Sonnets from the Portuguese "If God Choose, I Shall But Love Thee Better After Death"

Elizabeth Barrett Moulton

"If God Choose, I Shall But Love Thee Better After Death"

Context: Elizabeth Barrett, an invalid, made the acquaintance of Robert Browning. The two fell in love as soon as they met, and Elizabeth began the composition of a series of love sonnets, which she kept hidden from Robert until after their marriage, in 1846. The name of the cycle, Sonnets from the Portuguese, derives from Browning's having called her "his Portuguese," the name having been suggested by her poem "Caterina to Camoens." The sonnets are probably the most impassioned love poetry in English. In Sonnet XLIII, Elizabeth endeavors to list the many ways in which she loves Robert. She loves him to the length and breadth and height her soul can reach and also on the level of every day's quiet need. She loves him purely and passionately. She loves him as she once did her saints, and with the smiles and tears of her whole life. And if God lets her, she will love him more after death than she does while she is living:

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 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.