HOW DO I LOVE THEE [Full Text & Notes]
by 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.
1. Determine the rhyme scheme of the sonnet – is it like a Shakespearean or a Petrarchan sonnet?
Browning’s poem is a Petrarchan sonnet, which means that it is an octave (eight lines) followed by a sestet (six lines). The typical Shakespearean sonnet is made up of three quatrains (four lines each) followed by a couplet (two lines). The rhyme scheme for this sonnet is ABBA ABBA CDC DCD.
2. As indicated in the short summary of Elizabeth Barrett-Browning’s life, this sonnet is a very intimate one. Describe some of the features that make it so.
Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee” is a very intimate poem as there are a lot of personal feelings involved. While we never want to assume that the speaker of the poem is the writer, given that Browning gave these poems to her husband without the intention of ever getting them published, prove that she is more than likely the speaker. Either way, the poem is chalked full of personal emotion as we can see the speaker describing her love filling her soul and encapsulating her whole being. She loves him all day from sunrise to candlelight, freely, purely and passionately. Her love is as strong as all her other emotions, such as old griefs from her past. Imagine taking all the passion and intensity of a past, bitter feeling – whether it be heartache, a fight with somebody you care about, or anything else terrible – and turning that into love. That’s how much she loves him. She pours her heart into the poem, which is what makes it such an intimate one.
3. Describe Mrs. Browning’s concept of love as revealed by this sonnet.
Mrs. Browning’s concept of love is that it should fill every inch of a person’s being. She believes in channeling all her old emotions and turning them into love. She believes love is meant to be acted upon freely, passionately and purely. She believes love to be eternal; not even death itself can stop love. She would love him just as much in the afterlife if God allowed her to do so. For her, love is perfect, fulfilling, selfless, and never-ending.