Friday, May 20, 2011

From The Writer's Almanac

On this day in 1845, Robert Browning met Elizabeth Barrett (books by this author) in person for the first time. Elizabeth was one of the most popular writers in England at the time, and Robert Browning wrote her a letter in praise of her work. Elizabeth, who was suffering from a “nervous disorder” and was confined to bed, wrote him back and thus began one of the most famous courtships-by-letter in all of history.

Elizabeth was six years older than Robert and in poor health, and she had trouble believing he really loved her. But his letters convinced her, and they continued their correspondence and eventually married. But their entire relationship was carried out in secret because Elizabeth’s father had forbidden all of his children to marry. When he found out that Elizabeth had married Robert, he disinherited her. But Elizabeth had some money of her own and the couple settled in Italy, where Elizabeth bore one son, Pen, at the age of 43.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s most famous work was written after she met Robert Browning and includes Sonnets from the Portuguese (1846), a collection of 44 love sonnets and Aurora Leigh (1856), an epic novel/poem. At first, she thought the poems were too personal to publish, but Robert proclaimed them the finest sonnets since Shakespeare’s. “Portuguese” was Robert’s nickname for Elizabeth.

She wrote, “I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you.” 

From Sonnets from the Portuguese

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

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 everyday'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 a 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.

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