Skip to main content
Updated date:

Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnet 29: "I think of thee!—my thoughts do twine and bud"

Elizabeth Barrett Browning masterfully employs the Petrarchan form in her classic sonnet sequence, her tribute to her belovèd husband.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 29: "I think of thee!—my thoughts do twine and bud"

In a beautiful musing, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's sonnet 29, from her classic sonnet sequence, Sonnets from the Portuguese, dramatizes the closeness of the speaker with her belovèd. Even as her thoughts encircle him, she insists that ultimately she is so closely united with him that she need not think of him at all.

The speaker and her illustrious suitor share a special bond that keeps them together. The speaker of this sonnet permits her thoughts to create a drama featuring a tether that will bind the two lovers into a unique bond.

Sonnet 29: "I think of thee!—my thoughts do twine and bud"

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.

Reading of Sonnet 29: "I think of thee!—my thoughts do twine and bud"

Commentary

This speaker is exploring her relationship with her belovèd poet soon-to-be husband, Robert Browning. Colorfully, likening their pairing to natural entities, she continues her exploration of her feelings and thoughts.

First Quatrain: Vining Thoughts

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.

The speaker addresses her belovèd, telling him, "I think of thee!" She then goes on to describe the scene that her thoughts of him create. The speaker's thoughts seem to resemble a vine that grows up wrapping itself around him as a Morning Glory vine would do—growing up to encircle a tree or fence post.

The speaker likens her foliage-thoughts to that vine wrapping "about a tree" and as it grows up the tree, it "put[s] out broad leaves." The leaves soon cover the tree until there is nothing visible except the vine. The wood of the tree has completely vanished under the cover of the vine.

Second Quatrain: Better than Her Thoughts

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,

The speaker then shrieks in horror that her thoughts have obliterated her belovèd, for she does not wish for that to happen. The speaker then exclaims, addressing him, "O, my palm-tree," and insisting that she does not intend for the thoughts to obliterate him. She asserts that he is "dearer, better" than her thoughts.

The enraptured speaker then commands him to dislodge himself from her thoughts, so that he will once again shine through. He is strong as a tree is strong, and the wood of the tree should always shine through the obtrusive vines, regardless of how prolific their foliage.

First Tercet: A Living Presence

Rustle thy boughs and set thy trunk all bare,
And let these bands of greenery which insphere thee
Drop heavily down,—burst, shattered, everywhere!

The speaker continues her command, insisting that he "rustle thy boughs and set they trunk all bare." She wants him to extricate himself from her thoughts and become the living presence that she so adores.

The excited speaker then insists that he break "these bands of greenery" that have encircled him, so that the greenery will fall in a heap, "heavily down,—burst, shattered, everywhere!" The speaker's little drama succinctly reveals the heated passion of her love for her belovèd.

Second Tercet: Affirming Passion

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.

Finally, the speaker affirms her passion by revealing how desirous she is of merely "breath[ing] within thy shadow a new air." Her thoughts that wrap and cover her belovèd merely represent the closeness she enjoys with him; she is so close to him that she need not think of him at all, because she insists, "I am too near thee." It is a closeness that she reveres as she revels in the magic of its ability to engender in her feelings of deep love and devotion.

The Brownings

The Brownings

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

Related Articles