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What Can I Give Thee Back, O Liberal by Elizabeth Barrett Browning


"What Can I Give Thee Back, O Liberal" is also referred to as "Sonnet VIII" since it was from Sonnets from the Portuguese. In this poem, a man has left her a gift outside a wall and has said that she can either take it or leave it there. It is possible that it is a metaphor for the man's heart. She states at the end that "let it serve to trample on." One can only hope the poor sap wasn't too hurt.

This fourteen line Petrachan Sonnet is written in iambic pentameter and has the rhyme scheme ABBAABBACDDCDC.


What Can I Give Thee Back, O Liberal

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 colours 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 father! let it serve to trample on.

Published in Sonnets From the Portuguese in .

Next: If Thou Must Love Me, Let It Be for Naught
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Literary Movement
Victorian, 19th Century

Sonnet, Death

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