"How Do I Love Thee?" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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 a 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 (1806–1861) came from a wealthy family in Durham, England. Self-educated and precocious, she learned Greek and Latin in her adolescence and is said to have read, while still very young, the entire Old Testament in the original Hebrew. Invalided relatively early in life by a “nervous disorder,” the nature of which remains unclear, she became addicted to the opium that her doctors prescribed for her throughout her life. The 1844 collection of her poems made her immensely popular in both England and the United States and the poet Robert Browning, enamored of her work, arranged to meet her. The couple fell in love, married, and eloped to Italy. Deeply religious but also highly conscious of social injustice, her poetry and letters inveighed against the American slave trade, the brutal exploitation of child labor, and the pervasive suppression of women’s rights. Elizabeth Barrett Browning died in her husband’s arms in June, 1861. This poem from her Sonnets from the Portuguese remains one of the most loved poems in the English language.

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