The Readings

Edmund Spenser (1552 - 1599)
Amoretti, Sonnet 15

Ye tradefull Merchants that with weary toyle, Do seek most pretious things to make your gain: And both the Indias of their treasures spoile, What needeth you to seeke so farre in vaine? For loe my love doth in her selfe containe All this worlds riches that may farre be found, If Saphyres, loe her eies be Saphyres plaine, If Rubies, loe hir lips be Rubies sound: If Pearles, hir teeth be pearles both pure and round; If Yuorie, her forhead yuory weene; If Gold, her locks are finest gold on ground; If siluer, her faire hands are siluer sheene; But that which fairest is, but few behold, Her mind adorned with vertues manifold.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 - 1861)
Sonnets from the Portuguese, Sonnet 3

Unlike are we, unlike, O princely Heart ! Unlike our uses and our destinies. Our ministering two angels look surprise On one another, as they strike athwart Their wings in passing. Thou, bethink thee, art A guest for queens to social pageantries, With gages from a hundred brighter eyes Than tears even can make mine, to play thy part Of chief musician. What hast thou to do With looking from the lattice-lights at me, A poor, tired, wandering singer, singing through The dark, and leaning up a cypress tree ? The chrism is on thine head,—on mine, the dew,— And Death must dig the level where these agree.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 - 1861)
Sonnets from the Portuguese, Sonnet 6

Go from me. Yet I feel that I shall stand Henceforward in thy shadow. Nevermore Alone upon the threshold of my door Of individual life, I shall command The uses of my soul, nor lift my hand Serenely in the sunshine as before, Without the sense of that which I forebore— Thy touch upon the palm. The widest land Doom takes to part us, leaves thy heart in mine With pulses that beat double. What I do And what I dream include thee, as the wine Must taste of its own grapes. And when I sue God for myself, He hears that name of thine, And sees within my eyes the tears of two.

Edmund Spenser (1552 - 1599)
Amoretti, Sonnet 75

One day I wrote her name upon the strand But came the waues and washed it away: Agayne I wrote it with a second hand, But came the tyde, and made my paynes his pray. Vayne man, sayd she, that doest in vaine assay, A mortall thing so to immortalize, For I my selue shall lyke to this decay, And eek my name bee wyped out lykewize. Not so, (quod I) let baser things deuize To dy in dust, but you shall live by fame: My verse your vertues rare shall eternize, And in the hevens wryte your glorious name. Where whenas death shall all the world subdew, Our loue shall liue, and later life renew.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 - 1861)
Sonnets from the Portuguese, Sonnet 8

What can I give thee back, O liberal And princely giver, who hast brought the gold And purple of thine heart, unstained, untold, And laid them on the outside of the wall For such as I to take or leave withal, In unexpected largesse ? am I cold, Ungrateful, that for these most manifold High gifts, I render nothing back at all ? Not so, not cold,—but very poor instead. Ask God who knows. For frequent tears have run The colors from my life, and left so dead And pale a stuff, it were not fitly done To give the same as pillow to thy head. Go farther ! let it serve to trample on.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 - 1861)
Sonnets from the Portuguese, Sonnet 9

Can it be right to give what I can give ? To let thee sit beneath the fall of tears As salt as mine, and hear the sighing years Re-sighing on my lips renunciative Through these infrequent smiles which fail to live For all thy adjurations ? O my fears, That this can scarce be right ! We are not peers, So to be lovers; and I own, and grieve, That givers of such gifts as mine are, must Be counted with the ungenerous. Out, alas ! I will not soil thy purple with my dust, Nor breathe my poison on thy Venice-glass, Nor give thee any love—which were unjust. Beloved, I only love thee ! let it pass.

Edmund Spenser (1552 - 1599)
Amoretti, Sonnet 79

Men call you fayre and you doe credit it, For that your selfe ye dayly such doe see: But the trew fayre, that is the gentle wit, And vertuous mind, is much more praysed of me. For all the rest, how ever fayre it be, Shall turne to nought and loose that glorious hew; But onely that is permanent and free From frayle corruption, that doth flesh ensew. That is true beautie; that doth argue you To be divine and borne of heavenly seed: Deriv'd from that fayre Spirit, from whom all true And perfect beauty did at first proceed. He onely fayre, and what he fayre hath made, All other fayre lyke flowers untymely fade.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 - 1861)
Sonnets from the Portuguese, Sonnet 10

Yet love, mere love, is beautiful indeed And worthy of acceptation. Fire is bright, Let temple burn, or flax; an equal light Leaps in the flame from cedar-plank or weed: And love is fire. And when I say at need I love thee ... mark ! ... I love thee—in thy sight I stand transfigured, glorified aright, With conscience of the new rays that proceed Out of my face toward thine. There's nothing low In love, when love the lowest: meanest creatures Who love God, God accepts while loving so And what I feel, across the inferior features Of what I am, doth flash itself, and show How that great work of Love enhances Nature's.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 - 1861)
Sonnets from the Portuguese, Sonnet 12

Indeed this very love which is my boast, And which, when rising up from breast to brow, Doth crown me with a ruby large enow To draw men's eyes and prove the inner cost,— This love even, all my worth, to the uttermost, I should not love withal, unless that thou Hadst set me an example, shown me how, When first thine earnest eyes with mine were crossed, And love called love. And thus, I cannot speak Of love even, as a good thing of my own: Thy soul hath snatched up mine all faint and weak, And placed it by thee on a golden throne,— And that I love (O soul, we must be meek !) Is by thee only, whom I love alone.

William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616)
Sonnet 18

Shall I compare thee to a Summers day? Thou art more louely and more temperate: Rough windes do shake the darling buds of Maie, And Sommers lease hath all too short a date: Sometime too hot the eye of heauen shines, And often is his gold complexion dimm'd, And euery faire from faire some-time declines, By chance, or natures changing course vntrimm'd: But thy eternall Sommer shall not fade, Nor loose possession of that faire thou ow'st, Nor shall death brag thou wandr'st in his shade, When in eternall lines to time thou grow'st, So long as men can breath or eyes can see, So long liues this, and this giues life to thee,

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 - 1861)
Sonnets from the Portuguese, Sonnet 13

And wilt thou have me fashion into speech The love I bear thee, finding words enough, And hold the torch out, while the winds are rough, Between our faces, to cast light on each ?— I drop it at thy feet. I cannot teach My hand to hold my spirit so far off From myself—me—that I should bring thee proof In words, of love hid in me out of reach. Nay, let the silence of my womanhood Commend my woman-love to thy belief,— Seeing that I stand unwon, however wooed, And rend the garment of my life, in brief, By a most dauntless, voiceless fortitude, Lest one touch of this heart convey its grief.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 - 1861)
Sonnets from the Portuguese, Sonnet 14

If thou must love me, let it be for nought Except for love's sake only. Do not say 'I love her for her smile—her look—her way Of speaking gently,—for a trick of thought That falls in well with mine, and certes brought A sense of pleasant ease on such a day'— For these things in themselves, Belovèd, may Be changed, or change for thee,—and love, so wrought, May be unwrought so. Neither love me for Thine own dear pity's wiping my cheeks dry,— A creature might forget to weep, who bore Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby ! But love me for love's sake, that evermore Thou mayst love on, through love's eternity.

William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616)
Sonnet 87

Farewell thou art too deare for my possessing, And like enough thou knowst thy estimate, The Charter of they worth giues thee releasing: My bonds in thee are all determinate. For how do I hold thee but by thy granting, And for that ritches where is my deseruving? The cause of this faire guift in me is wanting, And so my pattent back againe is sweruving. Thy selfe thou gau'st,thy owne worth then not knowing, Or mee to whom thou gau'st it, else mistaking, So thy great guift vpon misprision growing, Comes home againe, on better iudgement making. Thus haue I had thee as a dreame doth flatter, In sleepe a King, but waking no such matter.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 - 1861)
Sonnets from the Portuguese, Sonnet 16

And yet, because thou overcomest so, Because thou art more noble and like a king, Thou canst prevail against my fears and fling Thy purple round me, till my heart shall grow Too close against thine heart henceforth to know How it shook when alone. Why conquering May prove as lordly and complete a thing In lifting upward, as in crushing low ! And as a vanquished soldier yields his sword To one who lifts him from the bloody earth, Even so, Belovèd, I at last record, Here ends my strife. If thou invite me forth, I rise above abasement at the word. Make thy love larger to enlarge my worth.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 - 1861)
Sonnets from the Portuguese, Sonnet 20

Belovèd, my Belovèd, when I think That thou wast in the world a year ago, What time I sat alone here in the snow And saw no footprint, heard the silence sink No moment at thy voice, but, link by link, Went counting all my chains as if that so They never could fall off at any blow Struck by thy possible hand,—why, thus I drink Of life's great cup of wonder ! Wonderful, Never to feel thee thrill the day or night With personal act or speech,—nor ever cull Some prescience of thee with the blossoms white Thou sawest growing ! Atheists are as dull, Who cannot guess God's presence out of sight.

William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616)
Sonnet 97

How like a Winter hath my absence beene From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting yeare? What freezings haue I felt, what darke daies seene? What old Decembers barenesse euery where? And yet this time remou'd was sommers time, The teeming Autumne big with ritch increase, Bearing the wanton burthen of the prime, Like widdowed wombes after their Lords decease: Yet this aboundant issue seem'd to me, But hope of Orphans, and vn-fathered fruite, For Sommer and his pleasures waite on thee, And thou away, the very birds are mute. Or if they sing, tis with so dull a cheere, That leaues looke pale, dreading the Winters neere.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 - 1861)
Sonnets from the Portuguese, Sonnet 21

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, 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 Cry, ' Speak once more—thou lovest ! ' Who can fear Too many stars, thou 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.

William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616)
Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true mindes Admit impediments, loue is not loue Which alters when it alteration findes, Or bends with the remouer to remoue. O no, it is an euer fixed marke That lookes on tempests and is neuer shaken; It is the star to euery wandring barke, Whose worths vnknown, although his higth be taken. Lou's not Times foole, though rosie lips and cheeks Within his bending sickles compasse come, Loue alters not with his breefe houres and weekes, But beares it out euen to the edge of doome: If this be error and vpon me proued, I neuer write, nor no man euer loued.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 - 1861)
Sonnets from the Portuguese, Sonnet 25

A heavy heart, Belovèd, have I borne From year to year until I saw thy face, And sorrow after sorrow took the place Of all those natural joys as lightly worn As the stringed pearls, each lifted in its turn By a beating heart at dance-time. Hopes apace Were changed to long despairs, till God's own grace Could scarcely lift above the world forlorn My heavy heart. Then thou didst bid me bring And let it drop adown thy calmly great Deep being ! Fast it sinketh, as a thing Which its own nature doth precipitate, While thine doth close above it, mediating Betwixt the stars and the unaccomplished fate.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 - 1861)
Sonnets from the Portuguese, Sonnet 27

My own Belovèd, who hast lifted me From this drear flat of earth where I was thrown, And, in betwixt the languid ringlets, blown A life-breath, till the forehead hopefully Shines out again, as all the angels see, Before thy saving kiss ! My own, my own Who camest to me when the world was gone, And I who looked for only God, found thee ! I find thee; I am safe, and strong, and glad. As one who stands in dewless asphodel Looks backward on the tedious time he had In the upper life,—so I, with bosom-swell, Make witness, here, between the good and bad, That Love, as strong as Death, retrieves as well.

William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616)
Sonnet 130

My mistres eyes are nothing like the Sunne, Currall is farre more read, then her lips red, If snow be white, why then her brests are dun: If haires be wiers, black wiers grow on here head: I haue seene Roses damaskt, red and white, But no such Roses see I in here cheekes, And in some perfumes is there more delight, Then in the breath that from my Mistres reekes. I loue to heare her speake, yet well I know, That Musicke hath a farre more pleasing sound: I graunt I neuer saw a goddesse goe, My Mistres when shee walkes treads on the ground, And yet by heauen I thinke my loue as rare, As any she beli'd with false compare.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 - 1861)
Sonnets from the Portuguese, Sonnet 28

My letters ! all dead paper, mute and white ! And yet they seem alive and quivering Against my tremulous hands which loose the string And let them drop down on my knee to-night. This said,—he wished to have me in his sight Once, as a friend: this fixed a day in spring To come and touch my hand ... a simple thing, Yet I wept for it !—this, ... the paper's light ... Said, Dear, I love thee; and I sank and quailed As if God's future thundered on my past. This said, I am thine—and so its ink has paled With lying at my heart that beat too fast. And this ... O Love, thy words have ill availed If, what this said, I dared repeat at last !

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 - 1861)
Sonnets from the Portuguese, Sonnet 29

I think of thee !—my thoughts do twine and bud About thee, as wild vines, about a tree, Put out broad leaves, and soon there's nought to see Except the straggling green which hides the wood. Yet, O my palm-tree, be it understood I will not have my thoughts instead of thee Who art dearer, better ! Rather, instantly Renew thy presence, as a strong tree should, Rustle thy boughs and set thy trunk all bare, And let these bands of greenery which insphere thee Drop heavily down,—burst, shattered, everywhere ! Because, in this deep joy to see and hear thee And breathe within thy shadow a new air, I do not think of thee—I am too near thee.

John Milton (1608 - 1674)
“On His Deceased Wife”

Methought I saw my late espoused saint Brought to me like Alcestis from the grave, Whom Jove's great son to her glad husband gave, Rescued from Death by force, though pale and faint. Mine, as whom washed from spot of childbed taint Purification in the Old Law did save, And such as yet once more I trust to have Full sight of her in Heaven without restraint, Came vested all in white, pure as her mind. Her face was veiled; yet to my fancied sight Love, sweetness, goodness, in her person shined So clear as in no face with more delight. But, oh! as to embrace me she inclined, I waked, she fled, and day brought back my night.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 - 1861)
Sonnets from the Portuguese, Sonnet 30

I see thine image through my tears to-night, And yet to-day I saw thee smiling. How Refer the cause ?—Belovèd, is it thou Or I, who makes me sad ? The acolyte Amid the chanted joy and thankful rite May so fall flat, with pale insensate brow, On the altar-stair. I hear thy voice and vow, Perplexed, uncertain, since thou art out of sight, As he, in his swooning ears, the choir's Amen. Belovèd, dost thou love ? or did I see all The glory as I dreamed, and fainted when Too vehement light dilated my ideal, For my soul's eyes ? Will that light come again, As now these tears come—falling hot and real ?

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 - 1861)
Sonnets from the Portuguese, Sonnet 35

If I leave all for thee, wilt thou exchange And be all to me ? Shall I never miss Home-talk and blessing and the common kiss That comes to each in turn, nor count it strange, When I look up, to drop on a new range Of walls and floors, another home than this ? Nay, wilt thou fill that place by me which is Filled by dead eyes too tender to know change ? That's hardest. If to conquer love, has tried, To conquer grief, tries more, as all things prove; For grief indeed is love and grief beside. Alas, I have grieved so I am hard to love. Yet love me—wilt thou ? Open thine heart wide, And fold within the wet wings of thy dove.

Emma Lazarus (1849 - 1887)
“Assurance”

Last night I slept, and when I woke her kiss Still floated on my lips. For we had strayed Together in my dream, through some dim glade, Where the shy moonbeams scarce dared light our bliss. The air was dank with dew, between the trees, The hidden glow-worms kindled and were spent. Cheek pressed to cheek, the cool, the hot night-breeze Mingled our hair, our breath, and came and went, As sporting with our passion. Low and deep Spake in mine ear her voice: "And didst thou dream, This could be buried? This could be sleep? And love be thrall to death! Nay, whatso seem, Have faith, dear heart; this is the thing that is!" Thereon I woke, and on my lips her kiss.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 - 1861)
Sonnets from the Portuguese, Sonnet 37

Pardon, oh, pardon, that my soul should make, Of all that strong divineness which I know For thine and thee, an image only so Formed of the sand, and fit to shift and break. It is that distant years which did not take Thy sovranty, recoiling with a blow, Have forced my swimming brain to undergo Their doubt and dread, and blindly to forsake Thy purity of likeness and distort Thy worthiest love to a worthless counterfeit: As if a shipwrecked Pagan, safe in port, His guardian sea-god to commemorate, Should set a sculptured porpoise, gills a-snort And vibrant tail, within the temple-gate.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 - 1861)
Sonnets from the Portuguese, Sonnet 38

First time he kissed me, he but only kissed The fingers of this hand wherewith I write; And ever since, it grew more clean and white, Slow to world-greetings, quick with its ' Oh, list, ' When the angels speak. A ring of amethyst I could not wear here, plainer to my sight, Than that first kiss. The second passed in height The first, and sought the forehead, and half missed, Half falling on the hair. O beyond meed ! That was the chrism of love, which love's own crown, With sanctifying sweetness, did procede. The third upon my lips was folded down In perfect, purple state; since when, indeed, I have been proud and said, ' My love, my own.'

Sara Teasdale (1884 - 1933)
“To L. R. E.”

When first I saw you — felt you take my hand, I could not speak for happiness to find How more than all they said your heart was kind, How strong you were, and quick to understand — I dared not say: "I who am least of those Who call you friend — I love you, and I crave A little love that I may be more brave Because one watches me who cares and knows." So, silent, long ago I used to look High up along the shelves at one great book, And longed to see its contents, childishwise, And now I know it for my Poet's own, — So sometime shall I know you and be known, And looking upward, I shall find your eyes.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 - 1861)
Sonnets from the Portuguese, Sonnet 39

Because thou hast the power and own'st the grace To look through and behind this mask of me (Against which years have beat thus blanchingly With their rains), and behold my soul's true face, The dim and weary witness of life's race,— Because thou has the faith and love to see, Through the same soul's distracting lethargy, The patient angel waiting for a place In the new Heavens,—because nor sin nor woe, Nor God's infliction, nor death's neighborhood, Nor all which others viewing, turn to go, Nor all which makes me tired of all, self-viewed— Nothing repels thee, ... Dearest, teach me so To pour out gratitude, as thou dost, good !

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 - 1861)
Sonnets from the Portuguese, Sonnet 43

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight For the ends of Being and ideal Grace. I love thee to the level of everyday's Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light. I love thee freely, as men strive for Right; I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise. I love thee with a passion put to use In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith. I love thee with a love I seemed to lose With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath, Smiles, tears, of all my life !—and, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death.

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892 - 1950)
“Love Is Not All”

Love is not all: It is not meat nor drink Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain, Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink And rise and sink and rise and sink again. Love cannot fill the thickened lung with breath Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone; Yet many a man is making friends with death Even as I speak, for lack of love alone. It well may be that in a difficult hour, Pinned down by need and moaning for release Or nagged by want past resolution's power, I might be driven to sell your love for peace, Or trade the memory of this night for food. It may well be. I do not think I would.

Some Comments on the Selection

This selection of sonnets was drawn from a focus on the Sonnets from the Portuguese and a desire for poems expressing classic romantic themes from a somewhat diverse selection of poets; the ordering is a simple interleaving of selections from Elizabeth Barrett Browning with other sonnets in chronological order by the poet's birth date. Even so, the whole does have significant aspects of a sonnet sequence in its own right and in several cases the adjacent works by different poets play off of one another. This may even be likened to a dance where the dancers orbit each other and are distinct and yet united.

The list of the precious qualities of the beloved in Amoretti's Sonnet 15 is contrasted by Browning's declaration that even tears do not make her eyes shine as brightly as others (cf. "her eies be Saphyres") and the negative contrast to her lover's "princely Heart" (cf. "mind adorned with vertues"). The next sonnet (Sonnets from the Portuguese, Sonnet 6) joins separation and union while the following sonnet (Amoretti, Sonnet 75) declares that even the great equalizer (cf. "Death must dig the level") cannot end the union of their love. Both present the eternal as witness (cf. "when I sue/ God for myself, He hears that name of thine" with " "in the hevens write your glorious name"), one of a love that cannot be consummated, the other of a love that lives and gives life.

The forceful glorification of the beloved in Amoretti, Sonnet 75, also contrasts with the gentle laying down of gifts in Sonnets from the Portuguese, Sonnet 8, and the invitation in the latter ("to trample on") for the lover to act as the waves and tide in the former. There is also a contrast of death as a future reality which nevertheless cannot overcome love with death as a present reality ("left so dead") forcing the rejection of loving union. ("To give the same as pillow to thy head" may even be hinting at the rejection of giving death (pillow → sleep → death), which is a recurring sentiment in Sonnets from the Portuguese.)

The declared lack of any beauty or virtue to offer in Sonnets from the Portuguese, Sonnet 9, contrasts with the obvious beauty and true virtue praised in Amoretti, Sonnet 79. While the recognition of the beauty and worthiness given by Love in Browning's Sonnet 10 matches the virtue in Spenser's sonnet as coming from an external source ("that fayre Spirit" or "Love").

Browning's Sonnet 12 further explains the source of her glory ("love") as a gift mediated by her lover. Yet unlike the lover's gift of immortality in Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 which follows, in Browning's lover provides the means of the glory itself. Furthermore, in Sonnet 12, both the beloved and the lover present a sense of humility (the lover in condescension and exaltation of the beloved to the side of a throne; the beloved in meekness of recognizing a lack of deserving even while boasting of her glory), while Shakespeare's sonnet implies a pride in the beloved (which is needled by the play in "ow'st" meaning "ownest" but confusable with "owest") and presents the lover as greater than the sun and Death.(The emphasis on sight and presence ("eyes", "by thee") and the exalting flow also contrasts the darkness and separation of Shakespeare's Sonnet 97 later in the selection.)

Sonnets from the Portuguese, Sonnet 13, links backward by the consideration of words. The previous sonnet emphasizes the power of words to eternalize the object of their expression, while this sonnet presents an inability to express the strength of love with words. Again Browning's sonnet rejection of the consummation of love contrasts the extension of life and love beyond mortal limits.

Browning's Sonnet 14 pleas for an eternal love based not on accidental pleasures but on the essential eternal character of love itself contrasting Shakespeare's Sonnet 87's declaring the end of relationship which was based on peership in worth. The image of a king is then drawn on in Browning's Sonnet 16 presenting the glory, the power, the authority, and the uplifting nature of a king.

Sonnets from the Portuguese, Sonnet 20, presents absence with reference to winter like Shakespeare's Sonnet 97 but with a reversed direction, contrasting a silly lack of glorious "prescience" with an apparent dark "hope" and "abundant issue" with "counting all my chains".

In some sense, this section of the collected sonnets presents a turn. Browning's sonnets begin to have a stronger emphasis on the present glory of love, while the sonnets of the other poets express more of tender hope and sometimes grim reality. This is also somewhat marked by the use of only one sonnet from Sonnets from the Portuguese between sonnets from other sources.

Sonnet 21's heavy use of the image of spring and recurring worldly beauty (and internal darkness and doubt) contrasts the previous sonnet's emphasis on winter and an ending of nature's beauty. There is also a contrast between the dull bird song in Shakespeare with the glorious silence of love in Browning.

In some sense Shakespeare's Sonnet 116 completes a turn, taking on more likeness to Browning's previous sonnets in idealizing the strength of love and even in some degree of humility ("nor no man ever loved" implies a lack of uniqueness in the worth of the lover). (It also contrasts somewhat with "not so much/ Will trun the thing called love" in Sonnet 40 of Sonnets from the Portuguese, not included in this selection.)

While Sonnet 116 speaks of the endurance of love over time, the next sonnet presents a weight of years as sorrows replace joys. Destiny is also present in both sonnets; the earlier presents love enduring until Judgment Day while the other presents the lover as mediating between the beloved and a seemingly fore-ordained doom. There is also some contrast of exaltation despite difficulties with an allowance of a continued falling that extends the natural into the glorious (as a tired person tripping and rather than falling painfully to the ground lands on a soft, restful couch).

Browning's Sonnet 27 moves from the falling and heaviness of Sonnet 25 to uplifting and strength. There seems to be little direct linking to the next sonnet. The positive comparison of the lover with God as a savior who brings life does contrast with the negative comparison of the beloved in Shakespeare's Sonnet 130 to a goddess. Sonnet 130 is clearly a constrast to the first sonnet in this collection, yet also contrasts Sonnet 14 from Sonnets from the Portuguese with a more prideful affirmation of love over temporal goods.

While Sonnet 130 lists physical beauties that the beloved lacks, Browning's Sonnet 28 lists the comforting words and actions of the lover and how strongly they have impacted the beloved (whereas Shakespeare seems to chide the beloved for doubting the actual extravagance of the lover's love). Sonnet 29 continues this thought and completes it with a demand for the higher good of actual presence with its "deep joy".

This joy and presence versus imagination is then contrasted in Milton's "On His Deceased Wife" where an image reminds the lover of presence, hope, and beauty, but the sonnet ends with darkness and separation rather than a protective shadow and nearness.

Sonnets from the Portuguese, Sonnet 30, links the idea of image with doubt and separation; the beloved sees her lover but does not feel the reality of his love. The sonnet closes with a plea for the manifestation of that reality.

While Sonnet 30 questions the reality of the lover's love, Sonnet 35 questions the sufficiency of that love to overcome the grief for a dead parent. This contention of grief and love is similarly the focus of Emma Lazarus' "Assurance". (Whereas "Assurance" argues that love is not "thrall to death", Elizabeth Barrett Browning presents a somewhat different emphasis in Sonnet 33 — not included in this collection — where a new love complements a past love: "Gather the north flowers to complete the south,/ And catch the early love up in the late." The old love does not die and can be included with a new love.)

Browning's Sonnet 37 asks pardon for not accepting the unyielding glory of the lover's love, linking to the "Assurance" offerred in the previous sonnet that love does not yield to death. Sonnet 38 lists three kisses as increasing signs of the lover's love, growing to a final proud confidence. Sara Teasdale's "To L. R. E. [Lillie Rose Ernst]" seeks a similar assurance, though that love is probably that of a deeply respected mentor and friend rather than a romantic love. Both conclude with a confidence that can look up into the other's eyes with a fuller mutual knowledge.

Sonnet 39 from Sonnets from the Portuguese praises the persistence and power of the lover's love and seeks an equality of affection — "To pour out gratitude, as thou dost, good" — somewhat reflecting "So sometime shall I know you and be known" in "To L. R. E.".

The last of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's sonnets in this selection (Sonnet 43), lists the ways in which the beloved loves her lover. This not only satisfies the seeking of equality in the previous sonnet but also that they have become all to each other as wished for in Sonnet 35. The list also reflects on the first sonnet of the selection (Amoretti, Sonnet 15) which presented a list of physical beauties. The completeness of this love also contrasts the list of things that love cannot provide in the concluding sonnet, Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Love Is Not All". This concluding sonnet presents the physical inadequacy of love yet declaring that some would rather abandon all physical goods than be deprived of love and that the lover's love is so dear that the beloved thinks it unlikely she would trade it for even the greatest physical need. In the concluding work for an evening program, the line "the memory of this night" has a nice play on the hope that the night of the performance will be a pleasant memory.