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Featured Poem: Sonnet 44 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Written by Rachael Norris, 27th January 2020

This week's Featured Poem is Sonnet 44 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, chosen by The Reader's Learning and Quality Leader, Katie Clark.


I’m struck immediately by the setting of the poem ‘In this close room’ and wonder why it is that the writer is here rather than out in the garden enjoying the flowers in their natural habitat? The flowers themselves seem not to miss the ‘sun and showers’, but I can’t tell if the writer feels the same. Maybe the fact that flowers can grow in the room makes it feel like a garden to her. Although it seems there is a change or a shift as we hit line 6, with the phrase ‘take back’. Now it is the writer’s turn to give something to the one she calls ‘Beloved’. Like the flowers in the way they ‘unfolded…on warm and cold days’ here she shares something more personal, her ‘thoughts’, pulled up from her ‘heart’s ground’. I love the word ‘unfolded’ here and that image of the flower opening very gradually. It seems these thoughts have grown slowly over time. I’m interested in the ‘heart’s ground’ and what it takes to release these kinds of thoughts from its safe soil. This feels vulnerable somehow.

And yet now another change, for it seems that the heart’s ground is now ‘overgrown with bitter weeds and rue’. What has happened to make this change? The word ‘wait’ jumps out at me, ‘wait thy weeding’ where is this Beloved and why is she left waiting?  ‘Take them, as I used to do Thy flowers’ also makes me wonder how much time has elapsed since these flowers have been given? Has there been a change of heart? Or perhaps just an enforced separation for a time?

The plea to ‘take them…keep them…keep their colours true’ could suggest that there is hope for this love despite the weeds that have grown up. Do you think that love can survive these trials? Like the ivy and eglantine that flourish in the harshest conditions? Or do we need the flowers and their colour to help it endure? The word ‘roots’ in the final line is interesting too. It makes me think of those deep connections that last beyond the petals themselves, the strength of them. Though unseen, they are the key to the plant being nourished and continuing to grow. How easy is it for our roots to connect to another soul? And once it has happened, how possible is it to release them once again?

Sonnet 44

Beloved, thou hast brought me many flowers
Plucked in the garden, all the summer through
And winter, and it seemed as if they grew
In this close room, nor missed the sun and showers,
So, in the like name of that love of ours,
Take back these thoughts which here unfolded too,
And which on warm and cold days I withdrew
From my heart’s ground. Indeed, those beds and bowers
Be overgrown with bitter weeds and rue,
And wait thy weeding; yet here’s eglantine,
Here’s ivy!— take them, as I used to do
Thy flowers, and keep them where they shall not pine.
Instruct thine eyes to keep their colours true,
And tell thy soul, their roots are left in mine.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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