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Tag: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways”

“Why Do I Love You?” – from “Behind the Candelabra”

just when you thought you’d never see
Elizabeth Barrett Browning again, here
she pops up in, of all places, a movie
about Liberace, Behind the Candelabra“,
a not undistinguished representation of
the high life, the over the top life, of an
aging and flamboyant superstar with his
much younger companion, feathers fly,
Ferraris too, and so do tempers

but at one point Liberace recites this
poem, “Why do I love you?”

where have I heard that line before, I
said to myself, and needed no one, of
course, to answer, here was Elizabeth
handing over her mantle to someone
in the XXlst Century, maybe

you decide


psst: Liberace also said, “too much of a good
thing is wonderful”,
I’ll drink to that


Why do I love you?

Why do I love you?
I love you not only for what you are,
but for what I am when I’m with you.
I love you not only for
what you have made of yourself
but for what you are making of me
I love you for not ignoring
the possibilities of the fool in me,
and for accepting
the possibilities of the good in me.

Why do I love you?
I love you for
closing your eyes to the discords in me,
and for adding to the music in me
by worshipful listening.
I love you
for helping me to construct my life,
not a tavern, but a temple.
I love you because
you have done so much to make me happy.
You have done it without a word,
without a touch, without a sign.
You have done it by just being yourself.
Perhaps, after all,
that is what love means,
and that is why
I love you.

Xl. And therefore if to love can be desert – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

Xl. And therefore if to love can be desert…

And therefore if to love can be desert,
I am not all unworthy. Cheeks as pale
As these you see, and trembling knees that fail
To bear the burden of a heavy heart, –
This weary minstrel-life that once was girt
To climb Aornus, and can scarce avail
To pipe now ‘gainst the valley nightingale
A melancholy music, — why advert
To these things? O Beloved, it is plain
I am not of thy worth nor for thy place!
And yet, because I love thee, I obtain
From that same love this vindicating grace
To live on still in love, and yet in vain, –
To bless thee, yet renounce thee to thy face.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


“desert” here, as in “just deserts”, to get what one
deserves, and not incidentally “Just Desserts”, the
sweets emporia, is an example of the affectations of
Romantic poetry that used to annoy me and turn me
away, so that I quickly lost my curiosity as to its
proponents, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Rimbaud, Verlaine,
Baudelaire, were all too ornate, and abstruse, obscure,
for me to see anything but artifice and decoration,
when I required clarity and direction as a young pup

here and there an idea struck a chord that would not
not reverberate, about Truth and Beauty for instance,
or They also serve who only stand and wait“, and of
course the plangent How do I love thee? Let me
count the ways
which had none of these infringing

it took me a while to understand that this was the idiom
of another age, that poetry could transcend its heritage
and become relevant



Aornus, I ask you, is a mountain in, of all places, India,
which Alexander purportedly conquered way before
our time

to “advert/To” is to refer to

despite these irritations, Elizabeth Barrett Browning
remains unexpectedly direct and even still poignant
in her self-disparagement, her self-abnegation, even
after eleven poems, perhaps because she touches,
beyond the idiosyncracies of self-conscious style,
masochistic maybe even neurosis, an underlying
true chord of love in all its quivering manifestations,
one of our major ever existential concerns