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SONNETS FROM THE PORTUGUESE: 21, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography

“Sonnet 21” is one of the most well-known and celebrated poems from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s collection, “Sonnets from the Portuguese.” Written in the traditional sonnet form of 14 lines, with a rhyme scheme of ABBA ABBA CDCDCD, this poem explores the theme of love as an all-encompassing force that can transcend time and space.

The poem begins with the speaker acknowledging the limitations of language in expressing the depth and intensity of her feelings: “Say over again, and yet once over again, / That thou dost love me.” The repetition of “over again” emphasizes the speaker’s desire to hear her lover’s words of affection repeatedly, as if to assure herself that they are real.

The second quatrain explores the idea of love as a “dark veil” that “falls” between the speaker and her lover, obscuring their physical presence from each other. Despite this, the speaker remains steadfast in her devotion: “I love thy love more than whole mines of gold, / Or all the riches that the East doth hold.” Here, the speaker emphasizes the immaterial nature of love and the depth of her emotional connection to her lover.

The sestet of the sonnet builds on this idea, suggesting that love has the power to transcend physical boundaries and exist beyond the confines of time and space: “And when I feel, fair creature of an hour, / That I shall never look upon thee more, / Never have relish in the faery power / Of unreflecting love—then on the shore / Of the wide world I stand alone, and think / Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.”

The final two lines emphasize the idea that love is a force that can overcome even death, as the speaker suggests that she will continue to love her lover even beyond the end of her own life: “I love thee to the level of every day’s / Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.”

Overall, “Sonnet 21” is a powerful exploration of the transformative and transcendent nature of love, emphasizing the idea that true love is a force that can exist beyond the limitations of time and space, and that can continue to endure even after death.

Poetic Essential Elements:

  • Form: Sonnet (14 lines, ABBA ABBA CDCDCD rhyme scheme)
  • Theme: Love as a transformational and transcendent force
  • Tone: Passionate, intense, emotional
  • Imagery: “dark veil,” “whole mines of gold,” “faery power,” “sun and candle-light”
  • Language: Repetition (“over again”), metaphor (“dark veil”), hyperbole (“whole mines of gold”), personification (“fair creature of an hour”), alliteration (“Love and Fame”)


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