Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "How Do I love thee?"
This poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning is one of many she penned for
her husband Robert Browning. Using the basic form of an Italian sonnet
with its fourteen lines and strict rhyme scheme - she manages to
produce a surprisingly passionate poem.
The poet begins with the question, "How do I love thee?"-and it is
this which sets the mood of the sonnet, as she tries to quantify, and
articulate the depth of her feelings towards her husband. She uses
biblical references and religious similes throughout the verse,
comparing and equating her love to be as unconditional and pure -as
like unto God's.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height,
In these few lines, the poet succeeds in conveying the purest, most
unconditional love possible, within the boundaries of man; even going
as far as to declare her love as the sole reason for her existence in
the last line of this stanza.
My soul can reach when reeling out of sight,
For the ends of Being and Ideal Grace.
Given that this poem was composed in such a strict repressive society,
as the Victorian era was; I feel that this verse is highly emotional
and extremely passionate. At a time when women had few -if any rights,
and was subservient to and a possession of, their husbands. The poet's
public statement of the strength of her love, and the right to feel
love as deeply and openly as any man, speaks volumes about the
absolute trust and belief she held within the sanctity of that love.
It is a trust she also, confers upon her husband in lines 10-12
I love thee freely, as men strive for right
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
"..and with my childhood's faith
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints"
Bequeathing to him, the unquestioning love, loyalty and belief that
she lost, as she grew from childhood to maturity.
Although it appears that her love towards her husband eclipses
everything else, Elizabeth ends this poem with the acknowledgement
that it's God's will if this perfect love continues after death. This
recognition of God's supremacy, typifies the fervent, Christian
beliefs which colored and shaped her ideals of love.
This poem to me, symbolizes the purest form of love between husband
and wife. Although you could argue that it is written from a selfish
perspective, in that she only speaks of her love, her feelings-you
have to bear in mind that in Victorian society, women lived their
lives solely through their husbands. The middle-class ladies didn't
work, and didn't have a life outside their homes. They dedicated all
of their time, energies and passions into keeping their men happy and
contented; and in return, were loved, pampered and protected from the
harsh realities of life. Even though this idea of total subjection and
passivity, wouldn't have a hope of success in today's society, the