Images Of Love Expressed In The Poetry Of Browning And Tennyson

2549 words - 10 pages

Perhaps no other sentiment is so prevalent in poetry, as that of love. The mere word brings to mind images of romantic affection, lovers entangled in each other’s arms, stolen sidelong glances, whispered words of endearment, and an all-encompassing emotion that transcends the physical, an emotion that is experienced within all realms of being. However, in both life and poetry, the more joyous sentiments of love are often accompanied by images of loss and heartache, a contrast which heightens the imagery experience. The fact that love exists more on a spiritual level than a physical one serves only to heighten the difficult task of describing it adequately, for how can one articulate each facet of such a wonderfully vague human emotion? Further complicating the development of this imagery is that for each reader, the experience of love, and the images that the lines create, are based in personal interpretation, and are likely at least partially rooted in one’s own subjective experience of that sentiment. That this one emotion can encompass such broad ranges of feelings ranging from pleasure, to physical attraction, to romantic intimacy, to the emotional bonds of platonic and familial love, only add to the complexity of consistently defining love as compared to other emotional states. In this essay, I will contrast the images of love as created, and thus defined, by Alfred lord Tennyson in “The Lady of Shalott” and Elizabeth Barrett Browning in “How do I Love Thee.”
In Browning’s “How do I Love Thee”, her very existence seems to be defined by her love for the unnamed “thee”. The image of love as a joyous transcendental metaphysical experience is created as she attempts to give words to this feeling. She begins with a rhetorical question of “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways” (line 1), which immediately presents the image of a foundation of emotion that she will build upon. She is literally going to list the ways in which she feels love for thee. Instantly, the reader is struck with the image of a woman preparing to proclaim the depth of her love and devotion for another. One must also be struck by the sheer vulnerability of this proclamation. Already, it is understood that this will be a listing of the ways in which she experiences and defines love, however, the effectiveness of the image is heightened as each way she loves thee seems to build upon the previous. She states she loves thee “to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach” (2-3). Here she is using personification of the soul, an ambiguous all-encompassing expression of one’s spiritual being, to state that she loves with her entire being both physically and spiritually. By attempting to give physical boundaries to the height and length one’s soul can reach, she effectively broadens the image of the extent to which her love for thee reaches. She furthers the image of her great love for thee by stating that she “loves thee freely” (7) and “loves thee...

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