Sonnet 43 Analysis | How Do I Love Thee? By Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Sonnet 43 Analysis: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways” is a well-known sonnet written by the 19th-century poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. It is her most well-known and best-loved poem that first appeared as sonnet 43 in her collection of Sonnets from the Portuguese (1850).

Even though the poem is traditionally interpreted as a love sonnet from Elizabeth Barrett Browning to her husband, Robert Browning, the poet, the speaker and the addressee are never identified by name. The poem deals with the poet’s passionate adoration for her beloved with radiant pictures of her eternal bond, which will keep her connected to her beloved even after death.

Students can also check the English Summary to revise with them during exam preparation.

Sonnet 43 Analysis Summary

The author starts the poem by asking the question, “How do I love thee?” and responding with, “Let me count the ways.” One might assume that the speaker is either musing out loud – as one might do when writing a letter – or responding to a lover who might have presented such a question.

The entire sonnet addresses the lover, “thee,” who can also be considered the listener. As it is well-known that Elizabeth Barrett Browning has dedicated this poem to her spouse, she is assumed to be the speaker addressing the poem to her husband.

The speaker describes how she loves her husband. She describes how her love is multifaceted since it can be compared to many aspects of life. Initially, she starts describing her love as a powerful force of her soul so great to the extent that she attempts at measuring it in three-dimensional terms.

Next, she illustrates a more silent love that sustains her daily, just as the light of the sun illuminates her days. She then compares her love to humanity’s experiences as a whole, showcasing her love as pure, free, and humble, just as decent people strive to do good in the world without expecting any reward or praise.

The speaker then compares her love to the passionate intensity with which she once tried to overcome her past pains and how she believed in good things when she was a child. Finally, she compares her love to what she once felt for people she used to admire but has somehow fallen out of her favour.

Near the conclusion of the poem, she states that her every smile, tear and breath is a reflection of her love for her better half. The poet concludes the sonnet by telling her husband that she will love him even more after being gone if God allows her.

How Do I Love Thee

Sonnet 43 Analysis Themes

The theme of Barrett Browning’s poem “How Do I Love Thee?” is that true love is an enthralling passion. The quality of true love the speaker especially stresses is its spiritual nature. True love is an article of faith. References to “soul,” “grace,” “praise,” “faith,” “saints,” and “God” help create this impression. The last line confirms the power of true love, asserting as it does that it is eternal, surviving even death.

Love and faith are the main themes surrounding this poem. The poem is essentially concerned with the love of the poet with her significant other. She expresses her innocent and deep love in fascinating ways. Also, to show the intensity of love that she feels, she details how her love will eventually get stronger with time.

Sonnet 43 Analysis Form

“How Do I Love Thee”, authored by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, is a sonnet. A sonnet is a regular verse so that it will have a regular rhythmic pattern and rhyming scheme. The rhythm pattern of this sonnet, as it is for most sonnets, is iambic pentameter, i.e. five beats of an unstressed subsequently stressed sound in each line of the sonnet:

“I love thee to the depth and breadth and height.

My soul can reach when feeling out of sight.”

The poet alters the rhythmic pattern with extra stressed sounds – for emphasis – in the sonnet’s first and thirteenth lines. On reading those lines out loud, one will hear the extra stressed sounds.

The rhyme scheme of the sonnet is abbaabba cdcdcd. However, note that some of the rhymes are not outright, such as ways/grace and faith/breath. These are referred to as half-rhymes, and they are incorporated in the assessment of the rhyme scheme.

The rhyme scheme of the sonnet divides the poem into two parts. The abbaabba part is called the octave (octave for eight), and the cdcdcd section is called the sestet (sestet for six).

This is a characteristic sonnet pattern, called the Petrarchan sonnet. It was named after the Italian poet Francesco Petrarch, who first used it in the fourteenth century. It is a commonly used pattern in English poetry, especially during Shakespearean times.

Sonnet 43 Analysis Figurative Language

Elizabeth Barrett Browning uses hyperbole throughout this poem for underscoring the intensity of her love for her husband. She has used clever similes to the same effect, declaring that she loves as intensely as the free man determined to win all that is right (line 7), as purely as the religious man at prayer (line 8).

Almost half of the lines in this sonnet start with the sentence “I love thee,” which reads like a mantra that reinforces her spiritual connection.

Sonnet 43 Analysis Summary

Analysis Of Literary Devices Used In “How Do I Love Thee?”

Literary devices are the tools that writers use to convey their emotions, ideas, and themes to make their text more convincing and appealing. Elizabeth Barrett Browning has also engaged some literary devices to bring uniqueness to this poem. The analysis of some of the literary devices used in this poem has been discussed below.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /ee/ and /i/ in “I love thee freely, as men strive for right;” and the sound of /e/ in “I love thee to the depth and breadth and height.”
  1. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between the objects that are different. For example, the poet compares her love and her soul to a physical three-dimensional object.

“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.”

  1. Anaphora: It refers to the repetition of a word or expression in the first part of some verses. For example, the word “love” is repeated to emphasize her feelings of true love.

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height.”

  1. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought or clause that does not end at a line break rather continues in the next line. For example,

“I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.”

  1. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example, “I love thee to the depth and breadth and height”, “Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light” and “In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.”
  1. Hyperbole: Hyperboleis a device used to exaggerate any statement for the sake of emphasis. For example,

“I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight.”

Analysis Of Poetic Devices Used In “How Do I Love Thee?”

Poetic Devices are those techniques a poet uses for bringing uniqueness to their text. The analysis of a few of the poetic devices used in this poem is given below.

  1. Sonnet: A sonnet can be referred to as a fourteen-line poem with one idea flow throughout the text. This is a Petrarchan sonnet, which means it has an octave and sestet.
  2. Rhyme Scheme: The rhyming scheme used in Octet is abbaabba, and the Sestet follows the cdcdcd rhyme scheme.
  3. Octave: An octave is referred to as a verse form with eight lines, usually along with iambic pentameter.
  4. Sestet: It refers to a six-lined stanza of poetry. The term sestet refers to the final six lines of a sonnet.
  5. Iambic Pentameter: This is a type of meter that consists of five iambs. The poem consists of iambic pentameter such as “I love thee to the depth and breadth and ”

Sonnet 43 Analysis Historical Background

Elizabeth Barrett met her husband Robert Browning in May of 1845, and they got married in September of 1846. During their engagement, Elizabeth wrote a series of forty-five sonnets communicating her love for her fiancé.

When she showed them to her significant other, he recognized their brilliance and motivated her to publish them in her upcoming volume of poems, which was released in the year 1850.

They did realize such an intensely personal and emotional expression of love may make the Victorian English uneasy. So the poems were published under the name of Sonnets which came from the Portuguese to make it seem like they were translations.

The poem “How Do I Love Thee?” is Sonnet 43. The deception was soon uncovered, and Barrett Browning’s sonnet sequence became revered, second only to Shakespeare’s, in English literary history.

Similar Poetry of Sonnet 43 Analysis

Readers who enjoyed reading this poem will also find interesting to read the following list of poems.

  1. The Cry Of The Child by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
  2. Love In A Life by Robert Browning
  3. How Much? By Carl Sandburg
  4. I Said To Love by Thomas Hardy
  5. My Love Sent Me A-List by Olena Kalytiak Davis
  6. If Thou Must Love Me by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
  7. A Musical Instrument by Elizabeth Barrett Browning