Elizabeth Barret Browning is a famous British poet that lived during the Victorian era. She was born in County Durham and had a good eye for poetry when a child at the age of six. Elizabeth was born in a family of a plantation owner in 1806 and was the eldest of his twelve children (Stott and Avery 230). She was a well-educated person and got acquainted with famous philosophic works and studies French, Latin, and Greek. Her first serious poem that was a Homeric epic The Battle of Marathon was written in 1820 (Forster 114). In 1826, she published a poetic series entitled An Essay on Mind and Other Poems. In 1833, Elizabeth translated a famous tragedy Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus from Greek to English.
Elizabeth has become soon a popular poet in London. In 1845, Robert Browning wrote her a letter where he expressed his delightful reaction on her poetry. Love correspondence turns into affection and marriage. Due to the feelings experienced to Robert, Elizabeth wrote her best series of poems like Sonnets from the Portuguese (Billington 65). If I Leave All for Thee? or Sonnet 35 is one of the well-known poems from this romantic collection. Aside from love poems, Elizabeth is known as writing on deeply religious, political, and social themes. Elizabeth’s poetry reflects on both the most important social issues occurred in Great Britain and deep insights based on her own experience. The poet’s health deteriorated and she died in 1861 in Robert’s hands.
The poem If I Leave All for Thee? is one of the most widely known works by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. It is one of the forty-four poems from the romantic collection Sonnets from the Portuguese. The poem was written at the time of her courtship with Robert Browning. The structure of the poem is typical to a sonnet with 14 lines with iambic pentameter rhythm and ABBA form. The main theme of the poem is love felt by a woman to man, but that is compared to loss and grief. Proclamation of love and its consequences appear in every line of the work.
Importantly, the love reflects on the necessary losses that the narrator has to experience. Despite being the greatest pleasure and the true sense, love makes Elizabeth troubled. She cannot decide for sure what to choose and how to love, since her feelings coincide with grief as well. Being in love, a woman cannot get rid of grief and sorrow. As she mentions, “Shall I never miss home-talk and blessing and the common kiss that comes to each in turn” (Browning “If I Leave All for Thee”). Within this phrase, it becomes apparent that the author is aware of the new home she will have and the changes she will experience because of love. Obviously, being in love means a graceful balance that should be kept to overcome losses and sorrow.
Figurative language and especially metaphors are the most vivid literary elements used by Browning in her sonnet. With the help of metaphors, the poet makes the sense of the sonnet clear. One of the most powerful metaphors is the comparison of love with “exchange” through which Browning reflects on the necessity to make the best choice in love. This choice can make the lover desperate, because she understands she should lose something to gain love. It is impossible to be sure whether the exchange is justified until she experiences the true love. Because of being grieved, the speaker is hard to love, as she is afraid of possible losses it causes.
- Billington, Josie. Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Shakespeare. A&C Black, 2012. Print.
- Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. “If I Leave All for Thee?” Web. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/43741
- Forster, Margaret. Elizabeth Barrett Browning. New York: Random House, 2012. Print.
- Stott, Rebecca, and Simon Avery. Elizabeth Barrett Browning. New York: Routledge, 2014. Print.