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About this poet

Born in 1806 at Coxhoe Hall, Durham, England, Elizabeth Barrett Browning was an English poet of the Romantic Movement. The oldest of twelve children, Elizabeth was the first in her family born in England in over two hundred years. For centuries, the Barrett family, who were part Creole, had lived in Jamaica, where they owned sugar plantations and relied on slave labor. Elizabeth's father, Edward Barrett Moulton Barrett, chose to raise his family in England, while his fortune grew in Jamaica. Educated at home, Elizabeth apparently had read passages from Paradise Lost and a number of Shakespearean plays, among other great works, before the age of ten. By her twelfth year, she had written her first "epic" poem, which consisted of four books of rhyming couplets. Two years later, Elizabeth developed a lung ailment that plagued her for the rest of her life. Doctors began treating her with morphine, which she would take until her death. While saddling a pony when she was fifteen, Elizabeth also suffered a spinal injury. Despite her ailments, her education continued to flourish. Throughout her teenage years, Elizabeth taught herself Hebrew so that she could read the Old Testament; her interests later turned to Greek studies. Accompanying her appetite for the classics was a passionate enthusiasm for her Christian faith. She became active in the Bible and Missionary Societies of her church.

In 1826, Elizabeth anonymously published her collection An Essay on Mind and Other Poems. Two years later, her mother passed away. The slow abolition of slavery in England and mismanagement of the plantations depleted the Barretts's income, and in 1832, Elizabeth's father sold his rural estate at a public auction. He moved his family to a coastal town and rented cottages for the next three years, before settling permanently in London. While living on the sea coast, Elizabeth published her translation of Prometheus Bound (1833), by the Greek dramatist Aeschylus.

Gaining attention for her work in the 1830s, Elizabeth continued to live in her father's London house under his tyrannical rule. He began sending Elizabeth's younger siblings to Jamaica to help with the family's estates. Elizabeth bitterly opposed slavery and did not want her siblings sent away. During this time, she wrote The Seraphim and Other Poems (1838), expressing Christian sentiments in the form of classical Greek tragedy. Due to her weakening disposition, she was forced to spend a year at the sea of Torquay accompanied by her brother Edward, whom she referred to as "Bro." He drowned later that year while sailing at Torquay, and Browning returned home emotionally broken, becoming an invalid and a recluse. She spent the next five years in her bedroom at her father's home. She continued writing, however, and in 1844 produced a collection entitled simply Poems. This volume gained the attention of poet Robert Browning, whose work Elizabeth had praised in one of her poems, and he wrote her a letter.

Elizabeth and Robert, who was six years her junior, exchanged 574 letters over the next twenty months. Immortalized in 1930 in the play The Barretts of Wimpole Street, by Rudolf Besier (1878-1942), their romance was bitterly opposed by her father, who did not want any of his children to marry. In 1846, the couple eloped and settled in Florence, Italy, where Elizabeth's health improved and she bore a son, Robert Wideman Browning. Her father never spoke to her again. Elizabeth's Sonnets from the Portuguese, dedicated to her husband and written in secret before her marriage, was published in 1850. Critics generally consider the Sonnets—one of the most widely known collections of love lyrics in English—to be her best work. Admirers have compared her imagery to Shakespeare and her use of the Italian form to Petrarch.

Political and social themes embody Elizabeth's later work. She expressed her intense sympathy for the struggle for the unification of Italy in Casa Guidi Windows (1848-1851) and Poems Before Congress (1860). In 1857 Browning published her verse novel Aurora Leigh, which portrays male domination of a woman. In her poetry she also addressed the oppression of the Italians by the Austrians, the child labor mines and mills of England, and slavery, among other social injustices. Although this decreased her popularity, Elizabeth was heard and recognized around Europe.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning died in Florence on June 29, 1861.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

The Battle of Marathon: A Poem (1820)
An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems (1826)
Miscellaneous Poems (1833)
The Seraphim and Other Poems (1838)
Poems (1844)
A Drama of Exile: and other Poems (1845)
Poems: New Edition (1850)
The Poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1850)
Sonnets from the Portuguese (1850)
Casa Guidi Windows: A Poem (1851)
Poems: Third Edition (1853)
Two Poems (1854)
Poems: Fourth Edition (1856)
Aurora Leigh (1857)
Napoleon III in Italy, and Other Poems (1860)
Poems before Congress (1860)
Last Poems (1862)
The Complete Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1900)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Hitherto Unpublished Poems and Stories (1914)
New Poems by Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1914)

Prose

"Queen Annelida and False Arcite;" "The Complaint of Annelida to False Arcite," (1841)
A New Spirit of the Age (1844)
"The Daughters of Pandarus" from the Odyssey (1846)
The Greek Christian Poets and the English Poets (1863)
Psyche Apocalyptè: A Lyrical Drama (1876)
Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning Addressed to Richard Hengist Horne (1877)
The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1897)
The Poet's Enchiridion (1914)
Letters to Robert Browning and Other Correspondents by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1916)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Letters to Her Sister, 1846-1859 (1929)
Letters from Elizabeth Barrett to B. R. Haydon (1939)
Twenty Unpublished Letters of Elizabeth Barrett to Hugh Stuart Boyd (1950)
New Letters from Mrs. Browning to Isa Blagden (1951)
The Unpublished Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Mary Russell Mitford (1954)
Unpublished Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Hugh Stuart Boyd (1955)
Letters of the Brownings to George Barrett (1958)
Diary by E. B. B.: The Unpublished Diary of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1831-1832 (1969)
The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1845-1846 (1969)
Invisible Friends (1972)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Letters to Mrs. David Ogilvy, 1849-1861 (1973)

Anthology

Prometheus Bound (1833)

Beloved, my Beloved... (Sonnet 20)

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1806 - 1861
Beloved, my Beloved, when I think 
That thou wast in the world a year ago, 
What time I sate alone here in the snow 
And saw no footprint, heard the silence sink 
No moment at thy voice ... but, link by link, 
Went counting all my chains, as if that so 
They never could fall off at any blow 
Struck by thy possible hand ... why, thus I drink 
Of life's great cup of wonder! Wonderful, 
Never to feel thee thrill the day or night 
With personal act or speech,—nor ever cull 
Some prescience of thee with the blossoms white 
Thou sawest growing! Atheists are as dull, 
Who cannot guess God's presence out of sight.

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Born in 1806 at Coxhoe Hall, Durham, England, Elizabeth Barrett Browning was a celebrated English poet of the Romantic Movement.

by this poet

poem
With stammering lips and insufficient sound
I strive and struggle to deliver right
That music of my nature, day and night
With dream and thought and feeling interwound
And only answering all the senses round
With octaves of a mystic depth and height
Which step out grandly to the infinite
From the dark edges of
poem
When our two souls stand up erect and strong,  
Face to face, silent, drawing nigh and nigher,  
Until the lengthening wings break into fire  
At either curvèd point,—what bitter wrong  
Can the earth do to us, that we should not long 
Be here contented? Think. In mounting higher,  
The angels would press on us
poem
Of all the thoughts of God that are  
Borne inward unto souls afar,  
Along the Psalmist's music deep,  
Now tell me if that any is,  
For gift or grace, surpassing this— 
'He giveth His belovèd sleep'?  
  
What would we give to our beloved?  
The hero's heart to be unmoved,  
The poet's star-tuned harp, to