An Analysis of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's 'How Do I Love Thee?'

Fact about 'How Do I Love Thee?' by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
'How do I love thee' by Elizabeth Barrett Browning is the 43rd sonnet from 'Sonnets from the Portuguese'.
Did You Know?
The poem How Do I Love Thee? is a portion of a sonnet sequence called Sonnets from the Portuguese. Barrett Browning implied to Elizabeth's readers that she had translated the sonnets, which were originally written by someone in Portuguese. But in reality, they were her own compositions. My little Portuguese was a nickname that Elizabeth's husband used for her in private.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning was one of the most prominent poets of that time. Most of her work was her declaration to her beloved husband, who was the most popular poet of that era. She wrote these sequence of sonnets in her days of courtship with Robert Browning. His immense love and support gave freedom to her writing, so much so that Elizabeth's name in the literary world surpassed his, and he came to be known as Browning's husband.
Barrett and Browning's love wasn't smooth sailing from the start. Elizabeth's father never wanted his children to be married. Therefore, she and Robert had to elope. Her father never forgave her for this disobedience. But they had found their true love.
Sonnet 43
"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."
Line-by-line Analysis
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

The speaker airs a question that is going to be the theme of the poem: how is she to love thee, the man she is in love with? And then begins her affectionate words that flow, by which she counts the ways in which she loves him.

The word count is quite intriguing, and isn't often used when it comes to love. However, you will not find any numbers in the poem. Besides, by giving a number, she will be trivializing and limiting her love. It is a way of saying that love within her is limitless, and that mere numbers cannot be held accountable for. She has enlisted a number of uncountable moments, which may be trivial for the rest, but hold the most value for any and every person in love.
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.


It is interesting how she portrays her love to be. Words such as depth, breadth, and height are spatial metaphors, meaning that her love surpasses through the mortal realms (body) and amalgamates with her soul; that her love for him and her soul are one.

Though her love is intangible and can't be seen, it is forever there in every part of her. In other words, her love consumes every inch of her being; not just mortal coils, but even her soul. She believes that it is the ideal blessing bestowed upon her.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.


Her love is not just on the spiritual level, but also a more mortal and on day-to-day level. To some, it may seem like a domestic living sort of a way. However, the words also show that this is not some sort of puppy love; instead, it's a love that is a necessity or need. At first glance, by sun and candlelight may mean that she loves him be it day or night. It could also mean this love is just as important as the sun during the day and the candlelight in the night.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.


In these lines, she expresses that she feels free and pure being in love. The freedom of her love, is as fearless as the men who fight for the rights. And as pure, selfless, and without a shadow of expectation, as they are. This shows modesty and being pure at heart.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.


Her love is passionate. She loves him with the same intensity of the grief she felt in the past, and strongly like a childhood faith. If you still haven't quiet understood this yet, we shall put it in another way. Have you ever hated anyone from the bottom your heart? Imagine the same intense feeling but not of hatred or anger this time, but of love. As for the second part, as a child, have you believed in anything with all your heart, like Santa Claus, tooth fairy, angels, etc.? In the same manner, she embodies the same sincere, wholehearted, and indubitable feeling of faith in love.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints―


Her love for him has the highest prominence. It has replaced the people who were once considered to have the highest importance. Here lost saints does not mean idols of saints.
I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!


She proclaims her love for her darling. She loves him as naturally as her breathing. Her love is unconditional and the very essence of this love is present in every aspect of her life; be it in happiness or every tear she cries. Just like her breath which is present, be it in moments of happiness or sorrow, her love too is with her.
and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.


If mortality and immortality (soul) wasn't enough, she claims that her love is eternal, and if God permits, or if it is possible, her love will exist even after death.
Summary, Tone, and Rhyme Scheme
Summary
How Do I Love Thee? is a simple sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in which she proclaims her undying love for her darling husband. She believes her love to be immortal and omnipresent. Her words transcend her emotions of being head over heels in love with him.
Tone
How Do I Love Thee? sonnet is a simple love poem, expressing her deep and undying love for her husband. The tone is true, intimate, loving, and passionate.
Rhyme Scheme
The rhyme scheme for How Do I Love Thee? sonnet is ABBA ABBA CDC DCD. It also has an Iambic Pentameter (each line goes da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM; for example, "How do I love thee?"; "Let me count the ways.")
About Elizabeth Barrett
Elizabeth Barrett Moulton-Barrett was the oldest among her 12 siblings (8 boys and 4 girls). She received her education at home along with her brothers. She once wrote that by the age of six, she had already begun reading novels and writing poetry―On the Cruelty of Forcement to Man, by eight was captivated by Pope's translation of Homer, and by ten, she had begun writing her own Homeric epic The Battle of Marathon. She had even taught herself Hebrew so that she could read the Old Testament.
At her age of 15, she came down with a lung disease. An accident while saddling her horse left her with an intense head and spinal pain with loss of mobility. Her writing didn't seize there. In 1844, she published a series of poems, which caught Robert Browning's attention. Brief secret meetings between the two led to a series of letters―574 letters over the next twenty months to be exact. They eloped in 1846, and settled in Florence, Italy. Soon after, she bore a son and published Sonnets from the Portuguese in 1850, and many more. Her lung condition deteriorated further, and she died in Florence in the year 1861.
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