What is the issue at the heart of the poems "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways" (Sonnet 43) by Elizabeth Barrett Browning and "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" (Sonnet 18) by William Shakespeare?

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The issue at the heart of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnet 43 and William Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 is the impossibility of expressing true love. Both poems begin with a question, which remains unresolved at the end.

Browning attempts to list all the ways in which she loves the addressee, finally saying that, deeply and intensely as she loves him in life, she will love him "better after death." Before this, the poem is already full of hyperbole. The language is passionate and often religious, as the poet refers to grace, praise, faith, and saints. The reference to death at the end completes the idea that the everyday language of mere mortality cannot adequately convey the nature of her love.

Shakespeare's sonnet makes the same point. A summer's day is the most radiantly beautiful scene in nature, but the addressee excels all its beauty. Unlike Browning's sonnet, however, Shakespeare's ends with a solution, a method of conquering death through language. Shakespeare may not be able to find a perfect metaphor for his love, but he finds that he can express it well enough to deserve and achieve immortality.

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