APAD:Sonnet XXVIII, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

My letters! all dead paper, mute and white!
And yet they seem alive and quivering
Against my tremulous hands which loose the string
And let them drop down on my knee tonight.
This said—he wished to have me in his sight
Once, as a friend: this fixed a day in spring
To come and touch my hand. . . a simple thing,
Yes I wept for it—this . . . the paper’s light. . .
Said, Dear, I love thee; and I sank and quailed
As if God’s future thundered on my past.
This said, I am thine—and so its ink has paled
With lying at my heart that beat too fast.
And this . . . 0 Love, thy words have ill availed
If, what this said, I dared repeat at last!


Today I reach way way back to Browning. Though,  if you know me, you know I am not a fan of romance (of the traditional sort) the love letter, or the idea of swooning women. No, this poem lets me explore a fire-lit study, an old scarred desk holding up an inkwell and stacks of fading  papers. This poem allows me to visit the confines of form in an era when women were not lauded for taking command of such form.

The Petrarchan Sonnet fascinates me; so does Browning. That first line … all that dead paper, mute and white — a great line to borrow for cento. A great writing prompt in itself. What do you see here?



2 thoughts on “APAD:Sonnet XXVIII, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

  1. t.s.wright

    It is a bit overly romantic, but it seems to me a raving for times past. The letters were bound with string – she’d read them, memorized, categorized, preserved them fastidiously. But on this night she pulls them out to re-read his sweetest words – to remember, to reassure, to feel their thrill again. Perhaps he is traveling or circumstances have prevented him from writing recently and her faith in his commitment has waivered. Perhaps he has died and she misses him.

    I tend to read a lot between the lines of poetry; probably because I prefer novels. My mind requires an involved plot even if it has to make up its own.


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