The face of all the world is changed… since first I heard the footsteps of thy soul

grand canyon

The names of country, heaven, are changed

Sonnets from the Portuguese No. VII

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 shall 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.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (March 6, 1806 – June 29, 1861)
Sonnets from the Portuguese, first published in 1850
image – Ken Lund

Changing the Face of the World

Who hasn’t been changed by love? Who hasn’t been ruined, cleansed, fed, lit on fire, destroyed, rebuilt… – and sometimes with the same person.

I think the best of the best is when friendship gives fresh eyes, teaching “the whole of life in a new rhythm.” Taken on a very simple everyday level, any act of goodwill can change the “names” of where we are. Little kindnesses can brighten a child’s self esteem, or help a troubled adult change a trajectory of self-destruction from crushing head-on collision to a survivable glancing blow.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote Sonnets from the Portuguese during her courtship with Robert Browning. She was a frail little thing who had recently spent five years in near total isolation because of poor health and depression – “I, who thought to sink, was caught up into love, and taught the whole of life in a new rhythm.”

When the initial written correspondence with Robert Browning began to catch fire, she worked through her feelings by secretly writing a series of 44 sonnets. The 43rd Sonnet, beginning “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” is one of the world’s most famous love poems.

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