Summarize "Sonnet 43" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Probably the most famous love poem in literature, “Sonnet 43” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning was published in her 1850 book Sonnets from the Portuguese.  Written as personal love poems to her husband, Robert Browning, the sonnets were immediately popular and often quoted. The poems were numbered but unnamed.

This poem narrated by the poet speaks to the question of the depth of a person’s love for another.  The poem may be somewhat dated in its language, but the feelings expressed between lovers have not changed.  Browning’s Victorian, abstract poem asks the questions that are still pondered today.  

  • How does love feel?
  • How long does it last?
  • Is love a conflicting emotion?
  • How deep is my love?

Written in the form of a Petrarchan sonnet, the poem has fourteen lines, divided into a group of eight rhyming lines expressing a point and six rhyming lines referring to a slightly different idea. The verse is a lyric poem; yet, by using the Italian form of the sonnet, Browning gives a different more striking approach to her meaning.


Beginning with the crux of the poem, the author asks a rhetorical question: How do I love thee? She will then spend the rest of the poem answering this question.

Her love is boundless and so vast that it encompasses her soul and moves beyond into the realm of the spiritual world and the perfect grace of God. The poet uses a metaphor here to show the scale  of her love.

Her love extends to the small things in life that a wife does for her husband whether it be daytime or in the night.

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…

By using the anaphora of “I love thee,” Browning tightly binds and emphasizes the purpose of her poem. In addition, in this part of the poem, she utilizes assonance employing the “long e” sound to accentuate the rhythm, and flow of the lines.

Her love is freely given, pure in emotions without the need for praise, and with the passion that she once addressed toward grievances and her loss of faith. 

Yet, the innocence of a child’s trust is the strength of her love. As she grew older, she seemed to lose this blind faith. But with all of her  being and every human emotion that she feels, she reiterates her love.  If God decides that she must die, than her love will grow to last throughout eternity.   

Love’s complexity finds it match in Browning’s sonnet. This multi-layered emotion attends the admiration that she feels for her husband. The poem exudes sentimentality until the second half of the sonnet; then, the poem takes a more realistic edge of grief, loss of innocence and faith.  However, because of her love, she finds herself in step spiritually and is willing to go with God if he so chooses

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