And yet thou art the nobler of us two:What dare I dream of, that thou canst not do,Outstripping my ten small steps with one stride?I'll say then, here's a trial and a task--Is it to bear?--if easy, I'll not ask:Though love fail, I can trust on thy pride.
I thought once how Theocritus had sung
Of the sweet years, the dear and wished-for years,
Who each one in a gracious hand appears
To bear a gift for mortals, old or young:
And, as I mused it in his antique tongue,
I saw, in gradual vision through my tears,
The sweet, sad years, the melancholy years
Of my own life, who by turns had flung
A shadow across me. Straightway I was ’ware,
So weeping, how a mystic shape did move
Behind me, and drew me backwards by the hair;
And a voice said in mastery, while I strove,--
“Guess now who holds thee?”—“Death,” I said. But there,
The silver answer rang,--“Not death, but Love.”
Love hauls her away by the hair! Can you believe it?
Barrett Browning's sonnets are bizarre and amazing: delicately constructed, musical, yet packed with physical imagery and full of feeling. But they are also quintessentially Victorian. I can see why her husband must have envisioned her as ideally patient, dutiful, and pure; and the complications are exciting.
I've since read that Emily Dickinson was a fan, and I can see why. What I don't see is this: Why is Robert Browning now more famous than his wife? Why has she been slotted into the Boring Genteel Poetess category while he retains the position of Serious Intellectual Poet? What's gone wrong?