Ways of Love

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Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) wrote a series of forty-four sonnets, in secret, about the intense love she felt for her husband-to-be, Robert Browning (who was also an important Victorian poet). She called this series Sonnets From the Portuguese (published in 1850), a title based on the pet name Robert gave her: "my little Portuguese." Ways of Love as Sonnet 43 is the next-to-last sonnet in this series, making it an important part of the climax.

Sonnet 43 is a personal declaration of the poet’s intense love for her husband-to-be. Love is a complex, multi-layered and multi-faceted thing in this sonnet which tries to list the different ways in which the speaker loves. The ability to list, articulate, and communicate these different kinds of love is actually part of the way that she loves, which might make the sonnet itself one of the "ways" of loving!

The sonnet form forces the poet to wrap his thoughts in a small, neat package. The rhyme scheme of "Sonnet 43", which is based on the Petrarchan model, is as follows: the octave rhymes ABBA, ABBA; and the sestet rhymes CD, CD, CD. Sonnet 43 is in iambic pentameter. The distinct use of anaphora provides a rhythmic flow and reinforces the theme of love. The word "love" occurs ten times. What varies is the way the love works and how intense it actually is. The thing itself – the word "love" – always remains consistent, reminding us that the speaker's love for her beloved is a constant and unchanging thing. The phrase "I love thee," repeated until it almost becomes unfamiliar, is the backbone of this sonnet even more than the rhyme scheme or meter. Browning also uses alliteration in the poem: soul, sight (Line 3); love, level (Line 5); purely, Praise (Line 8); lost, love (Line 12) and so on.

She begins describing her love using a spatial metaphor and then says that so intense is her love for him that it rises to the spiritual level: I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when...
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