Sarah Helen Whitman: To Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnet II

Table of contents

1. Sarah Helen Whitman "To Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnet II"

Sarah Helen Whitmana
“Ad una vista
D’un gran palazzo Michol ammirava
Si come donna dispettosa e trista.”
(--Dante, Il Purgatorio (10.67-69) (The epigraph (“at the window of a great palace, Michal looked on, like a woman vexed and scornful”; trans. John D. Sinclair [London: John Lane The Bodley Head, 1948]) implicitly compares EBB, judging events in Italy, to Michal, wife of the scriptural David, scornfully witnessing his dance in 2 Samuel 6.16.) )
Sometimes I see thee, pale with scorn and sorrow,
At a great palace window, looking forth,
To-day on plumèd Florentines, —to-morrow
Upon the hireling legions of the North:4
Sometimes o’er little children bending lowly,
To hear their cry, in the dark factories drowned;6
Ah, then thy pitying brow grows sweet and holy,
With a saint’s aureole of sorrow crowned!
But most I love thee when that mystic glory—
Kindling at horrors that abhor the day—
Sheds a wild, stormy splendor o’er the story
Of the dark fugitive, who turned away
To death’s cold threshold, calm in death’s disdain,
From the “White Pilgrim’s Rock,” beside the western main.14

2. Explanatory Notes

From Hours of Life and Other Poems (Providence, RI: G.H. Whitney, 1853); first published in the New York Tribune (13 April 1853). This is the second of three sonnets to EBB (see the supplementary website for I & III) by Whitman (1803-78), an essayist, proponent of women’s rights, and poet associated with the circle of Edgar Allan Poe. See Anne Lohrli, “Sonnets to Mrs. Browning,” SBHC 6 (1978), 71-73.

Alludes to CGW (1851), in which EBB watches from her window, first, as Florentines celebrated new political liberties, and later as Austrian troops arrived to renew Italy’s oppression.

Refers to “The Cry of the Children” (1843).

Refers to “The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point” (pub. 1847, dated 1848).

EBB Archive HomeCriticismAbout the EBB Archive

Sarah Helen Whitman. Date: 14-June-2011
This page is copyrighted by the EBB Archive