Elizabeth Barrett Breading How Do I Love Thee Analysis Research Paper

Prominent Victorian poet Elizabeth Barrett Browing first published Sonnets from the Portuguese in 1850. These sonnets were written as a personal declaration of love to her husband, Robert Browning. She implied that these sonnets were originally written by someone else in Portuguese and that she had translated them when in reality these were her own authentic compositions. She initially planned to call the collection Sonnets from the Bosnian, but Robert insisted that she claim they are from Portuguese, mainly because “my little Portuguese” was a nickname he had for her. “Sonnets from the Portuguese”)

Perhaps the intimate origin of the sonnets is what led Elizabeth to create such intimate sonnets, such as “How do I love thee? (Sonnet 43)” easily being one of her most famous sonnets. This sonnet not only paints the many ways to love someone but is also a great representation of the Victorian idea of “true love” as a spiritual connection. In the 19th century, the ideal woman was considered “The Angel in the House. ” In Virginia Woolf’s lecture to the Women’s Service League in 1942, she described the angel as “immensely sympathetic, immensely charming, utterly unselfish…

She was so constituted that she never had a mind but preferred to sympathize always with the mind and wishes of others. Above all… she was pure. Her purity was supposed to be her chief beauty. ” (Woolf) This idea of a pure, ideal woman is only further enhanced by an ephemeral card representing traditional ideas about women (Hughes): The right to be a bright sunbeam, In high or lowly home; The right to smile with loving gleam, And point to joys to come.

Such are the noblest woman’s rights, The rights which God hath given, The right to comfort man on earth And smooth his path to heaven Both of these examples provide a good grounding of what the ideal Victorian Era woman was to strive for. She needed to be kind, gentle and portray her undying love to her husband regardless of circumstances. In “How do I love thee? ” Elizabeth expresses her eternal love in a magnitude of ways. In the first line, she says that she will count the ways that she loves Robert, but she never does actually count.

This suggests that she can count the ways that she does love him, but there are an infinite amount of ways to love. This is already fulfilling “The Angel in the House” ideal. In lines two through four, she describes her love using a spatial metaphor as a three-dimensional substance filling the container of her soul: her love extends to the “depth” and breadth” and “height” that her soul can “reach. ” Her love extends exactly as far as her soul in all directions, alluding that her love and her soul are the same thing.

It extends “out of sight,” or even out of her peripheral vision, to “the ends” of her soul, extending it out as far into the world, only to find that her soul and love lie at the same end. As Elizabeth explains, in lines five and six, she loves her beloved “to the level of everyday’s / most quiet need. ” This is a reminder that, even though she loves him with a passionate, abstract intensity, she also loves him in a regular, day-to-day way. This doesn’t mean that this love is any less significant. The everyday “need” for love may be “quiet,” but it is still present.

While being in “sun and candle-light” paints that at any given time this love is present, it also reminds us that the lovers are looking at each other all the times and that Elizabeth loves her beloved no matter what light she sees him in, physically and metaphorically. This ties into Woolf’s quote and how she is immensely charming in how in any light, she is in love with him. There is simplicity as well as complexity within lines seven and eight. To “love thee freely” and “purely” is very straightforward, but when paired with “as men strive for Right” and “as they turn from Praise,” it is turned into a convoluted reverie.

Elizabeth is implying that “men strive for right” in a free way; being morally good is something one chooses to do with their own free will. But because everything we do is a choice, people try to do the right thing because they think they should. She is saying that her love is just as “free” as being ethically good, or better yet, something she feels she has to do, even when she doesn’t want to. To “love thee purely, as they turn from Praise” shows that her love is “pure” in the way that being modest and refusing everyone else’s admiration is pure. She is also implying that she’s not proclaiming her love in order to be applauded by others.

She loves without wanting any reward or commendation. These two lines are a good example of what Victorian Era women thought when portraying “The Angel in the House” role. Lines nine and ten propose an interesting way to love someone. To love someone with the “passion put to use in my old griefs,” first comes off as negative; “old griefs” are a dismissive aspect of one’s life. Elizabeth proposes that the strong and barely controllable emotion that she once held in anger is shifted to one held in love. This kind of passion is then complemented in a counter-balance of “childhood’s faith.

One’s childhood is filled with innocent faith, such as believing that our parents had all the right answers and could do anything. This sense of naiveness and guilelessness energy is injected into her love. Much like Woolf’s idea of being immensely sympathetic, she converts her bitterness towards “old griefs” to passionate love, as well as being pure by emitting her love through her “childhood’s faith. ” “Lost saints” are not figures of religion, but rather people who use to be her heroes. Lines eleven and twelve are those of faith. She once held faith in these people.

The faith before disillusionment from their wrong-doings has been shifted into love for Robert. Her love held in faith is then moved to one of her whole being: her “breath, smiles, tears, of all my life. ” Every inhale is full of love, while exhaling leaves her capable of receiving more love. Even when she is smiling of something else, her smile is intoxicated with her love for Robert. Every tear of sadness and happiness is shed in an amative way. Much like the ephemeral card, Elizabeth is a “bright sunbeam” with “the right to smile with loving gleam” throughout any situation or in any “high or lowly home” (Hughes).

The Victorian ideal of “true love” isn’t fully impacted until lines thirteen and fourteen: “if God choose, / I shall but love thee better after death. ” Her final claim is that, if God lets her, she’s going to love her beloved even more intensely in the afterlife. But, this poem is also vague in the sense that the one who’s to die is left ambiguous. If the man dies, then Elizabeth can “smooth his path to heaven,” but if she dies, then she can “comfort man on earth” before she passes (Hughes).

It is also possible that both parties die, which in any case, she is going to find a new and infinite amount of ways of loving. Love is a complex, multi-layered, and multi-faceted thing in “How do I love thee? ” In fact, the entire poem is concerned with finding, describing, and listing different ways of loving someone, something that is through-and-through of “The Angel in the House” ideal. While including references to her feelings of grief, bitterness, and the loss of innocence, the speaker of this poem gives her “true love” a more realistic edge.