This month our focus is on romance. So who better to talk about that the famous poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)?
Picture this conversation Elizabeth is having with her crit partner after finishing her now-famous poem, “How Do I Love Thee?”:
Crit partner: Elizabeth! My ears have just heard Penny Post Press has extended their hand to receive poetry. Can you imagine? Poetry!Elizabeth: Poetry? You truly heard this correct?Crit partner: Yes. I was fortunate enough to spy on conversation between Mrs. Mitford and Mrs. Towry, where Mrs. Towry’s maid spoke of this to Mrs. Dinkle, whose daughter spoke of this to Mrs. Smythe, whose son spoke of this to Master Wimbolt, who said Penny Post Press is receiving numerous requests at this very minute.Elizabeth: Oh friend! Your words are music to my ears! I’ve become less than cheerful these past few months, as you well know, with the burden of these poems laying painfully on my heart.Crit partner: Mrs. Browning! Time is not to be wasted. Get thine query letter sent right away! Deliver it yourself, if you must. My ears have heard, though not directly, mind you, that Alfred Lord Tennyson and Mr. William Wordsworth already carried theirs by hand.Elizabeth: I will, dear friend. I will!* * * * * * * * * *Response from Penny Post Press to Elizabeth:My dearest Mrs. Browning,In regard to your poem, “How Do I Love Thee?”, although your words speak of love with the most feverent of heart, it is my duty to regretfully inform you that, in this particular case, too little time has been spent on “tell” and more than sufficient time on “show.” Therefore, unless it becomes your choice to rewrite in a fashion this firm finds acceptable, I am sorry to say we must regretfully decline thine offer.Sincerely,EditorPenny Post Press
Of course, it’s easy to look back on history and laugh at the above fictitious scenario, but it becomes less than funny when it happens to us.
Mrs. Browning knew the world of the writer quite well, and was not much different than we are: she had a love for writing and engaged herself in this passion, she overcame insurmountable obstacles, and she persevered during a time when it was tough to get published. Yet through it all she didn’t give up.
Neither should you.
Write what your heart tells your to write. 160+ years later, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem is still considered one of the greatest love poems of all time. Did she know this would happen? I doubt it.
Whether what you write ends up published or not is far less than important than the words themselves. Your words have been given to you by God, poured into you and through you so that you can pour out. Words that could easily, one day, end up in the hands of someone who despirately needs them. Words echoing truth to a world in dire need of change. Words that may fall on many ears–or just one.
Even if it takes 160 years.
* * * * * * * * * *
How Do I Love Thee?
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)
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.
(Number 43 from Sonnets from the Portuguese. First published in 1850.)