How do I love thee? (Sonnet 43)
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 candlelight.
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.
About the poem
“How Do I Love Thee?” (Sonnet 43) is probably Barrett Browning’s most famous poem today. It is commonly incorporated into weddings and proposals. Even my own husband knew it and he was not big on poetry. Barrett Browning wrote this during her courtship with poet Robert Browning, whom she married.
About the author
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (6 March 1806 – 29 June 1861) was an English poet of the Victorian era. Her work was popular in Britain and the United States during her lifetime. She was the eldest of teelve children, and wrote poetry from the age of eleven.. At 15 she became ill, suffering intense head and spinal pain for the rest of her life. Later in life she also developed lung problems. She took laudanum for the pain from an early age, which it is thought contributed to her frail health.
In the 1840s Elizabeth was introduced to literary society. Her first adult collection of poems was published in 1838 and she wrote prolifically between 1841 and 1844. She produced poetry, translation and prose. She was a social activist of her time and campaigned for the abolition of slavery and child labor reform. Elizabeth’s work had a major influence on prominent writers of her day.
Elizabeth’s volume Poems (1844) was very successful. It attracted the attention and admiration of writer Robert Browning. Their correspondence, courtship and marriage were carried out in secret, because of worries at her father would disapprove. He had forbidding any of his children to ever marry. Her father actually disinherited her when he learned about her marriage.
In 1846, the couple moved to Italy. They had one son. Elizabeth died in Florence in 1861. A collection of her last poems was published by her husband shortly after her death and was well received.