Monday, February 14, 2011

An Old-Fashioned Love Sonnet

It's arguably one of the most famous love poems in the English language, number forty-three in a set of forty-four. Written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Robert Browning while the Brownings were in courtship, their power is no doubt due to their very personal quality. In fact, the poems were so personal that Elizabeth felt uncomfortable with the idea of having them published. But her husband, who was to become one of England's foremost Victorian poets, devised a scheme to shield her a bit, and when the collection of forty-four poems appeared in print in 1850 they were called Sonnets from the Portugese as if written not by Ms. Browning but rather a translation of an ardent Portugese poet's work.

Number 43
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 candlelight.
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.

Happy Valentine's Day, y'all. Love the one you love.

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