Elizabeth Barrett Browning's How Do I love thee? Essay
1021 Words5 Pages
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…show more content…
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 level of trust and commitment these two "Romantic Poets" apparently share, could be the ideal that all couples should aspire to.
In sharp contrast to Browning idealistic and spiritual love poetry of the 1800s, Seamus Heaney's Twice Shy uses an altogether more contemporary and realistic style of prose too describe love in the 20th century. Heaney
This sonnet helped kick-start many more on the theme of modern (Victorian) love, from a woman's perspective. Note the emphasis is on the repetition and reinforcement of the speaker's love for someone; there is no mention of a specific name or gender, giving the sonnet a universal appeal.
The first line is unusual because it is a question asked in an almost conversational manner - the poet has challenged herself to compile reasons for her love, to define her intense feelings, the ways in which her love can be expressed.
There then follows a repetitive variation on a theme of love. To me this conjures up an image of a woman counting on her fingers, then compiling a list, which would be a very modern, 21st century thing for a female to do.
This poem comes from another era however, a time when most women were expected to stay at home looking after all things domestic, not writing poems about love.
The second,third and fourth lines suggest that her love is all encompassing, stretching to the limits, even when she feels that her existence - Being - and God's divine help - Grace - might end, it's the love she has for her husband Robert that will sustain.
Note the contrast between the attempt to measure her love with rational language - depth, breadth, height - and the use of the words Soul, Being and Grace, which imply something intangible and spiritual.
Her love goes beyond natural life and man-made theology. These are weighty concepts - the reader is made aware that this is no ordinary love early on in the sonnet. The clause, lines 2-4, contains enjambment, a continuation of theme from one line to the next.
Is she suggesting that the simple notion of love for a person can soon flow into something quite profound, yet out of reach of everyday language and speech?
The speaker, the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning continues with her passionate need to differentiate the many ways her love for her husband manifests. In line five she clearly tells the reader that, be it day or night, her love fills those quiet moments, those daily silences that occur between two people living together.
Her love is unconditional and therefore free; it is a force for good, consciously given because it feels like the right thing to do. She doesn't want any thanks for this freely given love; it is a humble kind of love, untainted by the ego.