Every Breath You Take

We are coming to the end of Week 6 of the 10 Premodern Poems by Women public online course by Stanford University. The featured poem this week was ‘How do I love thee?’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. It is touted as one of the most beautiful poems of the 19th century.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s life story is one of those marvelous stories that surpassed works of fiction and the silver screen in interest and excitement. It had all the makings of an epic, a blockbuster love story with the added element of triumphing against the odds.

When she was 15, Elizabeth developed an ailment and became frail. Some scholars speculated that she might have suffered from a spinal disfigurement. Elizabeth had a very domineering father, who actually encouraged her frailty. She spent her days in a darkened room upstairs, receiving a few visitors every day. It was quite a depressing scene. By early afternoon, she would already be exhausted.

However, at that time, Elizabeth had already become a well-known poet. One of her visitors turned out to be Robert Browning, one of the most popular poets of the time. He came to pay his addresses to her and to tell her that he absolutely loved her poetry. He was four to five years younger than her.

This went on for a few years. All that time, she still considered herself too frail to have a life. Her father was not a help at all. In fact, the man did not even want Elizabeth or any of his other children to marry.

Somewhere along the line, Robert Browning finally persuaded her to leave her house and try for her own life. She was almost 40. They actually did that – they eloped to Italy! Elizabeth and Robert had a son and were very productive poets in Italy. However, her father was so disappointed, he never spoke to her again.

Till this day, ‘How do I love thee?’ remained one of the most compelling poems of the 19th century. It is considered to be one of the best written, and one of the best managed sonnets.

‘How Do I Love Thee?’ (Sonnet 43)

By Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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 a 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.

Flower Dome, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

My Poem for Week 6

Since Week 3, one of the three weekly assignment questions would be on poetry writing, and I’d always choose that one. It’s the only one I like (if normal people actually liked to do assignments). 🙂

Question 3 was straightforward enough – write a sonnet! Must be fourteen lines with a rhyme scheme, preferably ten syllables per line.

I chose to write a sonnet using the Italian rhyming scheme: abba abba cdecde (taken from here). The sonnet is 14 lines long, and has 10 syllables in each line.

The inspiration for my poem: (1) Sting’s ‘Every Breath You Take’, and (2) Mother’s Day (May) and Father’s Day (June).

Here’s my poem:

EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE

Every breath that you take, I watch from above
From the depths of my soul, I miss you so
Every breath you take, everywhere you go
A gaze so soft, like the down of a dove
Every hurt you take; cushioned with my glove
From the depths of my heart, I miss you so
Every breath you take, everything you know
I’m looking out for you, from far above
Dear child, hold your head up high; don’t give up
Walk out that door and give it your best shot
Wipe away those tears; don’t give in to fears
So easy to grow weary and fed up
Rise; seize the day; do you believe me not?
Know that you always have my blessings, dear

A sonnet by
Khor Hui Min
11 May 2015

Now, here is the poem again with the rhyming scheme shown:

(A) Every breath that you take, I watch from above
(B) From the depths of my soul, I miss you so
(B) Every breath you take, everywhere you go
(A) A gaze so soft, like the down of a dove
(A) Every hurt you take; cushioned with my glove
(B) From the depths of my heart, I miss you so
(B) Every breath you take, everything you know
(A) I’m looking out for you, from far above
(C) Dear child, hold your head up high; don’t give up
(D) Walk out that door and give it your best shot
(E) Wipe away those tears; don’t give in to fears
(C) So easy to grow weary and fed up
(D) Rise; seize the day; do you believe me not?
(E) Know that you always have my blessings, dear

To visit the Stanford University public online courses page, click here.

Advertisements

Preparing a Feast

It is Week 5 of the 10 Premodern Poems by Women public online course by Stanford University. It has been interesting to read poems written by women in the 17th and 18th centuries and learn about the lives of the poets themselves. To visit the Stanford University public online courses page, click here.

Anna Laetitia Barbauld

Anna Laetitia Barbauld’s poem ‘Washing-Day’ was highlighted in Week 5. The poet was born as Anna Laetitia Aikin in 1743 in Leicestershire, England. Her father was a Presbyterian minister and schoolmaster, and her mother was also the daughter of a clergyman. Anna was described as a bright little girl. When her mother wrote about her, she said ‘I once indeed knew a little girl who was as eager to learn as her instructors were to teach her.’

Anna was learned, largely through her own insistence that her father teach her the classics. Her childhood was a happy one, sustained by a strong family life. Through her twenties, she turned down many offers of marriage. She was described as ‘possessed of great beauty, distinct traces of which she retained to the latest of her life’. In her early thirties, she married Rochemont Barbauld, a clergyman. Together, they set up the Palgrave School in Suffolk. However, it was to be an unhappy marriage. Her husband was often unstable. In later years, he became violent towards his wife, even chasing her with a drawn knife on one occasion. In 1808, he drowned himself in New River. Anna mourned him greatly despite their troubled marriage.

In the year before her marriage, Anna published a book of poems which was well received and went into several editions. She became a highly regarded literary figure. It was not easy for a woman to have a literary career in the 18th century, but Anna attained success and went on to write journalism, children’s books, more poems and various polemical tracts.

My poem for Week 5

Since Week 3, one of the three weekly assignment questions would be on poetry writing, and I’d always choose that one. It’s the only one I like (if normal people actually liked to do assignments). 🙂

Week 5’s poem is based on personal childhood experience – the memory of being a child and watching adults do their work. We could focus on just one aspect of this, such as writing a poem about work, about a domestic chore, or about a moment from childhood.

I have chosen to write a poem in the form of an English sonnet, 14 lines long. Each line has 10 syllables. The rhyming pattern is AB AB, CD CD, EF EF, GG. I got the rhyming pattern from How to Write a Sonnet.

Here’s my poem:

PREPARING A FEAST

Kitchen smells; wonderfully delicious
Womenfolk dicing, boiling and stirring
Bustling around, skilful and fastidious
With joyful laughter, festivity bring
Young children, told to stay far, far away
Play in the living room; read in your room
But teens allowed to assist, as they may
Matriarch’s word is law, or face your doom
Everybody has their own role to play
They’ll do their tasks; we’ll stay away safely
No boiling soup be poured on us, we pray
We’ll get by, while they prepare carefully
It’s all good; no tales of sorrowful woe
We’ll help with the eating, that’s what we’ll do!

An original sonnet by
Khor Hui Min
5 May 2015

Charlotte poir - pear mousse cake encircled by homemade lady fingers (biscuit a la cuillere), topped with homemade pear compote (poir au comport) and fresh mulberries from my garden. I made it for Mother's Day 2014.
Charlotte poir – pear mousse cake encircled by homemade lady fingers (biscuit a la cuillere), topped with homemade pear compote (poir au comport) and fresh mulberries from my garden. I made it for Mother’s Day 2014.

Here’s the poem again, with the rhyming pattern indicated:

(A) Kitchen smells; wonderfully delicious
(B) Womenfolk dicing, boiling and stirring
(A) Bustling around, skilful and fastidious
(B) With joyful laughter, festivity bring
(C) Young children, told to stay far, far away
(D) Play in the living room; read in your room
(C) But teens allowed to assist, as they may
(D) Matriarch’s word is law, or face your doom
(E) Everybody has their own role to play
(F) They’ll do their tasks; we’ll stay away safely
(E) No boiling soup be poured on us, we pray
(F) We’ll get by, while they prepare carefully
(G) It’s all good; no tales of sorrowful woe
(G) We’ll help with the eating, that’s what we’ll do!