Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (March 6, 1806 – June 29, 1861), the immensely accomplished British poet, was born in County Durham, England, and bred in an atmosphere of privilege, Elizabeth came from a family who owned vast businesses, including sugar plantations, mills, and ships. The eldest of twelve children, she was schooled at home and showed much early aptitude for her future calling —  she began reading novels at age six, and her first significant poem was written at about age seven. By age eleven, she wrote a four-volume poem, The Battle of Marathon (1820), which was privately published by her father.

At age fifteen, she contracted a mysterious illness that would prove to be her lifelong cross to bear. This ailment, impossible to diagnose during that era, left her frail and in intense pain. It has been suggested by her biographers that the strong opiate medication given to her might have augmented her already fiercely vivid imagination in service of her evocative poetry.

Her first collection, Poems (1844) was an immediate success in Europe and the U.S. and made her famous. The poet Robert Browning wrote to tell her how much he admired her work. A mutual acquaintance arranged for the two to meet, and so began one of the most intensely romantic love affairs in literary history. Their courtship and marriage were carried out in secret, as she feared that her father would not approve. And she was right — he disinherited his daughter and refused to receive his son-in-law upon learning of their nuptials.

Browning’s most immortal lines are these, from Sonnets of the Portuguese, 1850:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
      I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
      my soul can reach.

After Elizabeth contracted a lung condition similar to consumption (tuberculosis), the couple moved to Italy for the sunny climate. Her health improved for some time, allowing her to her literary output to flourish; her reputation grew, along with her husband’s. Elizabeth Barrett Browning enjoyed much popular and critical success in her life, which continued for some time after her death at age 55. Her work’s popularity declined over much of the twentieth century, until interest it was revived by new biographies and scholarly editions of her works.

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Elizabeth Barrett Browning Quotes

Elizabeth Barrett Browning full

“Light tomorrow with today.”

“My sun sets to raise again.”

“What I do and what I dream include thee, as the wine must taste of its own grapes.”

“I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you. I love you not only for what you have made of yourself, but for what you are making of me. I love you for the part of me that you bring out.”

“At painful times, when composition is impossible and reading is not enough, grammars and dictionaries are excellent for distraction.”

“Measure not the work until the day’s out and the labor done.”

“I tell you, hopeless grief is passionless.” (Grief, 1844)

“Thou large-brained woman and large-hearted man.” (On George Sand, A Desire, 1844)

“No man can be called friendless who has God and the companionship of good books.”

“You’re something between a dream and a miracle.”

“Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God.”

“If thou must love me, let it be for naught except for love’s sake only.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and her son Robert Wiedemann Barrett Browning, 1860
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and her son Robert Wiedemann Barrett Browning, 1860

“Girls blush, sometimes, because they are alive, half wishing they were dead to save the shame. The sudden blush devours them, neck and brow; They have drawn too near the fire of life, like gnats, and flare up bodily, wings and all. What then? Who’s sorry for a gnat or girl?”

“If you desire faith, then you have faith enough.”

“The Greeks said grandly in their tragic phrase, ‘Let no one be called happy till his death’; to which I would add, ‘Let no one, till his death, be called unhappy.’”

“The Devil’s most devilish when respectable.” (Aurora Leigh, 1864)


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