How Do I love Thee?
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
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.
My modest analysis
The Petrarchan sonnet with 14 lines and the turn,”volta”, at line 8 or 9. In the first 8 lines the poet opens with a question which is the theme of the poem:”How do I love thee?” The following lines show the magnitude of her love, the geometrical dimensions.Her love is spiritually perfect-“Ideal Grace.”
Her love encompasses even the ordinariness of the day and night, even in solitude. The love is distinct with its purity,love is for him alone.
The “volta” shows how the poet expresses the ways of her love. She uses the degree of comparison.Her love is like her “passion” for her old griefs, tenacious and strong. Her love is clear and innocent like “my childhood’s faith”, unquestioning,no doubts, no strings attached. Her love is like her devotion to the saints. She gives everything for her love. Her whole being expresses her love: her every “breath”, her happiness and sorrow. Her love is endless. She surrenders her whole being, for her love to him.Her love is even in her prayer: that God grants that she loves him even “better after death”.
If I have to select a line that I love, it is: “I love thee to the level of everyday’s/
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.” She loves him in the silence of her domestic work, during the time she reads book or writes her poetry, in the daily trivial activities, in her gestures. In her quite moments of awareness she loves him.
note: I’m taking an eCourse on Ten Premodern Poems by Ten Women through Standford University.