XLlll. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways – Elizabeth Barrett Browning‏

by richibi

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

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

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 everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
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.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


there are two lines of verse in English
poetry which are early trumpeted by even
those who would have no truck in general
with poems, one about life, one about love,
paraded by already youths with all the
passion of their unbridled years, if not
oratorically advocating, at least sardonically
making fun of perhaps too mannered, even
irrelevant, in their opinion, I would think,
matter, namely Shakespeare‘s To be, or
not to be
and Elizabeth Barrett Browning‘s
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways

nothing much of the rest of these two
poems generally is known, though their
introductions be, even at the level of the
succeeeding ages, panoramic, neither,
either, incidentally, has ever, in its
substance, been equalled

To be, or not to be upon first exploring
it surprises for being, not, as supposed,
a paean to glory, for its declamatory, I
suspect, and engaging, cadences, but a
treatise on the very value of life, Hamlet,
despairing of the state of Denmark, where,
“something”, if you’ll remember, “is rotten”,
where his mother and murderous stepfather
have evilly, he imagines, conspired to steal
his real father’s throne, who hovers now
as a disturbing, and exhortative, presence,
keeping the action, or inaction in this case,
going, can never reach an answer, come to
a decision, To be, or not to be“, “that is the
[inexorable] question”

more specifically, “Whether ’tis nobler
in the mind to suffer”,
he asks, “The slings
and arrows of outrageous fortune, / Or to
take arms against a sea of troubles, /
And by opposing end them:”,
is life
worth living if the cost is so dire

Hamlet will not do the deed himself,
ultimately, of securing his own demise,
but will actively eventually allow it

one will wonder then, is life worthwhile,
Shakespeare never gives us a direct

Elizabeth, however, talks about love, its,
essentially, apotheosis, an expression,
yet unrivalled of how we would like to
love, be loved

her declamation becomes somewhat
elaborate, even morbid, at the end,
macabre, but the force of the initial
statement has weathered already
several unforgiving ages, fresh and
true and captivating, fundamentally,
as ever