This sonnet is part of Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese and is one of many that scholars generally believe was dedicated to Barrett Browning’s husband, Robert Browning. The poem takes the form of a Petrarchan love sonnet and is one of the poet’s better known from the series.
Sonnet 7 Elizabeth Barrett Browning The face of all the world is changed, I think, Since first I heard the footsteps of thy soul Move still, oh, still, beside me, as they stole Betwixt me and the dreadful outer brink Of obvious death, where I, who thought to sink, Was caught up into love, and taught the whole Of life in a new rhythm. The cup of dole God gave for baptism, I am fain to drink, And praise its sweetness, Sweet, with thee anear. The names of country, heaven, are changed away For where thou art or shalt be, there or here; And this... this lute and song... loved yesterday, (The singing angels know) are only dear, Because thy name moves right in what they say.
Explore Sonnet 7
The poem begins with the speaker outlining all the ways that her life has been changed since this person came into her life. She used to feel as though God had baptized her in sorrow, but now she can see the beauty in the world far more clearly. She suggests that no matter how long she spent talking about her lover that she would never adequately thank him for what he’s done for her.
The tone throughout this poem is celebratory, loving, and appreciative. The speaker feels nothing but gratitude towards the man she loves for how he’s been able to uplift her and help her see the better parts of life. Before he arrived in her everyday life, she felt like she had nothing but sorrow and would die an obvious death.
The main themes of this poem our love and transformation. It is due to the new love that the speaker is experiencing that she is able to see life in a new way. She’s been transformed by her new relationship and no longer feels, so sorrow consumes everything she does. These are the major themes of most of the poems in Browning’s Songs from the Portuguese.
Structure and Form
While all Petrarchan or Italian sonnets use the ABBA pattern in the first eight lines, they tend to vary in the final six lines. The rhyme scheme of CDCDCD is the most common ending in this sonnet form. There is usually a turn or volta between the eighth and ninth lines in this form of the sonnet.
The poet also chose to use iambic pentameter. This is a very common metrical pattern that’s usually used in sonnets, as well as throughout English-language poetry. This means that within each line, with a few exceptions, the poet uses five sets of two syllables, the first of which is unstressed and the second of which is stressed.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Repetition: the use of the same literary element in multiple lines. For example, “still” is repeated twice in line three.
- Alliteration: the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “first” and “footsteps” in line two and “still” and “stole” in line three.
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point—for example, the transition between lines two and three and lines three and four.
- Caesura: an intentional pause in the middle of a line of verse. For example, “And this… this lute and song… loved yesterday.”
The face of all the world is changed, I think,
Since first I heard the footsteps of thy soul
Move still, oh, still, beside me, as they stole
Betwixt me and the dreadful outer brink
In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 7,’ the speaker begins by acknowledging that “The face of all the world is changed.” Something has happened to her (which is outlined in the previous sonnets in this sequence) that makes her see the world in a different light. She has an entirely new outlook because of a person, her new lover, who came into her life.
Prior to this person’s arrival in her life, she was unhappy and saw the world negatively. Now, since “they stole / Betwixt me and the dreadful outer brink / Of obvious death,” she feels differently. His footsteps are gentle, she adds, that she felt as though she could hear and feel his soul.
Of obvious death, where I, who thought to sink,
Was caught up into love, and taught the whole
Of life in a new rhythm. The cup of dole
God gave for baptism, I am fain to drink,
The speaker feels that if this person had not come into her life that she would’ve lived doomed to die unhappily and alone. But, with his arrival and the way that he uplifted her spirit, she was “taught the whole / Of life in a new rhythm.” The world was remade with new meaning.
At the time, she was so full of sadness it was as though God had baptized her in it. She couldn’t escape it.
And praise its sweetness, Sweet, with thee anear.
The names of country, heaven, are changed away
For where thou art or shalt be, there or here;
And this… this lute and song… loved yesterday,
(The singing angels know) are only dear,
Because thy name moves right in what they say.
Despite knowing how much better her life is now, the speaker expresses a familiar reluctance (seen in the other sonnets) to fully give herself over emotionally to this other person.
But, she still feels as though she needs to celebrate the sweetness of the man she has in her life and his presence close by her. She reiterates the fact that the world feels changed by saying that the “names of country, heaven, are changed away” and perhaps for good.
When her lover speaks, she hears the sound of angels and his voice. Everything he says is a “lute and song.” The closer she gest to him, the more she’s come to respect him and appreciate his artistic creations even more than she did before.
She believes that he deserves all the praise he’s getting and more. It’s clear the speaker feels unable to adequately express her gratitude for the change he brought to her life.
The tone is appreciative, celebratory, and loving. She’s directing her words to her new lover, commonly considered to be Robert Browning, and suggesting that she could never say enough to express her thanks for what he’s done for her.
The purpose is to express the speaker’s gratitude for the ways that her new lover changed her life. She celebrates the transformation she has gone through since and how much more beautiful life appears to her now.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning was an English poet born in March 1806. She’s known for her love sonnets, ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’ and her long poem ‘Aurora Leigh.’
Browning is best known for writing love sonnets dedicated to her husband and fellow poet Robert Browning. The vast majority of her sonnets are Petrarchan, also known as Italian. This means that they follow a traditional pattern popularized by the Italian poet Petrarch.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Elizabeth Barrett Browning poems. For example:
- ‘Patience Taught by Nature’ – was published in 1845 and speaks about heaven, a different kind of world where God resides and human problems don’t exist.
- ‘Died’ – was published after Browning’s death and also explores the impact of a man’s death and the immorality of passing judgments on someone who has passed away.
- ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese 24’ – is also known as ‘Let the World’s Sharpness.’ It is a sonnet in which the speaker compares the world’s problems to the closing of a knife.