How Do I Love Thee? as a Love Sonnet
How do I Love Thee, ‘Sonnet 43’ is a romantic poem, written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. In the poem she is trying to describe the abstract feeling of love by measuring how much her love means to her. She also expresses all the different ways of loving someone and she tells us about her thoughts around her beloved. The tone of the poem is deep, in a loving way.
The poet starts off by saying “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” by which she starts off with a rhetorical question, because there is no reason’ for love. Rather than using “why” she enforces this meaning. But then she goes on saying that she will count the ways, which is a contradiction against her first line. In the rest of the poem she is explaining how much she loves. In the second line she says “I love thee to the depth and breath and height” using normal measurements for something that cannot be measured. This is a spatial metaphor. In this way she is trying to illustrate she loves every single piece of him. That there is nothing that she would change about him. Barrett Browning also never uses markers such as he, she, him or her. This is a sonnet and all sonnets have 14 lines where the two last usually have a broader meaning than the rest of the sonnet. In the final lines she has achieved this by bringing up the subject of the afterlife –
“and, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death”.
In the sonnet, Barrett Browning repeats “I love thee” over and over again rather than using different words for love. This is to enforce the already existing knowledge about the strength of her love, and that what she feels is love, nothing more and nothing less. Also, by repeating it she is enforcing it on the readers that she loves him and there is nothing else to do about it, nothing that will make her change her mind. Also in the poem, no gender is implied. She just keeps saying “Thee” which has a certain formality over it. This is a very powerful key factor to the poem because she uses no gender markers such as him, her, she, he which makes it possible for the poem to be read out loud to any gender with any sexual preference. When she mentions her childhood’s faith she is implying the innocence of their relationship and how they can be naive sometimes. But love needs naivety to survive.
In the poem, Barrett Browning says “My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight”. This is an illustration of how much she trusts him. Even though she cannot see the ending of how this love will end, she trusts him and is willing to reach out in darkness, not knowing what’s coming for her. She also says “I love thee with the breath, smiles, tears of all my life!” This is implying that no matter what is going on in her life, whether something horrible happened or it’s just a normal day, she trusts him to stay by her side and that she will love every minute of it.
Barrett Browning also mentions the sun and candle-light while talking about her love. This is concrete imagery. She is using the image of light being constant and abstract saying that her love will forever go on but with a sense of mystery. The sun is also a very well known image for being strong, powerful, and good. The sun is something human beings can’t live without and this is how Barrett Browning is illustrating her love.
Barrett Browning says “I love thee to the level of every day’s most quiet need”, implying that she needs him, even when there is nothing special happening. That she just needs him in her life. Without him it’s not the same. By the end of the poem, the poet says “and, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death.” This is a very dramatic ending to such a romantic poem and might be seen as a hyperbole. What she’s saying is that if God gave her a choice between her own life and his, she would choose for him to live and that when she is dead, she can finally love him to the depth that he deserves, without anything standing in her way.
When the poet mentions “With my lost Saints” she is referring to those people in her life that she trusted and loved, which in the end, betrayed her. When she says “Saints” she is referring to the glorification she put on them, how much she trusted them increasing the power of their betrayal. By using this in a poem about love she makes the reader think that the person writing this is not naive, that she is able to ask questions and not let everything pass her by. She is saying that people have betrayed her before, and that she has learned from her mistakes and that she is one hundred percent sure that he will not betray her, that he is ‘The one’. Earlier on, Barrett Browning says “I love thee purely” meaning that there is no distrust, no judgment in their love. When something is pure it means that his has no flaws. Also, in the line “I love thee freely, as men strive for right” she is saying that she loves him, without expecting anything back. Also that she is willing to fight for him.
In the poem, Barrett Browning is using infrequent rhymes. An example of this is in the line “I love thee to the depth and breath and height” and the third line “My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight”, where ‘height and “sight’ rhymes. This creates a flow to the poem, giving it a sense of purity and also she might be suggesting a sense of completeness in love.
The word “love”, is repeated frequently in the sonnet, increasing the message. Also, the fact that she never uses any synonyms for love makes us realize that what she feels is love. That there is no other words that can be used to describe this, because love is such an abstract word and also is a very difficult word to describe.
In the end, Barrett Browning achieved what she wanted. She brought out to the world the tremendous, abstract subject of love, and with great success. She warms up our hearts by showing her passion to her beloved, how openly and freely she trusts him. After reading this poem it’s hard to forget it. It also might leave a smile on your face. We are left with the enviable feeling of love, stuck in our hearts and the belief that love can last, if we fight for it.
There is an element of Love as Choice and Freedom in this sonnet. Throughout the poem, the speaker frequently describes love as a free choice based on admiration for a lover’s qualities. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who had little choice in her own life: she lived at home until her forties under the power of a controlling and restrictive father. It is thus not surprising that the poem places a high value on choice and freedom as romantic values. For this speaker, love is not just a source of joy or even spiritual fulfillment; it’s also a means of achieving freedom within constraining circumstances.
The speaker states: “I love thee freely, as men strive for right.” She thus explicitly frames her love as something that is not coerced or influenced by anyone else, but rather as something that comes from her own agency and free choice. By comparing her love to an effort to strive for right,” she also connects romantic love to a broader set of ethical values and goals.
What’s more, the poem is written in a first-person voice that gives the speaker an air of authority and reinforces this theme of agency. For instance, she declares “Let me count the ways,” an imperative sentence that puts her firmly in control of the poem’s narrative. She makes frequent use of the “I” and “me” pronouns, which further adds to this sense that the speaker is asserting her own voice and feelings in the poem.
Ultimately, the poem makes a powerful equation between love, choice, and freedom. The speaker emphasizes that she loves “freely” and that her affection for her partner is a result of her own assessment of his value. It is not a value imposed from external authority like her childhood’s faith,” but is rather an expression of her own agency. “How Do I Love Thee?” is a poem that emphasizes the speaker’s power and agency in making her own romantic choices.