CRITICISM: Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s "How Do I Love Thee?"

Topics: Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnets from the Portuguese, Robert Browning Pages: 4 (1094 words) Published: November 1, 2014

CRITICISM: Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s How Do I Love Thee?

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s How Do I love Thee, or Sonnet XLIII is one of her love poems from Sonnet from the Portuguese (1850). This is the manuscript she slipped into her husband’s (Robert Browning) pocket one morning after breakfast, and was originally intended as a private gift. When she finished Sonnets from the Portuguese in 1847, the book had no title. At that time, the couple was staying in Italy. Mostly the main idea in this series of sonnets is the love that grew upon their uniquely productive marriage. It was Robert who suggested the title for the work, and it was he who prevailed upon Elizabeth to publish these famous love poems in 1850. “I dared not reserve to myself the finest sonnets written in any language since Shakespeare,” he declared. A small edition had been printed in Reading, England, in 1847, but it was boldly marked "Not for Publication." Arranged in a carefully calculated order, the sequence as originally composed contained forty-three sonnets; for the 1856 edition of her Poems, however, Elizabeth Barrett Browning inserted a new sonnet after "Sonnet XLI," thus raising the total to forty-four and establishing the text as it has been subsequently reprinted in one edition after another.

How Do I Love Thee
(1)How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
(2)I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
(3)My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
(4)For the ends of Being and Ideal Grace.
(5)I love thee to the level of every day’s
(6)Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
(7)I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
(8)I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
(9)I love thee with the passion put to use
(10)In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
(11)I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
(12)With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
(13)Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
(14)I shall but love thee...

References: Miles D. & Pooley R. (1948). Literature and Life in England. U.S.A: Scott, Foresman and Company
Smith, G.B. ( 2005, July) article: Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Retrieved March 9, 2014.
Datta A. ( 1999, November) How Do I Love Thee?—Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Retrieved March 9,2014.
Webster’s Dictionary and Thesaurus (1995) Illinois, Chicago. PMC Publishing Company, Inc.
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