Say over again… (Sonnet 21)

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was a well-known Victorian poet.

She married fellow writer, Robert Browning.

Also known as Sonnet 21, ‘Say over again…’ is a powerful and emotional sonnet that explores themes of love, passion, dedication, and even obsession. The speaker’s tone is passionate and at times desperate as she tries to explain to her lover why its so important that he always reminds her of his love. 

Say over again… (Sonnet 21) by Elizabeth Barrett Browning


Summary of Say over again…

‘Say over again…’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning presents a speaker’s desire to have her lover continually remind her of his dedication to her. 

Sonnet 21, ‘Say over again…’, uses a metaphor involving spring and the cuckoo to depict the necessity of words of love for this speaker. If he does not tell her that he loves her on a regular basis, then she will fall into darkness and doubt. The winter will remain and spring will never blossom. But if he does tell her, then there will be endless stars and flowers. 


Structure of Say over again… 

Say over again…’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning is a fourteen-line sonnet that loosely follows the pattern of a Petrarchan or Italian sonnet. This means that aside from the fourteen lines, there is a consistent rhyme scheme. It follows a pattern of ABBAABBA CDCDCD. 

Within Petrarchan sonnets, there are two halves, the first eight lines, or octet, which is followed by the sestet, a set of six lines. The octet always follows the rhyming pattern of ABBAABBA, but the sestet is open to change. Another element that marks a Petrarchan sonnet is the turn or volta. This is a shift in Say over again… that can be seen through a change in narrator, belief or setting. It can even consist of an answer to a question posed in the first part. In this case, the turn comes in the last two lines. 


Poetic Techniques in Say over again…

Browning makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Say over again…’ These include, but are not limited to, alliteration, caesura, sibilance, and enjambment. The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “love,” which repeats three times in line twelve or “darkness” and “doubtful” in lines seven and eight. 

Caesura is another interesting technique. It occurs when a line is divided in half, sometimes using punctuation and other times not. The use of punctuation in these moments creates a very intentional pause in the text. A reader should consider how the pause influences the rhythm of one’s reading and how it might come before an important turn or transition in the text. For example, line two which reads: “That thou dost love me. Though the word repeated” and line twelve which reads: “The silver iterance!—only minding, Dear”. 

Enjambment is another important technique commonly used in poetry. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For example, the transition between lines two and three and five and six. 

Finally, sibilance is similar to alliteration but it is concerned with soft vowel sounds such as “s” and “th”. This kind of repetition usually results in a prolonged hissing or rushing sound. It is often used to mimic another sound, like water, wind, or any kind of fluid movement. 


Analysis of Say over again…

Lines 1-4

Say over again, and yet once over again,  

That thou dost love me. Though the word repeated  

Should seem “a cuckoo-song,” as thou dost treat it,  

Remember, never to the hill or plain,  

In the first lines of ‘Say over again…’ the speaker begins by making use of the phrase that was later used to identify Say over again. She addresses her lover, telling him to “say over again” that he loves her. He should continue to tell her, over and over again, even when it starts to get a little ridiculous. He might start to sound like a singing cuckoo bird, but he should continue. 

The speaker tells her lover that it is entirely necessary for him to continue, and she uses the cuckoo and spring as a metaphor to do it. 


Lines 5-8 

Valley and wood, without her cuckoo-strain

Comes the fresh Spring in all her green completed.  

Belovèd, I, amid the darkness greeted  

By a doubtful spirit-voice, in that doubt’s pain  

In the second quatrain, the speaker explains that the spring never arrives and the world never becomes beautiful, without the sound of the cuckoo singing. It is a necessary part of nature, in this metaphor. She compares the necessity of the song to the necessity of his love and her knowledge of it. The lightness of the spring is juxtaposed against what comes before, the darkness of winter. In this case, the “darkness” of the speaker’s doubt. 

She can’t help it, she adds in the next lines, but “doubt’s pain” always returns to her. 


Lines 9-14 

Cry, “Speak once more—thou lovest!” Who can fear  

Too many stars, though each in heaven shall roll, 

Too many flowers, though each shall crown the year?  

Say thou dost love me, love me, love me—toll  

The silver iterance!—only minding, Dear,  

To love me also in silence with thy soul. 

The final six lines of Sonnet 21, ‘Say over again…’, are even more impassioned than the first eight. She asks her lover to please, cry out that he loves her. There is no reason not to. Just as the spring brings flowers by the cuckoo’s song, so too shall his words of love bring her happiness. There is nothing to fear from its repetition just as there’s nothing to fear from growing numbers of stars for flowers. These are wonderful things, and so too will be her heart and their love if he will continually remind her that he cares for her. 

The phrase “love me” is repeated three times in the twelfth line. She truly does desire her lover to repeat over and over his dedication to her. It should be like a bell, tolling when she needs it to. But, she adds in the last two lines (creating the turn or volta) he should also love her “in silence with [his] soul”. The love should be loud and constant but its outward exclamations should not take the place of the quiet, internal love he bears her. 

Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

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