Sonnet XLIII Or How Do I Love Thee?

Context
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.

Summary
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. “I love thee freely, as men strive for right.I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.” 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. Who are the “lost saints”?
Ans. The speaker is referring to those whom she has loved before, most likely family members.

Q. Why do you believe words like “Being” and “Grace” are capitalized in this poem?
Answers may vary. Example: The words that are capitalized in this poem are words that are associated with moral goodness and purity. These words tie into the final capitalized word in this poem, God.

Q. According to the final last lines of this poem, how long will the speaker’s love endure?
Ans. The speaker’s love will endure even “after death,” should God allow.

Q. What is the main theme of How Do I Love Thee?
Ans. The main theme of this poem is intense love. The poem describes the deep affection the poet has for her future husband, Robert Browning. Her love for him is so deep, she says, that it ascends to the spiritual level (lines 3 and 4). She openly loves him, without force; she truly loves him, without any hope of personal gain. She also loves him with an intensity of suffering that resembles that of Christ on the cross (passion: line 9), and she loves him in the way she loved saints as a child. She always plans to keep on loving him after death.

Q. Who was how do I love thee written for?
Ans. ‘How do I love thee? ‘ is a love poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning first published in the compilation of the Portuguese Sonnets (1850), which Elizabeth Barrett Browning devoted to her husband, the poet Robert Browning whom she loved deeply. The poem is a typical Petrarchan sonnet that describes the various ways in which the poet loves her husband.

Q. What are the different figures of speech used in the poem ‘Ho Do I Love Thee’?
Ans. The various figures of speech used in Sonnet 43 are described as follows:

Anaphora
The main figure of speech in the poem is anaphora— the use of I love thee in eight lines and I shall but love thee in the final line. This repetition produces rhythm thus reinforcing the theme.

Personification
Browning also makes use of personification in the second and third line of the poem. He says, “I love thee to the depth and breadth and height/My soul can reach when feeling out of sight”. Browning is implying that her soul can always reach him even though she can’t touch him with her hand or any part of her body.

Metaphor in Sonnet 43

“By sun and candle-light” (metaphor): The mention of sun ( day) and candle-light (night) acts as a metaphor for the passing of time and the course of one’s life. The love of the speaker is filling her days, and holding her through life.

Alliteration in Sonnet 43

Browning also employs alliteration throughout the poem as shown in the examples below:
thee, the (Lines 1, 2, 5, 9, 12).
thee, they (Line 8)
soul, sight (Line 3)
love, level (Line 5)
quiet, candle-light (Line 6)
freely, strive, Right (Line 7)
purely, Praise (Line 8)
passion, put (Line 9)
my, my (Line 10)
love, love (Line 11)
With, with (Line 12)
lost, love (Line 12)
but, better (Line 14)

Q. What is the structure of Sonnet 43 or How Do I Love Thee? What is its rhyme scheme?
Ans. The poem is a sonnet, a poem written in iambic pentameter in 14-line form. Although it does not follow an Italian sonnet’s exact rhyme scheme, the structure of the poem fits the form of an Italian sonnet consisting of an octet-the first eight lines, and the sestet, the final six lines.
The poem has a definite rhyme scheme of ABBA ABBA CDCD CD. We might presume that Barrett Browning is also the speaker of the sonnet as it is well known how intensely she and Robert Browning loved and cared for one another.

Q. How does Browning express her love for her husband?
Ans. Elizabeth Barrett Browning beautifully expresses her love for her husband in her love sonnet, “How Do I Love Thee.” She expresses her love for her husband to be from every part of her soul, and the poetess stretches out her arms to show that he means the whole world to her.

Q.What is persona poem? Who is the poetic persona of Sonnet 43?
Ans. Persona poem is one in which the poet takes on a character writes from his or her perspective using first-person point-of-view The “I” in the poem is therefore not the author; it is the character. Robert Browning’s “Sonnet 43” is a good example of a persona poem. In this poem, Browning discusses the idea of love in a first-person perspective revealing the deep affection she feels for her beloved

Q. Why is it called Sonnets from the Portuguese?
Ans. There could be two reasons for using the title Sonnets from the Portuguese. These two important reasons are: Browning’s nickname for Elizabeth–because of her olive complexion–was “my little Portuguese,” and he was inspired by her earlier poem, “Catarina to Camoêns,” which dealt with a Portuguese poet and his beloved.

Q. How does Elizabeth Barrett Browning present love in the poem?
Ans. In Sonnet 43, Elizabeth Browning conveys her love for her husband-to-be, Robert Browning, by saying that it is immeasurable and boundless; by suggesting that the reach of her soul is limitless, so is her love for Robert.

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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