The Poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Contributor: Melissa Kowalski. Lesson ID: 11654

Would you like to have a type of poetry named after you? Do you know what a sonnet is and how to write one? Try your hand at poetry as you learn about sonnets from videos, articles, and Ms. Browning!


Literary Studies

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


Can you name any poets who wrote sonnets? Do you know what a "sonnet" is?

If you said, "Shakespeare wrote sonnets," then you are right.

However, Shakespeare was only one of the many English poets who wrote sonnets. In fact, two of the three forms of sonnets were named after their originators, William Shakespeare and Edmund Spenser. Another British poet who wrote famous sonnets was Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Instead of using the Shakespearian or Spenserian sonnet forms, Browning preferred a third form of the sonnet, the Petrarchan sonnet.

Browning's choice of the original sonnet form, the Petrarchan sonnet, isn't surprising when you examine her life. Browning was largely influenced by classical language and the study of Greek and Roman literature as a child. Also, she spent the last fifteen years of her life living in Italy with her husband, the poet Robert Browning.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Image, via Wikimedia Commons, is is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 70 years or less.

To learn more about Elizabeth Barrett Browning's life, read the Biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, from As you read the article, answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper:

  • Why were the Barrett children required to keep the surname "Barrett"?
  • What type of education did Browning receive as a child?
  • How would you describe the familial relations of the Barrett family when Elizabeth was a child?
  • How old was Browning when she became a published poet?
  • What subjects interested Browning as a child?
  • What issue possibly caused a rift between Browning and her father in the 1830s?
  • What three tragedies struck Browning between 1837 and 1840?
  • What inspired Robert Browning's courtship of Elizabeth?
  • What was the reaction of Elizabeth's father and brothers after her elopement with Robert Browning?
  • What subject became a prominent theme in Browning's poetry?

After you have finished reading the article and answering the questions, discuss your findings with your parent or teacher.

As you have learned so far, Browning wrote many types of poems, but her most famous poetry collection was Sonnets from the Portuguese, a series of 44 poems chronicling Elizabeth's courtship with Robert Browning. These poems were all written in the Petrarchan sonnet form, created by the fourteenth-century Italian poet, Francesco Petrarch. To learn about the characteristics of Petrarchan sonnets, read What Are the Main Features of the Petrarchan Sonnet? by Nick Robinson for Pen & the Pad. Then, see the traits of Petrarchan sonnets in a short presentation video by Gilda Gearhart (below). As you read and watch, take notes on the following:

  • How many lines does a Petrarchan sonnet contain?
  • What are the first eight lines of a sonnet called?
  • What are the last six lines of a sonnet called?
  • How many stanzas make up the octave, and what are they called?
  • What is the poetical term for the "turn" of the poem, and where does it occur in a Petrarchan sonnet?
  • How many syllables does every line of a sonnet have, and what is the name of the rhythm for the line of a sonnet?
  • What are the two possible rhyme schemes of a Petrarchan sonnet?

Petrarchan Sonnet Gilda Gearhart – tcaedtech:


After you have gathered the information and answered the questions, discuss your responses with your parent or teacher.

Did you find that a Petrarchan sonnet is a 14-line poem that consists of an octave followed by a sestet, with a rhyme scheme of abba abba cde cde or abba abba cdc dcd? If so, Congratulations! You are on your way to becoming a Petrarchan sonnet expert.

Now move on to the Got It? section to experience a few of Browning's sonnets.

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