Sonnet 43 (Sonnets From the Portuguese)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise,
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints –I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! –and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
Brent Goodman is a freelance writer and has taught at Purdue University and mentored students in poetry. In the following essay, Goodman explains why the sonnet form was the vehicle Barrett Browning employed in expressing her love for her husband and suggests that the poet’s slight alteration of the form only makes her argument more convincing.
Traditional poetic forms help writers give shape to subjects that are otherwise difficult to manage or get a handle on. The sonnet, for example, which comes in many variations, traditionally has fourteen lines, a set pattern of rhyme and a set number of stresses, or beats, per line. In the most traditional sonnets, not only is the structure of the poem defined already for the writer, but the organization of the subject matter as well. The first eight lines typically set up a situation or a problem, and the remaining six lines work to resolve that problem or to come to some conclusion. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, a skilled and well-respected poet even in a historical period not friendly to women writers, knew that the sonnet, with its defined boundaries and logical progression, was an attractive container for expressing her secret love for her husband, the less popular poet, Robert Browning. But she was...
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