“Literature: How Do I Love Thee?” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning


Sonnet 43 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, which is also called by its opening line How do I love thee, is a prominent example of English poetry. This sonnet reveals the selfless and pure love of the poetess to her husband. Despite all difficulties on her life journey, despite a prohibition of her marriage from her fathers side, this courage women have fought every hardship in order to be with her beloved.

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Elizabeth Barrett Browning is one of the most prominent and famous poetesses of the Victorian age, who is famous not only for her creative work but also for her wonderful destiny. She was born in 1806 in a family of West Indian plantation owner. She wrote poems since early childhood, dedicating them to family celebrations. At the age of twenty, there was published her first book of poems. In 1833 after publishing the collection of her poems, The Seraphim, and Other Poems, her name became known to a wide audience (Poetry Foundation, n.d.). This very year she experienced a nervous breakdown caused by the death of her brother Edward and practically secluded herself from society. In 1845, Robert Browning, impressed by her poems, wrote her a letter. In such a way, there emerged a romantic relationship between them. Despite her fathers disapproval, Elisabeth was secretly married to Robert, and soon they departed to Italy. In Italy, Elizabeth gave birth to a son.

Overview of Elizabeth’s Rise in Popularity

The peak of Elizabeths Browning popularity was caused by a publication of one of her most famous collections of amatory verses Sonnets from the Portuguese. Sonnets from the Portuguese consist of 44 sonnets written by Elizabeth Browning during their romantic relationship with Robert Browning. The sonnet How do I love thee is one of the prominent examples of Elizabeth Brownings love poems. From the very beginning of their acquaintance, Roberts attraction to Elizabeth was very strong, while the poetess did not believe in his feelings. In spite of the fact of the existing love correspondence between them, the sonnets inspired by his love letters Robert saw much later.

All these sonnets were reflections of Elizabeths feelings and doubts. Moreover, at the moment of their creation, she was seriously ill. But Roberts wedding proposal and his selfless love made a miracle. After several years of malady, Elizabeth recovered from her illness. Nevertheless, her fathers dissatisfaction with her love affair and his threat to disinherit her in case of the marriage made her doubt.

All these feelings and doubts are reflected in Elizabeths poetry of this period. In Sonnet 43, the feeling of anxiety is replaced by her wholehearted love for Robert. All the doubts are forgotten, and she, in a full manner, realizes the fact that Robert is a man for whom she has been waiting throughout her life.

There are several theories why this book of poems has been called Sonnets from the Portuguese. During their love affair, Robert called Elizabeth “my Little Portuguese” (Manuscript of Elizabeth Barret Brownings “How do I love thee?”, 2015, para.5). Moreover, in her sonnets, Elizabeth used rhymes of the famous Portuguese poet of the XVI century Luis de Camoes.

Nevertheless, the most common explanation of the name given to this book of poems is the fact that the sonnets have rather intimate nature. It was quite natural that Elizabeth did not want to publish them. However, Robert managed to convince the poetess to do it, pointing out the importance of these sonnets for English literature. In order to hide the fact that these poems were written by herself, Elizabeth called them The Sonnets from the Portuguese as if she had just translated them from another language(Manuscript of Elizabeth Barret Brownings “How do I love thee?”,2015).

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Elizabeth Barrett received the first latter from Robert Browning in January. She was older by six years than Robert was, and she had many problems with her health. She looked like a bedbound invalid who never left her house being under an intent control of her sever father. She had no thought of entering into marriage.

She did not pay much attention to this latter.

However, Robert Browning, impressed by the talent of the poetess, insisted on their meeting. At the first gaze, Robert understood that he had been seeking this pale and delicate woman with a burning look for all his life. Therefore, the love affair between them began.

Their meetings were kept in secret from Elizabeths father, whose attitude towards Robert and towards Elizabeths marriage was extremely negative. One day, her father, who began to suspect that something was happening behind his back, said Elizabeth that in case of her marriage, he would rob her of his inheritance. Moreover, Elizabeth doubted Roberts intention and his feelings towards her. Nevertheless, she regularly received letters from Robert with love confessions. But in those letters, there was no hint concerning the marriage proposal.

The problem was that Robert was brought up in a family in which every decision had been made by his mother. His father was a flaccid and squeezable person, and Robert got used to the idea that his mother was the head of the family. In his relations with Elizabeth, Roberts attitude towards her was practically the same. However, Elizabeth wanted to see Robert as a reliable person and a tower of strength.

All her feelings and thoughts Elizabeth revealed in her poems. She had never shown her poems to Robert. She doubted that one day Robert would be able to make her a marriage proposal. Robert also knew about the conflict between Elizabeth and her father. Moreover, the members of his family were also against this marriage. Robert had a strong and passionate feeling to Elizabeth, but his hesitancy prevented him from serious actions.

One day, Elizabeth understood that she could not imagine her life without Robert. She realized that she loved him, and it was just the same for her, whether they would marry or not. She loved him with pure love just because of the fact of Roberts existence. All her love and all her feeling she expressed in the poem How do I love thee. She devoted this poem to Robert and sent him in a letter. Having received this letter and having read the sonnet, Robert was affected to tears. The decision was made at once. The next day he made the marriage proposal to Elizabeth. Later on, they moved to Italy, where Elizabeth gave birth to a child. They lived together until their dying days. This latter, with Sonnet 43, had changed all their lives.

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In the way of conclusion, it is possible to say that this poem is an example of pure selfless and unconditional love. It is love that can overcome all difficulties and resist hardships. Only a person who has such a feeling is able to create such a poem. The main idea of the poem that pure love, which is based on dedication and devotion, is everlasting.

Reference List

Browning, E. (1850). How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43). Web.

Manuscript of Elizabeth Barret Brownings “How do I love thee?” (2015). Web.

Poetry Foundation. (n.d.). Elizabeth Barret Browning. Web.

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