Sonnet 43- Elizabeth Barrett Browning

  • Created by: daisymac
  • Created on: 04-11-17 11:05

context- Elizabeth Barrett Browning

  • Elizabeth Barrett Browning was born in 1806 in Durham. She was the daughter of a wealthy slave owner, Edward Barrett Moulton Barrett, who made his fortune through sugar plantations in Jamaica.
  • When she was 14, Elizabeth became ill with a lung complaint and, at the age of 15, she sustained a spinal injury from an accident when out on her pony. As a result of these, she suffered from ongoing health problems throughout her adult life.
  • In 1838 Elizabeth’brother Edward drowned while on an enforced break with her in Torquay. This was almost too much for her to bear, and she spent the next five years in her bedroom at her father’s house in London, a reclusive invalid. She continued to write poetry, which attracted the attention of the prominent poet Robert Browning. Between 1844 and 1846 Elizabeth and Robert wrote 574 letters to each other, and in 1846 they eloped to Italy.
  • Elizabeth’s father was strongly opposed to their partnership and never spoke to Elizabeth after her elopement. He also disinherited her. However, in Italy, in his absence, Elizabeth’s health improved and she and Robert had a son in 1849. Elizabeth died in Robert’s arms in 1861. It seems very likely that the care and attention that Robert Browning paid to her lengthened her life.
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context- sonnet 43

  • All the forty-four poems in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnet sequence ,Sonnets from the Portuguese ,were written during the period of courtship that preceded her marriage to Robert Browning.
  • As a whole, Sonnets from the Portuguese is considered one of the finest poetic sequences in literature. It is Sonnet 43, however, often titled “How do I love thee?” from its memorable first words, which is the best-known of the collection; indeed, it is one of the most-quoted love poems in English literature.
  • Barrett Browning was initially hesitant to publish the poems, believing they were too personal. However, her husband Robert Browninginsisted they were the best sequence of English-language sonnets since Shakespeare's time and urged her to publish them.
  • To offer the couple some privacy, she decided to publish them as if they were translations of foreign sonnets.
  • She initially planned to title the collection Sonnets from the Bosnian, but Robert proposed that she claim their source was Portuguese, probably because of her admiration for Camões( portugals greatest poet) and Robert's nickname for her: "my little Portuguese".
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  • Sonnet 43 is an Italian sonnet, a fourteen-line iambic pentameter poem written in a specific rhyme scheme.
  • The first line of the poem asks a question; the other thirteen lines answer it. The question is simply, “How do I love thee?” The answer involves seven different aspects of love, all of which are part of Elizabeth’s feeling for Robert, and the projection of an eighth, eternal love in the future.
  • There is a fairly regular rhyme scheme, but this is flexible, and Browning often makes use of assonance , which is striking because the poem is about defining the perfect love, and yet the poem avoids perfection. 
  • Lines 1 to 8—ABBA, ABBA; Lines 9 to 14—CD, CD, CD. Petrarch's sonnets also rhymed ABBA and ABBA in the first eight lines. But the remaining six lines had one of the following schemes: (1) CDE, CDE; (2) CDC, CDC; or (3) CDE, DCE.
  • The first eight lines of a Petrarchan sonnet are called an octave; the remaining six lines are called a sestet. The octave presents the theme of the poem; the sestet offers a solution if there is a problem, provides an answer if there is a question, or simply presents further development of the theme.
  • In Browning's Sonnet 43, the octave draws analogies between the poet's love and religious and political ideals; the sestet draws analogies between the intensity of love she felt while writing the poem and the intensity of love she experienced earlier in her life. Then it says that she will love her husband-to-be even more after death, God permitting
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  • The poem makes use of repetition " i love thee" is used eight times and reflects the devotion the poet feels for her lover as well as the persistent nature of that love.
  • Repetition is also used in a list on line 2" depth and breadth and height", to suggest this poem is comprehensive; it aims to fully define the poet's love. Repetition here also suggests breathlessness and excitement.
  • Love is compared to weighty, important concepts like " Being and ideal Grace", "Right" and "Praise. "Browning's use of capital letters emphasises these words.
  • The opening rhetorical question implies a conversation between lovers, and the exclamation mark at the end of the first line makes the poem seem lighthearted and playful. The speaker is responding enthusiastically to the challenge of listing the ways in which she experiences love.
  • Lines become frequently broken up by punctuation by the end of the poem, another suggestion that the speaker is excited.She is passionate in her explanation.
  • Enjambement is used to show that her love cannot be contained on the space of 1 line, and is therefore overflowing onto the next
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lines 1-3

" How do i love thee? Let me count the ways.

i love thee to the depth and breadth and hight

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight"

how do i love thee-  The retrain( the main idea) and direct adress is used to Robert

let me count the ways - She delights in the opportunity to explain her love to her future husband

Depth and breadth and height- displays internal rhyme. Also, the spacial metaphore is using       normal measuremets for a thing that cannot be measured-In this way she is trying to illustrate she loves every single piece of him.Barrett Browning uses consonance in line two in order to convey just how much she loves her husband.  The repetition of the “th” sound gives the line movement, which signifies that her love for him is ongoing.

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

reach, feeling and ideal- assonance, the repeated ee sound adds a brighter quality of the poem, and reminds the reader that the poet is talking to her lover using the word thee.

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lines 4-6

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

ideal grace -Note the contrast between the attempt to measure her love with rational language - depth, breadth, height - and the use of the words Soul, Being and Grace, which imply something intangible and spiritual.

The clause, lines 4-5, contains enjambment, a continuation of theme from one line to the next ,suggesting that the simple notion of love for a person can soon flow into something quite profound, yet out of reach of everyday language and speech.

quiet need- refers to domestic needs and suggests she will be a domestic figure for him.While her love knows no bounds, the speaker also loves her beloved in ordinary, everyday life.  She needs him as much as she needs other basic necessities of life.

sun and candle light- she clearly tells the reader that, be it day or night, her love fills those quiet moments, those daily silences that occur between two people living together.

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lines 7-8

i love thee freely, as men strive for Right;

i love thee purely, as they turn form praise.

 Just as men naturally strive to do what is good and right, she freely loves.  In addition, she loves him purely, just as men turn from praise in order to maintain humility.  The speaker does not want thanks or attention for her love; just like  men, she loves because it is what she has to do.  Using these two similes in these two lines strengthens the tone of love and adoration in the poem.

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line 9-10

i love thee with a passion put to use 

in my old griefs, and with my childhoods faith.

passion- comes from the greek paschó . it comes from the bible explaining the last 24 hour of Jesus' life and the suffering he went through

old griefs- when she was younger she had intense back and head pains and went on to be a morphine addict. This shows she will love him with the same intensity as she felt when she was really ill

childhood's faith- connotations of religion as in the bible, Matthew 18:2-4 it states " unless you become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom and heaven". However , the basic meaning is that Just like a child has faith, so, too, does the speaker have love for her husband.

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lines 11-13

I love thee with the love i seemed to lose

with my lost saints,--I love thee with the breath, 

smiles , tears, of all my life!

 Her “lost saints” is a reference to all of those people she once loved and adored in her life.  The love she once felt for them, that she eventually lost, has now been transferred into the love she feels for her husband. Also, the noun has connotataions of catholicism and while she was a faithfull catholic, Browning was either an atheist or a christian, therefore suggesting that she would compromise her lover for him( i don't know if this is correct, it's just an interpretation)

"smiles, tears" refers to the idea of for better or for worse, which is a line in wedding vows , therefore showing her love for him

"of all my life"-Barrett Browning confesses that she loves her husband with all that has made up her life.

Breath echos breadth from line 2 and it is the antithesis of life and death

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line 13.3-14

--and , if God choose,

i shall but love thee better after death

I shall but love thee after death refers toNot only will she love him well into eternity, she writes, but she will also love him even better than she does presently.  Her love will continue to grow with the passing of time, regardless of whether or not she or he are still alive.  The speaker’s love for her husband is so strong that not even death could destroy it.

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