I stopped by the little thrift store in Newberg today. As one goes through the heavy metal front doors you find yourself in a small entry room, the walls lined with books on shelves, and with boxes of books on the floor, that have not been put onto shelves, mainly because there is no room there.
As i perused the shelves i found four books, two hardbacks and two paper backs. After that i looked through one of the boxes and found a running press miniature edition of “Sonnets from the Portuguese” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. It fits in the palm of my hand.
Here is what the book’s introduction says:
“These poems poured from the soul of a woman whose life was transformed by a most improbable love.
In 1845, Elizabeth Barrett, a well-known Victorian poet, was a housebound invalid nearly forty years old. A fan letter from a 33-year-old aspiring poet, Robert Browning, commenced a correspondence that quickly kindled to love, although the two did not meet face-to-face for months. When Barrett’s tyrannical father forbid her to marry, she found the strength to elope with Browning to Italy, where they lived happily in semi-exile until her death in 1861.
Robert Browning’s nickname for Elizabeth was “the Portuguese,” referring to a character in her poem “Catarina to Camoens.” Writing this sequence of highly private sonnets about her astonishing love affair, she used that name, hoping to disguise the verses as a translation. But her passion shines through, making these her finest poems-and, indeed, some of the greatest love poems ever written.
I bought that book and four others, and the lovely lady only charged me two dollars. The other four books are:
1. The Ship’s Pasture, by Jon Silkin, his 9th book of poems, 1986
2. Always a Reckoning, and other poems, by Jimmy Carter, 1995
3. The Family Orchard, by Nomi Eve, 2000 (actually, i bought this one to have a closer look at the illustrations)
4. The Coup, by John Updike, 1978