Sonnets from the Portuguese

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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Give an analysis of "Sonnet 43" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

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Elizabeth Barrett Browning, a 19th Century Victorian poet, wrote her love sonnets in secret before her marriage to Robert Browning, another great English poet.  Barrett Browning's poetry was immensely popular during her lifetime.  Many critics believe that her sonnets are the most genuine and skilled expressions of love in English literature.  "Sonnet 43" comes from her collection of poetry, Sonnets from the Portugese.

"Sonnet 43" follows the Italian form of sonnet. Consisting of fourteen lines written in iambic pentameter, the poem is divided into two parts:  an octet, the first eight lines; and a sestet, the last six lines. Each part provides a particular part of the message of the poem.  One of the primary figures of speech utilized in the poem is anaphora which is a repetition of a word or words at the beginning of two or more lines.  The line "I love thee..." is repeated several times emphasizing the theme of the poem.

In the octet, the poem begins with a rhetorical question.

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

The poet conveys her immense love for Browning in a spiritual way.  Her love is so deep that it lies in her soul.  God's grace has brought him to her.  Her love comes freely without any qualms or restraint.  Whether it is day or night or if he is near or far away-- her love for Browning has no boundaries.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach.

In the sestet, the poet mentions some grievance which challenged her faith in the past. 

In my old griefs, and with my chilodhood's faith

I seemed to lose with my lost saints!--

Yet, her love has changed those thoughts; and through her passion, she has forgotten those who gave her heartache.  For now, all she feels is this intense love through happy and sad times.  If God chooses for one of them to die, her love will be still stronger.

and, if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death.

The situation presents a young Victorian woman living in a society that discouraged outward signs of affection.  However, love has not changed throughout the ages.  Elizabeth loved Robert so deeply that she could not contain that love within her.  As a writer she elegantly and eloquently expressed the deepest emotions that one person can feel for another. The words have been repeated so often from this beautiful romantic poem that they have traveled through time. If one listens hard enough, he will hear someone saying to his dear one:

How do I love you? Let me count the ways.

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