“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways” essay

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An analysis of the poem “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways”

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Title and Author

Love poem “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways” is very famous sonnet written by prominent Victorian poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. It was published in 1850 as part of a sonnet sequence “Sonnets from the Portuguese”, comprised of 44 poems. All of them depict love that she felt to her husband. As to the title, this poem does not actually have it. But one should pay attention to the title of the sequence of poems. It was named so, because poet’s husband Robert used to call his wife “my little Portuguese” and that is why the title may be decoded as “To Robert from Elizabeth”. The sonnet’s number 43 is known by its first line which depicts its main idea.

Summary

The speaker in the poem puts the question wondering how she loves her beloved and lists different ways in which she loves. This feeling is eternal and exists everywhere. She intends to love even after her own death. Describing her feeling, the speaker uses spatial metaphor (“depth”, “breadth” and “height”) comparing love to three-dimensional substance which fills her soul. She tells that she loves purely, freely and with passion. Moreover, she loves her husband not only in happy moments but also in sad ones. Finally, the speaker claims that she is going to love her beloved one even more intensely after death, if God lets her.

Rhyme, Form and Meter

The poem “How do I love thee” is a sonnet, so it traditionally has a rhyme, consists of 14 lines and is written in iambic pentameter. There are several rhyme schemes for sonnets and the rhyme scheme of this one is ABBA, ABBA, CDC, DCD. This scheme (4 rhymed words) is traditional for Italian sonneteers. Speaking about the form of the poem, one should define it as a lyric poem. Being a sonnet, it is not very long and does not have true characters. The meter of this sonnet is iambic pentameter. An “iamb” is a two-beat foot, one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable. As this is a “pentameter”, there are 5 iambs in a line. This meter is common in English poetry as it resembles natural rhythm of our speech. Almost all English sonnets are written in iambic pentameter.

Symbolism

In the poem “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways” we can find out some symbols which are love, grief and loss. As to love, it is everything to the speaker. She tries to express her affection and admiration for her beloved husband trying to list ways in which she loves and working out the relations between these ways. Her feeling of love is beautiful and eternal, and it is affected by the fact that in the past the speaker felt loneliness and anger.

Themes

The main themes in the sonnet are themes of love, admiration, language, communication, identity and mortality. Love is a multi-layered complex thing. The entire sonnet is concerned with describing, finding and listing ways of loving. Of course, love is closely connected with admiration. The poem “How do I love thee?” is about its poetic nature, a list of different ways of loving that the speaker experiences. For this description she finds phrases and metaphors that can encapsulate her feeling, so that she can tell it to the reader. The speaker defines herself through the ways in which she loves. Love for her beloved one is a foundation of her life and existence in general. Besides, she is determined to carry this feeling beyond the grave and she hopes that only something destructive and violent as death will heighten her passion.

Final Draft Essay

An analysis of the poem “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways”

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 everyday'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 a 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.

Love poem “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways” is very famous sonnet, written by prominent Victorian poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. It was published in 1850 as part of a sonnet sequence “Sonnets from the Portuguese”, comprised of 44 poems. All of them depict love she felt to her husband. As to the title, this poem does not actually have it. But one should pay attention to the title of the sequence of poems. It was named “Sonnets from the Portuguese”, so that readers think that poems were translated into English from Portuguese. In reality, it was named so, because poet’s husband Robert used to call his wife “my little Portuguese” and that is why the title may be decoded as “To Robert from Elizabeth”. The sonnet number 43 is known by its first line which depicts its main idea.

The speaker in the poem puts the question wondering how she loves her beloved one and lists different ways of loving. This feeling is eternal and exists everywhere. She intends to love even after her own death. Describing her feelings, the speaker uses spatial metaphor (“depth”, “breadth” and “height”) comparing love to three-dimensional substance which fills her soul. She tells that she loves purely, freely and with passion. Moreover, she loves her husband not only in happy moments but also in sad ones. Finally, the speaker claims that she’s going to love her beloved one even more intensely after death, if God lets her.

Reading the poem, we can imagine that the place the woman speaks about is her own heart. She thinks about ways of loving, which are in her heart, as they are some things which are so numerous that she finally decides to count them.

The poem “How do I love thee” is a sonnet, so it traditionally has rhyme, consists of fourteen lines and is written in iambic pentameter. There are several rhyme schemes for sonnets and the rhyme scheme of this one is ABBA, ABBA, CDC, DCD. This scheme (four rhymed words) is traditional for Italian sonneteers (e.g. Petrarch). For comparison, in Great Britain they get seven rhyming words and get up to “G” in the rhyme scheme. Speaking about form of the poem, one should define it as a lyric poem. Being a sonnet, it is not very long and does not have true characters.

The meter of this sonnet is iambic pentameter. An “iamb” is a two-beat foot, one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable. As this is “pentameter”, there are five iambs in a line. This meter is common in English poetry as it resembles natural rhythm of their speech. Almost all English sonnets are written in iambic pentameter.

The dominant figure of speech in this sonnet is anaphora. The words “I love thee” are used in eight lines. Such repetition not only reinforces the main theme but also builds the rhythm of the whole poem. There are also a lot of cases of alliteration (love, love; thee, the; soul, sight); personification (my soul can reach…), simile (as men strive for Right).

In the poem “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways” we can find out some symbols which are love, grief and loss. As to love, it is everything to the speaker. She tries to express her affection and admiration for her beloved one, trying to list ways in which she loves and working out the relations between these ways. Including references to the feelings of bitterness, grief and loss of innocence, she gives her love a realistic edge. Her feeling of love is beautiful and eternal, and it is affected by the fact that in the past the speaker felt loneliness and anger.

The main themes in the sonnet are themes of love, admiration, language, communication, identity and mortality. Love is a multi-layered complex thing. The entire sonnet is concerned with describing, finding and listing ways of loving. Of course, love is closely connected with admiration. The poem “How do I love thee?” is about its poetic nature; it is a list of different ways of loving that the speaker experiences. For this description she finds phrases and metaphors that can encapsulate her feeling, so that she is able tell it to the reader. The speaker defines herself through ways in which she loves. Love for her beloved one is foundation of her life and existence in general. Besides, she is determined to carry this feeling beyond the grave and she hopes that only something destructive and violent as death will heighten her passion.

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