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Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnet 10
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Reading of Sonnet 10
Introduction and Text of Sonnet 10
Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “ Sonnet 10 ” from Sonnets from the Portuguese finds the speaker’s attitude evolving. She reasons that if God can love his lowliest creatures, surely a man can love a flawed woman, and in so doing can overcome the flaws through the power of love.
Sonnet 10: Yet, love, mere love, is beautiful indeed
Yet, love, mere love, is beautiful indeed
And worthy of acceptation. Fire is bright,
Let temple burn, or flax; an equal light
Leaps in the flame from cedar-plank or weed:
And love is fire. And when I say at need
I love thee … mark! … I love thee—in thy sight
I stand transfigured, glorified aright,
With conscience of the new rays that proceed
Out of my face toward thine. There’s nothing low
In love, when love the lowest: meanest creatures
Who love God, God accepts while loving so.
And what I feel, across the inferior features
Of what I am, doth flash itself, and show
How that great work of Love enhances Nature’s.
First Quatrain: “Yet, love, mere love, is beautiful indeed”
The speaker begins to focus on the value of love, finding that emotion to be “beautiful” and even “worthy of acceptation.” She likens love to fire and finds love to be “bright” as love is also a flame in the heart and mind.
She contends that the power of fire and the light it emits is the same regardless of the fuel that feeds it, whether “from cedar-plank or weed.” Thus she is beginning to believe that her suitor’s love can burn as bright if she is the motivation, although she considers herself the weed rather than the cedar-plank.
Second Quatrain: “And love is fire. And when I say at need”
The speaker continues the metaphorical comparison of love to fire and boldly states, “And love is fire.” She audaciously proclaims her love for her suitor and contends that by saying she loves him, she transforms her lowly self and “stand[s] transfigured, glorified aright.”
The awareness of the vibrations of love that exude from her being causes her to be magnified and made better than she normally believes herself to be.
First Tercet: “Out of my face toward thine. There's nothing low”
The speaker avers, “There's nothing low / In love.” God loves all of his creatures, even the lowliest. The speaker is evolving toward true acceptance of her suitor’s attention, but she has to convince her doubting mind that there exists good reason for her to change her outlook.
Obviously, the speaker has no intention of changing her beliefs in her own low station in life. She carries her past in the heart, and all of her tears and sorrows have permanently tainted her own view of herself. But she can turn toward acceptance and allow herself to be loved, and through that love she can, at least, bask in its joy as a chilled person would bask in sunshine.
Second Tercet: “And what I feel, across the inferior features”
The speaker will continue to think of herself as inferior, but because she can now believe that one as illustrious as her suitor can love her, she is comprehending the transformative powers of love. She insists on her inferiority, saying, “what I feel across the inferior features / Of what I am.” But she also insists that “the great work of Love” is such a powerful force that it can “enhance[ ] Nature’s.”
© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes