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I Thought Once How Theocritus Had Sung by Elizabeth Barrett Browning


"I Thought Once How Theocritus Had Sung" is the first sonnet in Elizabeth's book titled Sonnets from the Portuguese. This Petrarchan sonnet is made up of two quatrains and two tercets (sometimes considered an octave and a sestet), with each being able to have their own analysis. Of course, she writes it as one unified stanza. The poem as a whole speaks of how she wishes to overcome her thoughts of death and reach new heights with love and devotion.

This sonnet is written with the rhyme scheme ABBAABBACDCDCD. When breaking it down into its octave and sestet, it's ABBAABBA-CDCDCD. This is a very common form of Petrarchan sonnet. It is written in iambic pentameter.


I Thought Once How Theocritus Had Sung

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 is his antique tongue,
I saw in gradual vision through my tears
The sweet, sad years, the melancholy years -
Those 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 backward 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."

Published in Sonnets From the Portuguese in .

Next: Unlike Are We, Unlike, O Princely Heart!
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Literary Movement
Victorian, 19th Century

Sonnet, Love, Death

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