Analyze and identify the figurative language in "Sonnet 43" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

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edcon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "Sonnet 43," identified by literary critics as addressing the poet's husband, Robert Browning, the speaker begins the poem by expressing metaphorically how she seeks to measure or quantify the love she possesses:

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach

The speaker also uses similes to describe her love to the object of her affection: 

I love thee freely, as men strive for right.

I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.

In addition to similes and metaphors, the speaker uses personification in describing how she loves him: 

To the level of every day's

Most quiet need. . . . 

With the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life.

A person, not a life, is capable of breathing, smiling, and shedding tears.

Hyperbole is another form of figurative language, and the poet makes use of it in the many exaggerations of the sonnet such as the similes, metaphors, and personification already noted; additionally, she seems to elevate him to the status of a god when she describes her love for him as replacing or being on par with the passion she felt for God in her "childhood's faith."

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The metaphorical language used in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnet, "I love thee to the depth and breadth and height / my soul can reach," seems to refer to love as something physical, a distance that can be reached. It’s as though the speaker’s love feels so tangible and palpable to her that it becomes physical, three-dimensional even. It has mass and substance because it feels so big, and this makes the reality of how it feels to the speaker clearer.

The similes in the sonnet—"I love thee freely, as men strive for right" and "I love thee purely, as they turn from praise"—further describe this most unusual love. The speaker says that she loves her lover in the same way, perhaps for the same reason, as people who strive to do the right thing: it is innate; they cannot help but behave the way they do. They must strive because it is right to do so. This is how the speaker loves. Next, she says that she loves as one who turns from praise. People who strive to do what is right because they feel that is their calling often do not accept praise for their actions. They do what is right for its own sake, not for the awards or accolades it might bring. In fact, they don't want any of these things. So, too, does this speaker love just for the sake of that love, not for any way in which it might benefit her.

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