Sonnet 43 – A poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Context: E.B Browning (1806-1861) was a poet within the Romantic tradition. She was born in England, but her poetry became famous in both England and the US. This poem was published in Sonnets from the Portuguese, written ca. 1845–1846 and published first during 1850, is a collection of 44 love sonnets. This poem was written in 1845 and is one of her most wellknown poems. As a person she was very shy and needed her husband to convince her publish them. She also thought her verse was too private. Elizabeth’s work had a major influence on prominent writers of the day, including the American poets Edgar Allan Poe and Emily Dickinson. 

Themes: Love is the major theme. Much of Barrett Browning’s work carries a religious theme. She had read and studied such works as Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dante’s Inferno.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of being and ideal grace.

I love thee to the level of every day’s

Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

I love thee freely, as men strive for right.

I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death.


Sonnet 21 – A poem by William Shakespeare

Context: This sonnet mentions the Muse, in Classic mythology she was one of nine and here she represents her own element – poetry. This poem is about the narrator’s own attitude towards written verse and challenges any criticism his verse isn’t real or fake. Take notice on how he introduces himself here. He is not like any classic representation of the muse and his verse has not any ‘painted beauty’ which refers to make-up, cosmetics. When he adress his love through poetry he doesn’t use of superfluous words or add certain words to impress or boast. He chose to praise ‘truthfulness’ since he is in love for real. The structure of the poem follows the English sonnet with three quatrains followed by a couplet.

Themes: Love, virtue, truth, beauty all important keywords in Elizabethan culture and must be interpreted in its own context. What did these words represents in Shakespeare’s own time? Another theme is rivalry between poets.

Q1: So is it not with me as with that Muse

Stirr’d by a painted beauty to his verse,

Who heaven itself for ornament doth use

And every fair with his fair doth rehearse,

Q2: Making a couplement of proud compare,

With sun and moon, with earth and sea’s rich gems,

With April’s first-born flowers, and all things rare

That heaven’s air in this huge rondure hems.

Q3: O, let me, true in love, but truly write,

And then believe me, my love is as fair

As any mother’s child, though not so bright

As those gold candles fix’d in heaven’s air:

C: Let them say more that like of hearsay well;

I will not praise that purpose not to sell.

“Life” – A poem by Charlotte Brontë

Context: The poems of the Brontë-sisters are perhaps less known than their novels. All sisters produced poetry which was published under pen names. These poems were published early in their writing careers. Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855) is most known for her novels:  The Professor, Jane Eyre, Shirley and Vilette. All of them considered classics of English literature. I think it’s quite amazing they managed to create so much literature despite poor health and hunger. The Brontës were far from rich and while serving as governess Charlotte Brontë was hungry all the time.

This poem is hopeful and has a bright message (but no illusions) to anyone who wish to enjoy their life. Charlotte borrows several motives from nature to communicate her message. It has a fine rhytm too.

Themes:  Life, living, enjoy the day, nature

LIFE, believe, is not a dream
So dark as sages say;
Oft a little morning rain
Foretells a pleasant day.
Sometimes there are clouds of gloom,
But these are transient all;
If the shower will make the roses bloom,
O why lament its fall?
Rapidly, merrily,
Life’s sunny hours flit by,
Gratefully, cheerily,
Enjoy them as they fly!

What though Death at times steps in
And calls our Best away?
What though sorrow seems to win,
O’er hope, a heavy sway?
Yet hope again elastic springs,
Unconquered, though she fell;
Still buoyant are her golden wings,
Still strong to bear us well.
Manfully, fearlessly,
The day of trial bear,
For gloriously, victoriously,
Can courage quell despair!


Bronte, Charlotte, Emily Bronte, and Anne Bronte. Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. – Project Gutenberg

Gordon, Lyndall. 1996. Charlotte Bronte: a passionate life. W.W. Norton.

Charlotte Brontë, 1850. Chalk on paper by G. Richmond

“Last Lines”- A Poem by Emily Brontë

Context: Emily Brontë (1818-1848) was a writer and poet and known for her novel Wuthering Heights which has been regarded as one of the finest novels in British literature. She wrote under the pseudonym Ellis Bell – the very first letter of Ellis corresponded to the first letter in her own name. All Brontë-sisters used male pseudonyms as their works went published. Emily is one of the more mysterious sisters and we don’t know much about her life. She was the second child born to clergyman Patrick and Maria Brontë in Western Yorkshire.

The deaths of their mother (cancer), and then of their two older sisters marked the siblings profoundly and influenced their writing, as did the relative isolation in which they were raised. After the death of the mother the oldest children including Emily was sent to Clergy Daughters’ School and they became abused in the English Schoolssytem there and exposed to unsanitary conditions which destroyed their health. When a typhoid epidemic swept the school, Maria and Elizabeth caught it. Maria, who may actually have had tuberculosis, was sent home, where she died.

Most of the siblings likely caught TB from each other. Charlotte Brontë would incorporate most of the siblings experiences at Clergy Daughters School in her novel Jane Eyre. The father eventually took the children out of the school. The three remaining sisters and their brother Patrick Branwell were thereafter educated at home by their father and aunt. Despite the lack of formal education, Emily and her sisters had access to a wide range of published material; favourites included Sir Walter Scott, Byron, Shelley, and Blackwood’s Magazine. Together with her sister Anne Brontë she developed a shared fantasy life and wrote stories about a place called Gondal; a fictionalized island. Wuthering Heights (1847)1 was her only novel and she died a year after its publication. She was 30.

As an adult Emily Brontë was shy and not very social. She perfered the company of animals instead of people. She didn’t travel much and as the rest of her family she was plagued by ill health. Her poetry was likely composed to fit in her novellistic saga Gondal which she developed together with one of the other sisters. “Last Lines” is mentioned by literary-critic Harold Bloom as one of the best poems ever written in the English language.2 It was written in 1837 and consists of four stanzas. Death is the major theme in this poem.

Themes:Death, sorrow, departure, nature, time, love

I die but when the grave shall press
The heart so long endeared to thee
When earthly cares no more distress
And earthly joys are nought to me

Weep not, but think that I have past
Before thee o’er a sea of gloom
Have anchored safe and rest at last
Where tears and mourning cannot come

‘Tis I should weep to leave thee here
On the dark Ocean sailing drear
With storms around and fears before
And no kind light to point the shore

But long or short though life may be
‘Tis nothing to eternity
We part below to meet on high
Where blissful ages never die


Emily Brontë, a paining by her brother Branwell (source: wikipedia).

  1. Wuthering Heights’s violence and passion led the Victorian public and many early reviewers to think that it had been written by a man. Although a letter from her publisher indicates that Emily had begun to write a second novel, the manuscript has never been found. Perhaps Emily, or a member of her family, eventually destroyed the manuscript, if it existed, when she was prevented by illness from completing it. ( 
  2. I credit the blog “The Floating Library” for providing a comprehensive list of poetry which has been analyzed by Harold Bloom. 

“Shakespeare Bites Back”: A free e-book from The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

As the weekend is approaching I would like to recommend a free e-book if you are interested in the life and works of William Shakespeare. The e-book “Shakespeare Bites Back” (2011) is written by Dr. Paul Edmondson and Prof. Stanley Wells. It’s available to the public for free thanks to The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. The aim of the Foundation “is to connect Shakespeare professionals, lovers and enthusiasts all over the world and to lead the world in democratizing Shakespeare in the digital age.” The main task of “Shakespeare Bites Back” relates to the controversy of authorship which has been much debated in this century. Therefore it’s a bit polemical too. The authors in this book do argue there are masses of evidence concluding Shakespeare was the author of all works attributed to him. They also conclude that “The nature of evidence is rich and varied”. Sadly, Edmondson & Wells states that “Until recently, Shakespeare scholars and the academic community at large have either opposed the conspiracy theory or stood alof from it.” They will introduce you to the Academic controversy and mere Conspiracy “theories”. The Shakespeare Authorship Conspiracy Theory has a history which can be dated back to Romanticism and the Gothic influenses some two hundred years ago.

I think it’s an important little book considering how we use Shakespeare today in movies for an example. The movie Anonymous (2011) gave extra fuel to the debate of authorship and I guess case isn’t closed when it comes to modern artistic interpretations of his life. I don’t mind artistic interpretations; but scholars should be in place to question; and help us see things with objectivity when presented “facts” are dubious or wrong no matter which field they emerge from. Here are some more important conclusions fighting Anti-Shakespearians:

Anti-Shakespearians may claim that they are ‘looking objectively’ at the evidence, but they never are. Their anti-Shakespearian bias prevents them from ever doing so. Instead, anti-Shakespearianism seeks first to deny the evidence for Shakespeare and then to position an alternative nominee in the gap Shakespeare has left behind. Anti-Shakespearianism is therefore synonymous with a denial of history, rather than with a revisionist and scholarly interpretation of the past.

You may take an extra look at the Pro-Shakespeare manifesto which also lists some of the important evidence:

Shakespeare puns on his own first name, William, in Sonnets 134, 135, 136 and 143. Sonnet 136 ends with ‘for my name is Will.’ We are in favour of a cautionary approach to making links between the works and their author’s life.


Poe’s Literary Sources of Inspiration in “The Black Cat” and “The Tell-Tale Heart”

In this post I search for literary parallels (not to be confused with parallelism) in two short stories The Black Cat and The Tell-Tale Heart; by Edgar Allan Poe. Simply, I look for other sources or texts which may have inspired Poe to write these stories. “The Black Cat”story was published in August 1843 and has strong parallels to “The Tell-Tale Heart” published earlier the very same year. The genres for both books are detective stories. According to Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (1997) Quinn states that Poe may have read Charles Dickens ”The Clock-Case” in which a retired soldier kills his young nephew to profit economical from his death. The child had also a sort of gaze which frightened and irritated the soldier (Quinn, 1997 p. 394). Dickens story was published in Master Humphrey’s Clock (1840/41). Compare Dicken’s story with Poe’s ”The Tell-Tale Heart” in which the narrator is deeply disturbed by an old man’s eye. In Poe’s story the narrator’s madness explode after the man’s death because the eye is replaced by the loud beatings of the dead man’s heart which the narrator hears repeatedly in his head. As the policemen enters his house to ask him questions about the whereabouts of the old man he no longer cannot hold himself and confesses the deed.

Edgar_Allan_Poe_daguerreotype_cropNotice, that in the story of “The Black Cat”, the cat Pluto once beloved by the narrator has only one eye. As the narrator goes crazy he thinks the cat harbours the soul of his dead wife. There are other references to  superstitions in the story but the main theme is alcoholism which the narrator battles and looses. Finally, Mr Poe himself was an owner of a black cat in real life.1 Today many scholars refers to Edgar A. Poe as the father of the modern detective story, but he had his sources. Another literary role model was E T A Hoffman. Hoffman’s stories Die Elixiere desTeufels (1815/16) and Das Fräulein von Scuderi (1820) are both in some sense detective stories. However, some critics question if Mme. Scuderi can be thought of as a ”detective” since she doesn’t pose as one even though she does perform some investigations.


Barger, Andrew (2008). Edgar Allan Poe Annotated and Illustrated Entire Stories and Poems.

Quinn, Arthur H. (1997). Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (Johns Hopskins University Press)

  1. In his short article “Instinct vs Reason- A Black Cat” Poe reveals: “The writer of this article is the owner of one of the most remarkable black cats in the world – and this is saying much; for it will be remembered that black cats are all of them witches.” (Barger 2008, p. 58) 

“Two loves I have of comfort and despair”- A Sonnet by William Shakespeare

Context: This sonnet appeared for the first time with 15 other sonnets in Shakespeare’s “The Passionate Pilgrim” (1599). The narrator in this poem describes his two loves – a “fair youth”, or young man and the “Dark Lady”. Several voices are heard in this poem. One of his loves comforts the narrator, but the other one makes him despair. The narrator also brag about his own abilities on love, but take notice how Christian moral interfere in his descriptions of how one good angel and an evil angel battles the narrator’s soul. About 126 poems have a religious theme. Shakespeare wrote several sonnets which mention the Dark Lady, but we don’t know if she was a real person or just a “muse”. Autobiographical readings and interpretations has been done on this sonnet.

The English sonnet has three quatrains, followed by a final rhyming couplet.

Themes: Love, sexuality, possession, Dark Lady, Duality, soul, morality

Q1: Two loves I have of comfort and despair,
Which like two spirits do suggest me still:
The better angel is a man right fair,
The worser spirit a woman colour’d ill.
Q2: To win me soon to hell, my female evil
Tempteth my better angel from my side,
And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,
Wooing his purity with her foul pride.
Q3: And whether that my angel be turn’d fiend
Suspect I may, yet not directly tell;
But being both from me, both to each friend,
I guess one angel in another’s hell:
C: Yet this shall I ne’er know, but live in doubt,
Till my bad angel fire my good one out.