I think of thee!—my thoughts do twine and budElizabeth Barrett Browning
About thee, as wild vines, about a tree,
Welcome back to Beyond English’s AQA Love and Relationships poetry bonanza. This week, we’re exploring Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet 29: I Think of Thee!. We’ll be focusing on:
Sonnet 29: I think of thee! is a poem by Victorian poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. It is from her collection Sonnets from the Portuguese. Barrett Browning became one of the foremost poets of the Victorian period and is equally well remembered for her love affair and marriage with the poet Robert Browning.
Sonnets from the Portuguese is a series of 44 love sonnets written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning to her future husband, Robert Browning in the years 1845-46. While Elizabeth Barrett Browning felt the poems were too personal for publication, her husband Robert convinced her to publish them in 1850 on the understanding that they would appear to the public as if they were translations of much earlier European works. Barrett Browning had originally focussed on the Bosnian culture as the one that the poems would ostensibly be from. Robert Browning convinced her to call them Portuguese however, since she admired the early Portuguese poets and because his pet name for her was ‘My Little Portuguese’. Robert Browning was convinced that the poems were the finest collection of sonnets in the English language since those of Shakespeare and they have proved immensely popular.
Sonnet 29: I Think of Thee Structure
The poem is a sonnet, an old-style love poem. The specific style of sonnet used here (and in all the sonnets in Barrett Browning’s collection) is the Petrarchan sonnet. In this type of poem the first eight lines (the octave) set out a problem. Commonly this type of poem will have a volta or turn in the ninth line, and the end of the poem (last six lines referred to as the sestet) offers a solution. In Barrett Browning’s poem however, the volta appears in the seventh line, perhaps expressing the excitement and impatience of the poet to see her lover.
Throughout the poem, the poet’s excitement is expressed in the use of exclamation marks and the breaks in the regular iambic pentameter and through the use of punctuation in the middle of lines. The effect is one of breathless anticipation on the part of the poet. Caesura and enjambment are used throughout to break up the standard monotony of the sonnet form and to express her deepening excitement as the poem progresses.
The transition between the problem of the first half of the poem and the solution of the second is mirrored in the repetition of the line: ‘I think of thee!’ This is changed at the end of the poem to ‘I do not think of thee’ as the poet has decided that she would rather see her lover.
Poem Analysis of Sonnet 29
Sonnet 29: I think of thee! is a love poem, a sonnet of 14 lines in which the poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, expresses her deep desires for her fiancé, Robert Browning. She discusses how much he is in her thoughts when they are not together and worries at first that her imaginings of him may obscure what he is really like. She wishes for him to be a strong, solid presence in her life (the tree imagery) and wants to be with him (physical longing) rather than just thinking about him.
The metaphor used throughout the poem is an extended one in which Robert Browning is seen as a tree, reflecting the solid, secure presence he represents in her life. He is, at various points in the poem, a ‘palm-tree’ and a woodland species with broad leaves. Her use of the tree metaphor is mixed and varied. Some elements of the poem seem overpowering – she is the ‘wild vines’ that twine around him, her thoughts for him are constantly growing and unrestrained in their enclosure: ‘insphered’. She sees these ‘wild vines’ of her thoughts being broken and shattered by him, since she dreams of a time when they can be together properly and not simply in her mind. They are ‘straggling’ and thus inferior to the real thing she dreams will be theirs one day.
Some of the language of the poem reflects her deep physical longing for her lover and works well in comparison to similar feelings in Love’s Philosophy. Language such as ‘Rustle thy boughs and set thy trunk all bare, And let these bands of greenery which insphere thee, Drop heavily down’ could be read in a number of ways.
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