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Saturday, May 28, 2011

How do I Love thee? Let me count the ways-Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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How do I love thee? Let me count the ways


Writing can be an expression of one’s innermost feelings and a great way to release emotions from one’s heart and soul. A sonnet, a fourteen-lined poem and a formal arrangement of rhymes, gives an author a way of self expression. Elizabeth Moulton Barrett Browning’s Sonnet 4 from “Sonnets from the Portuguese” is a great example of how a poet releases emotions through writing. Even though love cannot be measured in numbers, Elizabeth uses this sonnet to try to express the depth of her love for Robert Browning. Romance is one of the most popular themes of poetry. Love can inspire the most soulful and sorrowful of words because of the intensity of the emotion.


Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese” first appeared in an 1850 collection. The title came from her husband’s pet name for her, “Portuguese.” “Sonnets from the Portuguese” describe the intense emotions Elizabeth has for Robert, even though she feels somewhat undeserving of his love. Elizabeth had to keep her feelings to herself for so many years and this poetry allowed her some release. Sonnet 4 of the “Sonnets from the Portuguese” is one of Elizabeths most famous poems. Elizabeth finds it difficult to put one kind of measurement or barrier on how much she loves Robert. It is a never ending, infinite love. This love contains every emotion imaginable and grows constantly, even beyond her time here on Earth.


Sonnet 4 is written in Petrarchan (Italian) sonnet form. The sonnet consists of fourteen lines written in iambic pentameter. The Italian or Petrarchan sonnet is composed of an octave (eight lines) with the rhyme scheme abbaabba, followed by a sestet (six lines) in which the rhyme scheme is cdcdcd. The last six lines can also be cdecde. The octave presents the question “How do I love thee?” and makes a proposition “Let me count the ways.” The sestet resolves the tension created by the octave by generalizing, answering or applying the proposition (she will love him after they die).


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By use of metaphors, the audience learns that Elizabeth compares her depth of love for Robert to such things as a soldier fighting for freedom. Poetically, Elizabeth says, I love thee freely, as men strive for Right/I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise. Her love for Robert is relentless and with great purpose. She believes in true love having no limits, the heart and soul having no restraints, not even death. Elizabeth also alludes to the fact that we must always strive to fight for our love and keep it strong. We must not take love for granted. Elizabeth associates romantic love with common decency and virtues. This is important in her writing because it shows the passion that Elizabeth has in her heart.


Elizabeth lets the reader picture the vastness of her love for Robert through imagery. She uses such words as “life,” “death,” “sun,” and “candlelight” to show her love for Robert. Life and death describe how she will love Robert on earth and after they die. Sun and candlelight are used to make the reader think of how she will love Robert during the day and at night. By using those words, she conveys her love of Robert through imagery.


Elizabeth Barrett Browning was born on March 6, 1806 in Durham, England. She was the oldest of twelve children of an autocratic father. Elizabeth began writing at a very young age, publishing her first works while in her teens. From an early age, Elizabeth suffered a chronic lung ailment. She spent most of her time in a darkened room writing poetry and many letters. The famous English poet Robert Browning admired her Poems (1844) so much that he wrote to her. They fell in love through their letters and secretly married in 1846, despite her father’s objections. Soon after their marriage, they ran away to Florence, Italy, where Elizabeth began a remarkable physical recovery. In 184, they had a son, Robert Wiedeman Barrett Browning. She increasingly took up contemporary issues including the Italian Nationalist cause, the abolition of slavery in the United States, and the position of women in Victorian society. Elizabeth died on June , 1861.





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