A. L. Kennedy on “Sonnets from the Portuguese: XXVIII”
I wanted to pick a poem that might make one weep for joy–or out of confusion, or need, possibly because those would be my main causes for weeping. This is a wonderful sonnet–so physical and sexy about something which is so much about absence and the mind. But of course the mind is the place that makes sex really work and allows it to have proper weight.
On the surface this is a fluttery monologue, coy and Victorian and at least semi-defeated. Hands are touching where other hands have touched. The final lines preserve the privacy of the lovers. Beneath its surface, it’s full of wonder, desire and a sense of two bodies being together in need and in letters, which I also like. Love should be a secret between lovers, whatever their circum- stances. In a way, this is a poem to remember all those separated lovers, people who can’t see their loves for political reasons, or because they’ve been forced into geographical separation, or because of imprisonment. One of the quieter horrors of prison lies in the removal of love, the absence of tenderness and privacy. A small hope to sustain us through any circumstances can be found in shared words.
Sonnets from the Portuguese XXVIII
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 to-night.
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,
Yet 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 . . . O Love, thy words have ill availed,
If, what this said, I dared repeat at last!