Sonnet XLIII Or How Do I Love Thee?
At a very young age, the brother of Elizabeth Barrett Browning drowned with the result her father becoming very over-protective. She eloped with the poet, Robert Browning against his wishes, revealing how important love had been to her. After she married Robert Browning, her father disinherited her after she married Robert Browning.
Elizabeth Robert Browning had written 44 sonnets which comprise her collection Sonnets from the Portugese. This series of sonnet series was composed before she married Robert Browning, expressing her deep love for him. Sonnet 43 also known as ‘How do I love thee? is the penultimate sonnet in the collection – Sonnets from the Portugese and is perhaps the most famous of sonnets. It was first published in her compilation of the Portuguese Sonnets in 1850 and Elizabeth Barrett Browning devoted it to her husband, the poet Robert Browning. Throughout it, Browning is trying to describe her passion. The poem opens with the question: ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways!’
Let’s discuss the poem line by line:
How do I love thee?
The beginning line ‘How do I love thee?’ suggests an intimate relationship between lovers. By posing this question, Browning may be wondering how she can prove/express to what extreme she loves Robert Browning
count the ways!
By using the verb ‘count’ this could suggest that there are many ways that
she loves him and there are too many to mention.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
Height,’ breadth’ and’ height’ are heavy ideas that imply that her devotion is expansive and allows her to achieve heights to an impossible extent. This could imply that her love is immeasurable and infinite.
‘Most quiet need’ and ‘men strive for Right’
These two thoughts are very different. One is simple and one is complex describing the strength of her feelings.
Being and Ideal Grace.
Browning could be referring to God in this part and comparing her love for Robert Browning as the way she loves God.
level of every day’s
Browning explains that even though she loves him intensely, she also loves him on a daily basis.
by sun and candlelight
This could suggest that she loves every part of every day and her love does not falter.
Using the image of the’ Sun’ might suggest that he is the source of her life and that she can not survive without him. By using the’ candlelight’ image, this might indicate that he lights up her dark thoughts.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right,
By using the adverb’ freely’ this could indicate that no one controls the way she thinks about him which might refer to how her father disapproved of their relationship. The term’ Strive for Right’ may mean that she is ready to’ fight’ for her love.
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith:
That could mean that she has transformed the bitterness and resentment she has had in the past into something positive because she loves him so much. He has converted her sadness into joy.
I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!
This could mean she loves everything about Robert Browning. She loves him with every kind of emotion. And in every’ breath’ she thinks about him.
shall but love thee better after death.
‘I love you even after death’ implies that even death can not separate them. Their love is everlasting.
The poem is a typical Petrarchan sonnet that describes the different ways in which the poet loves her husband. Browning uses the repetition of’ I love thee.’ This sounds similar to prayer, so she could pray that they could be able to be together someday. At the beginning of the poem, she refers to her love being boundless, and she also reinforces this at the end of the last line,‘I shall but love thee more after death.’
Important Questions and Answers
Q. What is the tone of the poem?
Ans. The poem is written in a reflective loving tone and it is certainly positive in as the speaker is looking to love in all possible manners. “ … ” contribute the idea that her love will continue under all positive circumstances.
Q. What does the speaker mean when she writes, “by sun and by candle”?
Ans. The speaker is using the imagery of the daylight and the candlelight to suggest that her love lasts all day.
Q. What is the message of the poem How Do I Love Thee?
Ans. The message in “How Do I Love Thee?” is that love can go beyond death. In the poem, Browning refines the power of her love for her husband. The poem deals with the speaker’s ardent adoration of her beloved with vibrant pictures of her everlasting bond that will keep her close to her beloved even after her death. Her passion for him is so deep, she says, that he rises to the spiritual level (lines 3 and 4).
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