There are so many ways to describe the feeling of love. What about the need to express how much ways there are to show your love? Or what about the need to know how to love the other one? This is what the poem Sonnet 43 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning is about. This poem is known because of the first sentence and the alternative title is therefore: “How do I love thee?”
About Elizabeth Barrett Browning
What’s not to like about the poetry written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 – 1861)? Her poems were written centuries ago, but they still are very popular. Still accurate when it comes to love.
Browning was born as the eldest of eleven children of the Barrett family on 6 March 1806. Her family was wealthy. Nowadays it’s unthinkable to get as wealthy by doing what her family did. Her family owned several plantations in Jamaica.
At the age of (only) six, she began to write. During puberty, she became very ill and this lead to intense head and spinal pain. She would struggle with this for the rest of her life. This wasn’t the only health issue she struggled with. She fell ill because of tuberculosis. Because of the medicine, she was given, laudanum, her health didn’t improve.
John Kenyon, her cousin, introduced her into the literary society. Not soon after, her first collection of poems entitled “The Seraphim and Other Poems” was published (1838). A combination of factors prevented her to become a known poet. First of all, her book simply wasn’t read much. Second, two years after the publication her brother Edward died. She decided to seclude herself to her bedroom. Her health issues didn’t help much either.
In 1843 another book by her hand was published (“The cry of the children”). A year later, the poetry collection “Poems” was released. These two books made her a famous poet.
Not soon after her books “Poems” were published, she received a letter from the poet and playwright Robert Browning (1812 – 1889). She agreed to meet him and they fell in love. They married in 1846 but kept it a secret because her father didn’t agree to the marriage. The two of them left to settle in Florence (Italy). The house they lived in (Casa Guidi) is a museum nowadays. The house played an important role in the book Casa Guidi Windows (1851). The marriage brought forward one son: Robert Barrett Browning (1849 – 1912).
“ How do I love thee?” (Sonnet 43)
Her collection of 44 Sonnets entitled “Sonnets from the Portuguese” was released in 1850. She wrote these poems between 1845 and 1846. The Sonnets were mostly about her love for Robert. From this poetry collection came Sonnet 43, also known as “How do I love thee?”
The sentence “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways( : )” is probably one of the most famous sentences in English literature. The Sonnet isn’t considered her most important work. That is the poem Aurora Leigh (1856).
In the last years of her life, she developed an interest in Spiritism and the occult. She was also very much interested in the political climate in Italy. Some claimed that it formed an obsession.
In 1860 she published her last work, entitled “Poems before Congress.” About a year later, on 29 Juli 1861, she died. She was buried at the English cemetery in Florence (Cimitero degli Inglesi).
Elizabeth Barrett Browning is considered as a great and gifted poetess. She is mentioned in the same lists as Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allan Poe, poets that lived in the same period as she did.
How Do I Love Thee?
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.
— Elizabeth Barrett Browning