bore Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby! But love me for love's sake, that evermore Thou mayst love on, through love's eternity.
ND yet, because thou overcomest so,
Because thou art more noble, and like a king, Thou canst prevail against my fears, and fing Thy purple round me, till my heart shall grow Too close against thine heart henceforth to know How it shook when alone. Why, conquering May prove as lordly and complete a thing In lifting upward as in crushing low! And, as a vanquished soldier yields his sword To one who lifts him from the bloody earth, Even so, Beloved, I at last record, Here ends my strife. If thou invite me forth, I rise above abasement at the word. Make thy love larger to enlarge my worth.
NEVER gave a lock of hair away
Which now upon my fingers thoughtfully
Y letters! all dead paper, mute and white!
And yet they seem alive and quivering
F I leave all for thee, wilt thou exchange,
And be all to me? Shall I never miss Home-talk and blessing, and the common kiss That comes to each in turn, nor count it strange,