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Sonnets from the Portugese

Sonnets from the Portugese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
By: (1806-1861)

Poetry lovers and lovers themselves would certainly know and remember these lines: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.....”

These and other sublime verses are contained in this collection of tender, mystical, philosophical poems Sonnets from the Portuguese, published originally in 1850. The poet herself was part of one of the most famous literary love-stories of all time – a saga filled with romance, danger and severe opposition from her family. Born into a prominent and extremely wealthy family in Durham, England, she began writing as a child and her father encouraged her talent by getting a collection of poems published when she was only twelve. Schooled in Latin and Greek, she undertook serious scholarly work as well. An undiagnosed illness rendered her a life-long invalid. Elizabeth Barrett was already a well-known poet when she began corresponding with the brilliant writer and poet Robert Browning.

Robert Browning who had read and admired her poems began writing to her and their romance began soon afterwards. The couple eloped to Italy, and as feared by her, she was disinherited by her father and her brothers, who felt Browning was a social climber who married Elizabeth for her wealth. However, the couple spent a blissful but short life together and their social circle included all the prominent writers and poets of the day.

This collection takes its title from Browning's pet-name for his beloved - “my little Portugee” since she admired the works of Luiz Vaz de Camoes, a 16th century Portuguese bard. Though she thought the poems too personal to publish, her husband encouraged her to do so. They were experimental in form and content at that time. The poems are sequential and must be read in order to trace the development of love and the evolution of the poet, in an era when women shied away from expressing their deepest feelings.

A keepsake collectible indeed!

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