Book I of Robert Browning’s The Ring and the Book (1868) ends with an apostrophe of 26 lines, addressed to “lyric Love”. The passage was admired by many, including Arthur Quiller-Couch, who anthologized it in The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse. It begins:
O lyric Love, half angel and half bird
And all a wonder and a wild desire,—
Boldest of hearts that ever braved the sun,
Took sanctuary within the holier blue,
And sang a kindred soul out to his face,—
Critics universally accept that “lyric Love” represents the poet’s wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning, for example:
Conceived and planned before the tragic close of his married life, and written during the first desolate years of bereavement, [The Ring and the Book] is, more than any other of his greater poems, pervaded by his wife’s spirit, a crowning monument to his Lyric Love.
Charles Harold Herford (1905). Robert Browning.
However, the identification does not seem to be forced on the reader, or at least not by the text of book I, where the passage could be interpreted as an address to an imaginary spirit or muse of poetry.
Is there internal evidence in The Ring and the Book that makes it clear that “lyric Love” is Elizabeth Barrett Browning, or is it something that we must deduce from extra-textual considerations?