How Do I Love Thee?

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 every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
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.

Summary of How Do I Love Thee?

  • Popularity of “How Do I Love Thee?”: “How Do I Love Thee?” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, a popular Victorian love poet, is an iconic love sonnet. The poem appeared in her book, The Sonnets From the Portuguese, which appeared in 1850. The poem shows the speaker’s intense love for his beloved. The unique quality of the poem lies in its enumeration of the ways the speaker would love his beloved.
  • How Do I Love Thee?” As a Representative of Love: Posing a rhetorical question, the speaker of the sonnet says that he asks for permission to enumerate the ways or methods through which he loves his beloved. He says that he loves her from all dimensions and that his soul can reach out to her in many ways even if she is out of sight. He goes on to say that he loves his beloved like it has become a daily requirement for him like food. He loves her like it is the right of everybody and loves her for praise. He also loves her with full passions that he does not want to use to suppress his sufferings. However, despite this intensity, he seems losing this love like the lost saints and that he loves her with everything he has in life. Then he prays to God that if he dies, he would continue loving his beloved even better than he has done in his life.
  • Major Themes in “How Do I Love Thee?” Love, the intensity of love, and spirituality are three major themes of this sonnet. Elizabeth Barret Browning has beautifully presented a male speaker who continues enumerating the ways he would love his beloved. He counts every method that could be used to love even in the social and religious sense. Then he goes on to say that even death would not discontinue this love of his that makes the readers feel enter into the realm of spirituality. It occurs in the third verse as well where the speaker talks about his soul and its access to his beloved.

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

literary devices are used to bring diversity in the poetic rendition. Their appropriate use helped the writers to convey their thoughts in an impressive way. Elizabeth Barrett Browning has also used some literary devices in “How Do I Love Thee?” whose analysis is as follows.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as the sound of /e/ in “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways” the sound of /o/ in “How do I love thee?” and the sound of /a/ in “I shall but love thee better after death.”
  2. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /t/ in “Yet only part of my blood loves that memory” and the sound of /n/ in “yet never owned their own.”
  3. Anaphora: It is a rhetorical device in which the first part of the first clause repeats in the next clause such as it is in the verses of this sonnet. “I love thee” is repeated several times that it seems its anaphoric use.
  4. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break; rather, it rolls over to the next line. For example;

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.

  1. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. Elizabeth Barrett Browning has used imagery in this poem such as “I love thee to the depth and breadth and height”, “For the ends of being and ideal grace” and “I love thee with the passion but to use.”
  2. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between the objects that are different. The poet has used an extended metaphor of love to present it as a different thing simultaneously.
  3. Rhetorical Question: Rhetorical question is a question that is not asked to receive an answer; it is just posed to make the point clear. The writer has posed rhetorical questions in the beginning of the poem to emphasize her point such as “How do I love thee?”
  4. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from literal meanings. The poem shows the use of symbols of the sun, candlelight, or saints to show the intensity of love.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “How Do I Love Thee?”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Rhyme Scheme: The sonnet follows ABBA, ABBA and CDCDCD rhyme scheme.
  2. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are two stanzas in this sonnet like all other sonnets.
  3. Octave: This is the first part of the sonnet as it starts from “How do I love?…and ends on…turn from praise.”
  4. Sestet: This is the second stanza in a sonnet is sestet.

Quotes to be Used

These lines from the sonnet “How Do I Love Thee?” are appropriate to use when showing love for somebody.

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.