listen to the entire Choral Suite here – featuring the Vancouver Chamber Choir; directed by Jon Washburn
1. Overture – words by Robert Browning (adapted from Robert Browning’s first letter to Elizabeth Barrett)
I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett. I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett. I do, I do, I do.
As I say, I love these books with all my heart.
And I love you, too.
And I love you, too.
And I love you, too. _______________________
Sonnets from the Portuguese – Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1846 (From the facsimile edition of the British Library manuscript in the sequence and cursive of Elizabeth Barrett prior to publication in 1850.)
2. Sonnet 1 “I Thought Once”
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 in 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.’
3. Sonnet 2 “But Only Three”
But only three in all God’s universe
Have heard this word thou hast said! –Himself, beside Thee speaking and me listening: and replied
One of us – that was God! …and laid the curse
So darkly on my eyelids as to amerce
My sight from seeing thee, … that if I had died,
The deathweights, placed there, would have signified Less absolute exclusion – ‘Nay” is worse
From God than from all others, o my friend! –
Men could not part us with their worldly jars, –
Nor the seas, change us, nor the tempests, bend! – Our hands would touch, for all the mountain-bars: And heaven being rolled between us, at the end,
We should but vow the faster, for the stars.
4. Sonnet 12 “Indeed This Very Love”
Indeed this very Love, which is my boast,
And which, when rising up from breast to brow,
Doth crown me with a ruby large enow
To draw men’s eyes, and prove the inner cost, … This love even…all my worth…to the uttermost,
I should not love withal, …unless that thou
Had set me an exemplar: … shown me how,
When first thine earnest eyes with mine were crossed, And love called love. And thus, I cannot speak
Of love even, as a good thing of my own!
Thy soul hath snatched up mine all faint and weak, And placed it by thee on a golden throne:
And that I love…(O soul, I must be meek!)
Is by thee only, whom I love alone.
5. Sonnet 13 “And Wilt Thou Have Me Fashion Into Speech”
And wilt thou have me fashion into speech
The love I bear thee, finding words enough,
And hold the torch out where the winds are rough, Between our faces, to cast light on each?
I drip it at thy feet. I cannot teach
My hand to hold my spirit so far off
From myself …me…that I should bring thee proof In works, …of the love hid in me out of reach. Nay, – let the silence of my womanhood Commend my woman-love to thy belief, –
And that I stand unwon, however wooed,
Rending the garment of my life, in brief,
In a most dauntless, voiceless fortitude,
Lest one touch of this heart, convey its grief.
6. Sonnet 22 “Beloved, Say Again”
Beloved say again and yet again
That thou dost love me. Though the word repeated Should seem a cuckoo-song as thou dost mete it, Remember, never to the hill and plain
Valley and wood, without here cuckoo-strain
Comes the sweet Spring in all her green, completed. Beloved! – I, amid the darkness greeted
By a doubtful spirit-voice, in the doubts pain Cry….speak once more…thou lovest! Who can fear Too many stars, though each in heaven should roll,,, Too many flowers, though each should crown the year? Say thou dost love me, love me, love me…toll
The silver iterance! – only minding, dear,
To love me also in silence, with thy soul.
7. Sonnet 23 “When Our Two Souls”
When our two souls stand up erect and strong, Face to face, silent, drawing nigh and nigher, Until their lengthening wings break into fire
At either curved point, …what bitter wrong,
Can the earth do to us, that we should not long Be here contented? Think, … in mounting higher, The angels would press on us, and aspire
To drop some golden orb of perfect song Into our deep, dear silence. Let us stay Rather on earth, beloved! – …where the unfit Contrarious moods of men recoil away
And isolate pure spirits, and permit
A place to stand and love in, for a day, … With darkness and the death hour rounding it.
8. Sonnet 40 “Because Thou Hast The Power”
Because thou hast the power and own’st the grace To look through and behind this mask of me, (Against which, years have beat thus blanchingly With their rains!) and behold my Soul’s true face… The dim and weary witness of Life’s race!
Because thou hast the faith and love to see Through that same soul’s distracting lethargy, The patient angel waiting for his place
In the new Heavens. Because nor sin, nor woe, Nor God’s infliction, nor death’s neighbourhood, Nor all which, others viewing, turn to go,
Nor all which makes me tired of all, self-viewed, ….Nothing repels thee…Dearest, teach me so
to pour out gratitude, as thou dost, good.
9. Sonnet 41 “Oh, Yes, They Love Through All This World of Ours”
Oh yes! – they love through all this world of ours! –
I will not gainsay love, called love forsooth!
I have heard love talked in my dawning youth,
And since, not so long back but that the flowers
Then gathered, smell still! – Mussulmans and Giaours Throw kerchiefs at a smile, and have no ruth
For any weeping! – Polypheme’s white tooth
Slips on the nut, if after frequent showers
The shell is oversmooth, and not so much
Will turn the thing called love, aside to hate,
Or else to oblivion! – But thou art not such
A lover, my beloved! – thou canst wait
Through snow and sickness, to bring souls to touch, And think it soon when others cry ‘Too late’.
10. Sonnet 42 “I Thank All”
I thank all who have loved me in their hearts,
With thanks and love from mine: Deep thanks to all Who paused a little near the prison-wall
To hear my music in its louder parts,
Ere they went onward, each one, to the mart’s
Or temple’s occupation, beyond call-
But thou, who, in my voice’s sink and fall,
When the sob caught it, …thy divinest Art’s
Own instrument, didst drop down at thy foot,
To harken what I said between my tears,
Instruct me how to thank thee! – Oh, to shout
My soul’s full meaning into future years, …
That they should lend it utterance, and salute
Love that endures, with Life that disappears!
11. Sonnet 43 “How Do I Love Thee?”
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 candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right,
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise!
I love thee with the passion, put to use
In my old griefs, …and with my childhood’s faith! I love thee with the 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.
12. Sonnet 44 “Beloved, Thou Hast Brought Me Many Flowers”
Beloved, thou hast brought me many flowers Plucked in the garden all the summer through,
And winter: and it seemed as if they grew
In this close room, nor missed the sun and showers. So, in the like name of that love or ours,
Take back these thoughts, which here, unfolded, too, And which on warm and cold days I withdrew
From my heart’s ground – (Indeed those beds and bowers Be overgrown with bitter weeds and rue
And wait thy weeding’ yet here’s eglantine –
Here’s ivy! – ) take them, as I used to do
Thy flowers, and keep them where they shall not pine! Instruct thine eyes to keep their colours true,
And tell thy soul, their roots are left in mine.
SATB – COMPLETE SCORE (PDF) – All 12 movements
note that three movements from the suite are available separately
“Beloved, Say Again“
“How Do I Love Thee?“
“Beloved, Thou Hast Brought me Many Flowers“
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