Analysis on Barrett Browning’s ‘Sonnet 43’

To help you with composing a written response on poetry, I have included samples of students’ work (with their permission) to assist you in developing your writing skills. These essays were written by students who had very little experience writing essays on poetry, and indeed, it is the first one they have ever written. Writing an essay is not easy, but hopefully you may be able to identify a kind of pattern in their written responses.

Essay One

‘Sonnet 43’ is a romantic poem, written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. In the poem she is trying to describe the abstract feeling of love by measuring how much her love means to her. She also expresses all the different ways of loving someone and she tells us about her thoughts around her beloved. The tone of the poem is deep, in a loving way.

The poet starts of by saying “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” by which she starts of with a rhetorical question, because there is no ‘reason’ for love. Rather than using “why” she enforces this meaning. But then she goes on saying that she will count the ways, which is a contradiction against her first line. In the rest of the poem she is explaining how much she loves. In the second line she says “I love thee to the depth & breath & height” using normal measurements for something that cannot be measured. This is a spatial metaphor. In this way she is trying to illustrate she loves every single piece of him. That there is nothing that she would change about him. Barrett Browning also never uses markers such as he, she, him or her. This is a sonnet and all sonnets have 14 lines where the two last usually have a broader meaning than the rest of the sonnet. In the final lines she has achieved this by bringing up the subject of the afterlife – “and, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death”.

In the sonnet, Barrett Browning repeats “I love thee” over and over again rather than using different words for love. This is to enforce the already existing knowledge about the strength of her love, and that what she feels is love, nothing more and nothing less. Also, by repeating it she is enforcing it on the readers that she loves him and there is nothing else to do about it, nothing that will make her change her mind. Also in the poem, no gender is implied. She just keeps saying “Thee” which has a certain formality over it. This is a very powerful key factor to the poem because she uses no gender markers such as him, her, she, he which makes it possible for the poem to be read out loud to any gender with any sexual preference. When she mentions her childhood’s faith she is implying the innocence of their relationship and how they can be naïve sometimes. But love needs naivety to survive. If you cannot believe there is no need for even trying.

In the poem, Barrett Browning says “My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight”. This is an illustration of how much she trusts him. Even though she cannot see the ending of how this love will end, she trusts him and is willing to reach out in darkness, not knowing what’s coming for her. She also says “I love thee with the breath, smiles, tears of all my life!” This is implying that no matter what is going on in her life, whether something horrible happened or it’s just a normal day, she trusts him to stay by her side and that she will love every minute of it. Barrett Browning also mentions the sun and candle-light while talking about her love. This line is one of the only lines where she is using concrete imagery. She is using the image of light being constant and abstract saying that her love will forever go on but with a sense of mystery. The sun is also a very well known image for being strong, powerful, and good. Also, even when you can’t see the sun, you know it’s there and you know that it will always come back and brighten up your day. The sun is something human beings can’t live without and this is how Barrett Browning is illustrating her love. She can’t live without him. By using ‘sun’ she can also link it to ‘love’, seeing as for her, that is what her love is, strong and passionate. Before that Barrett Browning says “I love thee to the level of every day’s most quiet need”, implying that she needs him, even when there is nothing special happening. That she just needs him in her life. Without him it’s not the same. By the end of the poem, the poet says “and, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death.” This is a very dramatic ending to such a romantic poem and might be seen as a hyperbole. What she’s saying is that if God gave her a choice between her own life and his, she would choose for him to live and that when she is dead, she can finally love him to the depth that he deserves, without anything standing in her way. That she could finally pay him back for all the things he did for her, by giving him her life, for eternity. Not only that, but she creates the image of their love, being infinite, that it will continue even after death tears them apart. Also, by mentioning Gods choice she increases the importance of their love.

When the poet mentions “With my lost Saints” she is referring to those people in her life that she trusted and loved, which in the end, betrayed her. When she says “Saints” she is referring to the glorification she put on them, how much she trusted them increasing the power of their betrayal. By using this in a poem about love she makes the reader think that the person writing this is not naïve, that she is able to ask questions and not let everything pass her by. She is saying that people have betrayed her before, and that she has learned from her mistakes and that she is one hundred percent sure that he will not betray her, that he is ‘The one’. Earlier on, Barrett Browning says “I love thee purely” meaning that there is no distrust, no judgment in their love. When something is pure it means that his has no flaws. But by saying this she also raises a question by which love really can be pure or if this is just a similarity. That it is as close to pure as possible. Also, in the line “I love thee freely, as men strive for right” she is saying that she loves him, without expecting anything back. Also that she is willing to fight for him. The thing about this sonnet is that it is written in present. This enforces that it’s not a love that has been nor will be, it is something which is going on right now creating a sense of infinite flow to the poem.

In the poem, Barrett Browning is using infrequent rhymes. An example of this is in the line “I love thee to the depth and breath and height” and the third line “My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight”, where ‘height’ and ‘sight’ rhymes. This creates a flow to the poem, giving it a sense of purity and also she might be suggesting a sense of completeness in love. While reading poems, most people find it calming to (unconsciously) see the rhymes. When they are analyzing the poem, people will see that she chose her words with care and put a lot of thought into it. This is a very important key factor to a poem. The word “love”, is repeated frequently in the sonnet, increasing the message. Also, the fact that she never uses any synonyms for love makes us realize that what she feels is love. That there is no other words that can be used to describe this, because love is such an abstract word and also is a very difficult word to describe.

In the end, Barrett Browning achieved what she wanted. She brought out to the world the tremendous, abstract subject of love, and with great success. She warms up our hearts by showing her passion to her beloved, how openly and freely she trusts him. After reading this poem it’s hard to forget it. It also might leave a smile on your face. We are left with the enviable feeling of love, stuck in our hearts and the belief that love can last, if we fight for it. I think that with the use of her symbols, metaphors, verbs and adjectives she achieved the maximum amount of standard in this sonnet. Also, the fact that we have to use time to see the connections with the verbs and nouns, but not too much, is great. Another thing is that the message is clearly presented to the reader, making it easier to understand, still leaving the mystery for us to solve. It’s quite a magical sonnet, exploring the abstract power of love.

Essay 2

The poem “Sonnet 43” by Elizabeth Barrett-Browning is about love. The entire poem is actually the poet trying to answer the first line of the poem, which is; “How do I love the?” The reader does not expect the poet to answer this question, because it is not only a rhetorical question, but also it seems almost impossible to answer this question. However, the poet does a brilliant job doing that by “Counting the ways” of how she loves “thee”. The main message of this poem is that the poet wants to describe her very powerful feeling of love for someone. This poem causes the reader to almost explore the poet’s passion for her feeling of love, due to the strong words used by the poet and by the repetitive statement “I love thee”.

The poem starts by the poet asking a rhetorical question; “How do I love thee?”, with poet counting the ways how she loves “thee” instead of trying to explain how she loves “thee”. She does so because she cannot possible explain her love, so she starts with listing some, perhaps the most passionate ways of her love towards “thee”. The next few lines of the poem are the poet’s way of trying to express a way of how she feels. She states “I love thee to the depth and breadth and height”, which means she loves him in all possible directions. She includes this line in the poem to explain that there is not one direction in which she does not have the feeling of love. The poet then goes on by explaining her constant feeling of love by stating that she loves “thee by sun and candle-light”. This means her feeling of love for “thee” is a constant, never ending feeling. The line simply means that her love is like light, it is always there, and whether it is the sun providing the light at day or it is the candle providing the light at night.
The poet then continues by almost going on by stating that her love for “thee” is pure, which means that there is nothing between her and her love. She also states that she loves with passion and with faith. Then the poem almost goes towards a negative direction. When the poet goes refers back into her childhood history, by stating that “I love thee with a love I seemed to lose”. By that line she refers that her ability to feel love was destroyed, due to the well – documented history of an abusive father. Some people with abusive parents lose the ability to love, even to trust someone. But the poet describes how glad she is that “thee” came into her life, because that almost gave her the chance to experience the beautiful feeling of love, which she never really felt by her parents. Coming near to the end of the poem, the poet states that “I love thee with the breath, smiles, tears, of all my life!” This means that her love almost became necessary for her to stay alive, like “breathing”. She cannot survive without love, same as she cannot survive without breathing. The last line of the poem is in my opinion very mysterious. “I shall love the better after death.” This could possibly refer to her saying that there is no way that she can love “thee” as much as “thee” deserves it, so she states that she will still love “thee” after her life is over. She, again, does so because she wants to try to explain that there is no way that she can love “thee” as much as she wants to, so she states something which seems impossible, which is also her trying to express her feeling of love.

The poet uses many different words to try to explain the significance of her love. The effects of the words alone sometimes help the reader understand more about the poem. For example, in line seven, the poet uses the words “freely” and “right”. Those are significant word choices, because people fight for rights, to be free, and relating to the poem, be free to love anyone they want. Also, it describes that no one is forced to love someone, you are free weather you want to love or not. People sometimes fight to receive someone’s love.

The poet includes a significant amount of imagery in this poem. This poet paints many images in the readers mind when stating things such as: “I love thee to the depth and breadth and height.” This creates an image in the reader’s head of this endless love in all directions. The next thing the poet does is that she describes her constant feeling of love by comparing it to light from the sun, therefor at day, and candle-light, therefor at night. With this line, the reader can almost picture her constant love, by just pretty much thinking about the sun light and the candle light.

The word class used in this poem is rather special and unique. First of all, there are no gender markings through out the whole sonnet, which is very unusual. However, this makes the poem unique, and you can feel relation to it whether you are male or female, and that is certainly one of the things that makes this poem enjoyable and almost kind of special.

There is no doubt that there is a high rate of repetition in this poem. The words “I love thee” are used nine times in the poem. The repetitiveness of this makes the words almost flow in the readers head, even though the poem in a whole doesn’t include rhymes. Next, the poet makes a good use of including the difference of the sound of the words in the poem. The first few lines of the poem include deep, long vowel sounds such as the line: “I love thee to the depth and breadth and height”. This also includes a repetitive sound of the letter “e”, which adds and extra feeling to the depth of the line. However, this alternates as the poem goes on. Near the end of the poem, in the line “Smiles, tears, of all my life! – and, if God choose”, the sounds of the words are clearly softer, not so deep anymore, and shorter.

In conclusion, I like this poem as a whole. The poet uses a great choice of words, and it seems that there is a deep meaning behind every line. Also, in some very well created lines, you can almost feel the powerful feeling of love that the poet is trying to explain and describe. Also, I like this poem, because the main aim is not necessarily to explain her love, but to list the most passionate ways of how she loves. The poet also describes her never-ending, constant feeling of love by comparing it to a form of matter, which is quite interesting. Personally I believe that the poet was very successful in conveying her message. Her message is as simple as “I love you” , but she included amazing amounts of detail, in which she included expressing her thoughts, experiences and feeling, which make a very positive impact on the reader. All in all, it is a really enjoyable poem for the reader to read, because you can relate to it, whether male or female.

Essay Number Three

Love is an emotion that most people will go through at least once in their lives. When asked about the true meaning of love, one might say that your love is someone you are willing to die for or that love in priceless. But no one can really tell you the true meaning of love, because everyone has different characters, and different love interests, and we would all have person points of views of love. If someone says that they can give you the true meaning of love, he or she would be lying, because all they can give you is their relative experience of love, and it therefore becomes an opinion. We find different ways of expressing our love, through songs, others though short stories or big novels. Poets like Elizabeth Barrett-Browning choose to pen a poem, to express their feelings. Her ability to write that many exceptional poems full of love should really show the extent of her love to her husband. The poem is written from the viewpoint of a deeply devoted wife, full of affection for her significant other. She is also very religious, as the poem contains many references to her religion of Christianity and god.

Lines 1-12 are about love, and then it shifts to a more serious tone, where the poet speaks about love. In the lines 2-3, 5-6, 9-14, the poet uses enjambment, which helps the poem ‘run on’, so you flow into the next line and continue momentum instead of the usual rhythm a poem would have. The first line “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways”, makes the readers think that it is a rhetorical question, but in fact, the whole poem is the answer to this question. As the reader reads on, he or she realizes that the poem actually gives the ways in which she loves her partner in life. The next line she says and explains that her love was “to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach” which shows that her love has no boundaries, and is only limited by how much she can achieve, or the extent of her reach.

In the next line, she says that “she loves thee purely”, which explains that she only loves her husband, not anyone else. Also, she explains that she loves him as he “as they turn from praise” which means that her love is lasting, unlike the temporary good feeling achieved from someone praising you. In the next line, she says that “I love thee with a love I seemed to lose, With my lost saints”, suggesting that she has transformed the love she used to have for someone she admired, but was let down, and has since channeled it towards her new lover with the same intensity. She next writes that she “shall but love thee better after death”, which suggests that her love for her husband extends to after both of them have passed away. Her love then might be even stronger, because in the life we are living now, we are constantly bombarded by huge amounts of stress, worrying about things, making tough decisions and many other factors. With these annoyances, it is hard to find time or even space to have a love life. In the afterlife, we need not face the problems we encounter in our everyday lives, allowing us to be able to love someone with no limits, even ‘better after death”, focusing all your time and love to your soul mate.
The poet’s choice of words is rather formal, yet passionate, and definitely romantic.

At the start of the poem, she asks “how do I love thee”, which provides the feeling of a rhetorical question, when in fact, it is not, as the whole poem itself gives answers to the question. Also, in the poem she hyperbolizes when she explains her extent of her love to her lover. A good example would be when she writes, in line 2 and 3 that she “loves thee to the depth and breadth and height, my soul can reach”. She contrasts the two nouns, sun and candle-light in line 6, which are two different types of light sources which people use; one natural and used in the day, and one artificial and used at night. She could also have meant that it was a replacement for night and day, stating the fact that without light there is no life, and without life, there would not be love. Also, you would need light to see, to guide you through life, to find your lover. Thus, without light, you will never find the person you love, your one true love. She “loves thee purely, as men strive for Right”, which shows that her love’s will is as strong as the will of the people who are willing to stand up against for the better good, to fight for the what is right. Throughout the poem, she uses allusions to allows readers to interpret on their own the meaning of a sentence or phrase, such as her “old griefs”. That could allude to her sad childhood, or the hatred that she once had for someone, which was turned to love for her husband. In lines 2, 5, 7-9 and 11, she employs the use anaphora beginning and ending with the phrase, “l love thee”. The effect of parallel structure shows that the poem is more of a list of the how she feels towards her lover, rather than a telling a story of what their love is.

Through the use of spatial metaphors, such as “I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach”, the three dimensional space is conveyed, showing the extent of her reach, or the extent of her love. The effect achieved is that we understand the vastness of the love, but we cannot get a picture in his/her mind of exactly how much that is due to its limitlessness. She also uses symbolism; represents her love through different words, such as saying that her love is like her every “breath, smiles, tears”. This suggest that she loves him with every smile that crosses her face, which shows that her happiness is always an expression of loving him, and also the sad times, thus the “tears” and even unemotional moments of merely breathing in and out. The effect created by this is that these bodily reactions can be compared to her soul as she transforms the bodily realm to be with god, “if he chooses”. Also, we can understand that her love can range from the smiles of happiness to something like breathing, which we do every second of our lives. The repetition of the ‘th’ sounds can also suggest breathing. However, the lines 5-6 are the only lines which use concrete imagery – ‘sun’ and ‘light’ however it is still very much abstract, as is the whole poem. The effect achieved by this is that it would make the reader think about the poem, and then deducing what is meant by what she says.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the poem is that the poet does not specify his or her gender, keeping in line with the vagueness of the rest of the poem. Because of the lack of gender markers, readers would have to interpret themselves who the poem is for, thus making the poem popular, as readers would find it easy to associate with their lives, and also because the rest of the poem is equally ambiguous, allowing readers to interpret the poem to fit their own lives, and thus associate with it. If she had used more specific terms, like changing the word “thee” to her husband’s name of Robert, readers might not have the same amount of interest, as their names would not be Robert; save for a few who actually are though. This is likewise for the gender of the author. If she had given any form of clue that allowed readers to determine her gender, then the male readers would not have the same amount of interest in the poem, as they would not be able to relate to it. In this way the poem is all-inclusive.

The poem “How do I love thee” has a rhyme scheme of an Italian sonnet because of its rhyme scheme of ABBA, AABB, ACAC, DCD. It has an iambic pentameter rhythm with 10 syllables per line with five pairs of unstressed and stressed syllables. She also uses internal rhyming, seen in “depth and breadth and height”. She also uses anaphora, using of “I love thee” eight times and another “I shall but love thee” in the last line”. Also the word “love” is repeated nine times, building up rhythm while emphasizing again that she really has deep feelings for her beloved. She also uses alliteration, examples would be ‘soul’ and sight on line 3, ‘love’ and ‘level’ in line 3 and ‘pure’ and ‘praise’ in line 8. The effect of the alliteration is that it makes the poem aids in memory because it is catchy, and makes the poem sound better, and helps emphasize about her deep emotions for her husband. It can also help aid readers to remember the poem better, for example, you would more likely remember a poem with the title “the menace of money” than “money is bad” .

After reading the poem, I feel that the very mysteriousness of this poem and abstractness allows readers to interpret the poem differently, which could also mean that love itself is up to anyone individual to interpret, as love would be different to everyone, depending on their character and who they love. Unlike other poems, the poet does not directly talk about how she loves her husband, rather she uses vague terms like “most quiet need” which could have a few meanings, like for example the everyday necessities like water we need to survive. Finally, this poem is enjoyable to readers because its open-endedness allows for different readers to interpret the poem differently, to suit their own life, whether male or female.


 Explore how Elizabeth Barrett Browning conveys in “Sonnet 43” the extent of her feelings for her future husband.
Elizabeth’s love for her future husband, Robert Browning, is profound and without restrictions throughout her sonnet, as she charts out the explanation of the couple’s impassioned relationship. The poet uses a variety of repetitions and religious associations to accentuate the fact that their love exceeds the level of simple emotional exchange but is rather a spiritual, religious and eternally binding connection which is unwavering even under the forces of ageing and death.

The phrase “I love thee” is repeated many times throughout the poem which emphasises the idea that Browning’s love seems genuine and heartfelt, imparting the sonnet with a sense of emotional fervour. The central question “How do I love thee?” highlights the problem which Browning must strive to resolve. This could be seen as rhetorical as the poet has directed a question at the reader, but is, herself, determined to ponder over it. Suggested by the phrase “let me” is the fact that Browning is dominating over the reader’s stream-of-consciousness and is inspired to invoke her true passion for Robert. This forcefulness of feelings emulates the fact that the sentiments of their relationship overpowers Elizabeth’s emotions. Biblical allusions are made by the words “freely” and “purely”, emphasising the religious insinuations of deity and godliness and the emotional exchange at a morally higher level. Those two words in combination reinforce the idea that Browning has not been coerced mentally into entering a frictional and untruthful communication of emotions. Thus, such purity, as Elizabeth expresses her passion with freedom and candour, can be paralleled with the essence of extreme morality and virtue entailed by religion and God. Her inherent zeal is not being undermined by the unscrupulous and distasteful facade of love, especially the exploitation or abuse in false love relationships. The very word “thee” also has religious insinuations of deity and godliness, imbuing Robert, through the eyes of Elizabeth, with a higher position of righteousness and virtue which finally reinforces the complete respect and moral faith she entrusts in him.

An example of light, in the form of “sun and candlelight”, reiterates the flawlessness of the Brownings’ relationship. The “candle-light” endows it with a romantic and sensuous dimension in addition to the aforementioned spirituality, while it could also represent the method in which their love perpetuates through the day, conveyed by “sun”, and through the night, which points to the candles as an utility to generate light. There are nevertheless further metaphorical interpretations of this candle-light. The reader could understand that light empowers one with a sense of direction, aligning with the idea that the Brownings’ intimate camaraderie is not stagnated. Unlike many failures of relationships, Elizabeth portrays their kinship as forward-progressive and continually developing, in contrast to the deterioration of engagements into stunted and uncommunicative affairs, whereby the partners fail to maintain any resemblance of a convivial affinity. In the same line is the point that the Brownings are inseparable from their sentiments felt for each other and even in thought processes; loving Robert has become a “quiet need” which is necessary to ensure her survival. This is an almost radical view of love as being encompassed within the list of the five basic needs. The idea of “needs”, where Elizabeth must love him in order to survive, can also be related to her eternal desire for unbounded love after death, showing her immutable devotion and lending of her “soul” to her future husband.

The poem transitions into a state of mind where there is a progressive intensification of Elizabeth’s love towards a level of religious and moral righteousness through the abundant use of biblical allusions. “The ends of Being” hints at Browning’s perception of life and death. Although she believes that relationships can only germinate within a period of a lifespan, the only method to preserve one’s fervour for the other is through heaven after death. However, such a rationale is not considered by Browning to be intimidating; in fact, her tone towards the end of the sonnet transposes into one of resignation and welcomeness, conveyed by the phrases “love thee better after my death”. Thus in this way, the poet is accepting and appreciative of the consolidation of her relationship after her death, reiterating her fidelity to Robert Browning. Continuing this idea is the “ideal Grace” with religious associations also, highlighting at the state of mercy and paradise on jubilant terms with God. This suffices as an “ideal” heaven-like setting or foundation from which such an intense bond can be condensed. Further allusions to Christianity are the phrases “strive for Right” and “turn from Praise”. As a man, Robert is inculcated by the poet with undeviating humanity, and this illustrates that Elizabeth is partly idealistic in the sense that she views every man in a relationship to be entrusted with the ideal qualities of integrity and chastity, qualities which a proportion of unfaithful men blatantly lack. Without doubt, the portrayal of the men as godly and abiding by society’s scruples is continued with “turn[ing] from Praise”, elucidating the fact that Robert does not require the accolade from the female counterparts for upholding humanitarian and moral virtues. He is therefore painted in a more divine and virtuous light while the extent of her love is communicated by the way she appreciates and “love[s] thee purely” for his unbending and loyal conscience in her relationship.

A contrast of Elizabeth’s tone throughout the poem is made, from an intransigent mindset, implied by “let me”. It shows the poet’s aggressive determination and almost secularism, as she fails to introduce God as the superlative moral deity. However, towards the end, Browning acknowledges the supremacy of religion and does not attempt to undermine God’s ultimate piety. Her love is left to be moulded by the forces of destiny “if God choose”, demonstrating her direct appeal to God to preserve their everlasting love. In other words, her love, however divine and unyielding it may be, will not surpass the superiority of religion. Such a juxtaposition of tone underscores her assertiveness and fervour, and simultaneously her acceptance of Christianity presiding over her fate.

The concept of intangibility and infinity is indicated through Browning’s energetically toned words such as “count”. This suggests to the reader that her methods to love Robert are clearly limited and quantifiable. The finite volume of love is further expressed by “depth & breath & height” whereby the amount of emotions entailed in the poet can be almost calculated arithmetically. However, her feelings reflect upon the progression from a love bounded by mathematical parameters to one which is not pinioned from infinite expansion. Concepts such as in “soul” and “out of sight” are very abstract and surreal; the reader finds it difficult to locate precisely the nature or extent to which such love applies.

Elizabeth Browning questions her ability to enumerate the reasons for the intense passion felt for Robert Browning, but throughout her sonnet, effectively demonstrates that the extent and development of such feelings are not repressed and are boundless. Several biblical references, such as the “men striv[ing] for Right”, parallels her future husband with a paragon of godly faith and moral uprightness, reiterating the fervent emotions for a flawless ideal man. Hence, Browning’s sonnet is a successful polar counterpoint to Edna Millay’s Sonnet “Pity Me Not”, exploring the idea of the cyclical destruction and insignificance of woman’s desire for a masculine figure.

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EXPLORE HOW ELIZABETH BROWNING CONVEYS IN “SONNET 43” THE EXTENT OF HER FEELINGS FOR HER FUTURE HUSBAND?
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In Sonnet 43, Elizabeth Browning is writing a testament of the love for her husband-to-be, Robert Browning. A sonnet is derived from the Italian word sonneto, literally “little song”, mainly expressing love. Browning’s sonnet is an ultimate profession of love that encompasses her whole being.

Browning comments, “Let me count the ways!” signals that there are too many ways in which she loves her husband-to-be. This line emphasizes the extent to which she loves Robert as it implies there is an infinite number of ways that she loves him. It is an exclamation; as if she is astounded by the extent of her love for her husband, even she is not capable of measuring the depth to which she loves him. She furthers the fact that her love for him is limitless by using the internal rhymes of “depth & breadth & height”. They tell us that she loves Robert with every dimension of her being, which is quite an abstract concept as it is hard to pin down the extent to which your “soul can reach”. By showing the dimensions of her love, she proposes the fact that her love is quantifiable. But by contradicting this with the infinite limitations of her soul, she is dismissing this idea and suggests that her love is immeasurable. Thus, Browning is saying that her love for her husband is boundless and limitless by using the abstract concept of the soul’s reaches.

Browning portrays Robert as her redeemer, her savior from past griefs. She writes “I love thee with the passion, put to use/In my old griefs”, suggesting her sorrows of growing up – her mother and favourite brother dying – have been forgotten, or at least numbed, by her love founded in Robert. She would have grieved immensely when she lost her family, yet the intensity of her anguish and sorrow has been transferred to Robert. She emphasises the intensity has been “put to use”, it has not been wasted and has been put into the love in her relationship with Robert. She is also conveying that the passion with which she loves Robert is like that only reserved for the grieving of the loss of loved ones. She again furthers this idea when she goes on to say “I love thee with the love I seemed to lose/With my lost Saints”. In this line, she is saying that she has recovered from the grievances of her mother and brother .Her love for Robert has been replaced with the love she once bore for her “lost saints.”

Browning also suggests that Robert is the new focus of her intensity that was concentrated on her religious beliefs as a child; she used to be greatly religious when she was younger. Thus, she states she loves him “with my childhood’s faith”. She is suggesting her love for Robert is as strong as her faith was in religion as a child. She compares her love to Robert as that of religion – unquestioning, innocent and followed with blind faith. She is also stating that her religious beliefs as a child would have been unchangeable. Thus, her love for Robert is not going to change, even in the face of despair and disaster. When she talks about her “lost Saints” she is talking about her waywardness in religion. So Browning is suggesting that her love with Robert has revived her and has made her believe in religion and all things holy again. This point can be furthered when she surrenders to the will of God, “If God choose”. It is as if she is making up with God and seeing the way of religion  again. She suggests that this is because Robert has resurrected her belief in religion, as if her love is so unbelievably good there must be a God – to give Browning such a miracle as great as Robert.

In Sonnet 43 by Elizabeth Browning, she conveys her love for her future husband Robert Browning by saying it is immeasurable and unbounded; through the suggestion that the reaches of her soul are infinite, therefore, so is her love for Robert. Moreover, she says Robert is her redeemer form past ills and that she has recovered from the losses of her mother and brother because of this. Finally, Browning suggests the focus she put on religion as a child is now put into their relationship.

748 words

 

Explore how the words of Elizabeth Barrett Browning “Sonnet 43” vividly convey the character of the speaker in the poem

The assertiveness of Browning’s expression of love to her husband reveals how she is almost trying to convince herself of the pureness of her relationship with her husband. Her immeasurable love for her husband tells the reader how generous she is in terms of love and devotion. She is also shown to be religious and have a moral compass such that she values purity and the good values promoted by most religions.

By using the words “freely” and “purely” Browning exposes how she uses love as a shield against depression, as it is highly unlikely that she is so naïve as to believe that her relationship with her husband is a model relationship: pure and free of conflict. Naivety and innocence are not what the apparent innocence actually is, and is instead her wanting to make herself believe in such true love in order to wash away and cover up her past troubles. Then again, the reader is not able to be absolutely certain that this is the case, creating an effect of ambiguity where the reader is unsure whether Browning is actually as innocent and naïve as her words tell the reader, or if she is forcing herself to believe that her relationship is perfect in order to keep herself away from sadness and possible depression resulting from recalling her “old griefs”. Using ambiguity here makes the reader’s image of Browning to change: where before there was probably a loving woman with pure love and devotion for her husband there is now somebody more complex, with a hint of self-doubt.

“Everyday’s most quiet need” is an example of metonymy, as “everyday” refers to all the living humans on the planet. Breathing is the most likely thing being referred to, as it is usually both quiet and essential to stay alive. “By sun and candlelight” implies that Browning’s love for her husband manifests itself in different ways, as breathing takes on different forms such as heavy breathing after exercise, silent subconscious breathing, and the notorious hyperventilation, and breathing is generally viewed as being more intense during the day then at night. Loving her husband with the “breath, smiles, tears” of my life further emphasise this, as these three words represent three important aspects of life: “breath” means the essence of her being, in other words her soul, while “smiles” and “tears” represents the ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ of life. By using these three different components of human life to describe her love for her husband she reinforces the idea that she is actively convincing herself that her relationship with her husband is perfect. It also shows something else about her character: her devotion and generosity.e essence of her being, in other words her soul, while “e”till believes that God has the ability to decide when she die

Generosity is usually associated with money and gifts, but Browning’s generosity is with love and devotion. Her devotion and love for her husband is shown by how she uses absolutely everything she has to love her husband, the aforementioned three components of human life. Her love for her husband is so great that when she tries to quantify it with the mathematical words “depth and breadth and height” she is unable to, as shown by how she slips into the phrase “my soul can reach” because souls are abstract and are not thought of as having a finite reach, the word ”reach” meaning a person reaching out to others for love, care and help. Browning’s devotion to her husband turns into almost hero-worshipping and idolising, as her husband is the hero who saved her from her grief. This is shown by how lines 2 and 3 can be read in different ways: line 1 and the first half of line 2 together, or the two lines can be read as 2 separate sentences. Reading these two lines the first way implies that her love for her husband is endless and unbounded, while the second way suggests that her husband is her hero; when she is “feeling out of sight” of God, meaning when she is lonely and/or depressed, she is able to “reach” to her husband for comfort. Having two different implications, depending on how the lines are read, hints to the reader how fine the line is between love and worshipping. Differentiating between the two is particularly important as the entire poem is about the poet’s love for her husband and there is no love returned mentioned, suggesting that the poet knows the difference between the two but her convincing herself that their love is pure and absolute has made her more of a worshipper than a lover which, although not necessarily a bad thing, is not the same and has connotations of blindness.

The various references to God and religious aspects show clearly that Browning is very religious. Phrases such as “lost Saints” and “I love thee … childhood’s faith” suggest that her religious faith has been fading slowly over time and that she has grown distant from religion, but her love for her husband has compensated for it. This further emphasises the strength and intensity of her love for her husband; it is so great that even religious belief cannot compare to it. However, her faith in religion is not all lost and she does believe in the justice and morality of following it. Religion is shown to have taught her valuable morals and given her a good moral compass, as she recognizes the righteousness in the men who “strive for Right” and their refusal of praise. “Right” could mean both justice and human rights, the second interpretation reinforced by the word “freely”. The ambiguity here shows the reader how Browning believes that the two different meanings are in reality equivalent and by incorporating a reference to human rights movements in a poem about an ideal love she reveals her beliefs about the subject of love, a view taught through Christianity and many other religions: love your neighbour and treat them as you would want to be treated. In this way Browning has set a moral standard for herself; she wants to keep the mistreatment of others to as low a level as possible.

Although religion is important to Browning, love is shown to be thought of as superior to any faith by her, as even though she can feel “out of sight” in terms of religion she loves her husband “by sun and candlelight” and it never wanes. Also, there are hints that her love for her husband is almost a substitute for religion, as she loves him “with a love I seemed to lose with my lost saints”. However, she has not lost her religious belief completely, as she still believes that God has the ability to decide when she dies.

Browning’s character, personality and beliefs are exposed in the poem and show that everything is not always as it seems and that her love for her husband is not completely ideal, not because of a fault in the relationship itself but because of how it is used to shield her from her troubles. She presents herself as a woman with strong determination; determination to love her husband as well as she can, determination to live on despite her “old griefs”, and determination to live according to standards which she sets for herself.
Original mark: 18/20

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20 thoughts on “Analysis on Barrett Browning’s ‘Sonnet 43’

  1. EBB studied Hebrew and New Testament Greek it is certain that she was familiar with this passage in the NT when she wrote her 43 sonnet. This sonnet is clearly patterned after this scripture. Her words and sentiment apparently come directly from this text.

    Romans 8:38-39
    King James Version (KJV)

    38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

    39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    43 Sonnet

    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 every day’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.

  2. In Sonnet 43, Elizabeth Barrett Browning shows the diversity and all encompassing quality of her love. She does this by displaying the extremities and evoking many universal concepts in an attempt to make the reader realize the extent of this love.

    Browning is attempting in this poem to give the listener –possibly her lover- a sense of the extent of her love by rationalizing this irrational emotion. She does this by illustrating her love in a logical manner, ascribing physical quantities to the level of her love. She writes ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways!’ and in this case she is using mathematical language –such as counting- to explain her love. Browning goes on to juxtapose the physical quantity of volume against the abstract idea of her soul’s flight when she says ‘…to the depth & breadth & height!’. By forcing the listener to imagine her soul in such measurable amounts she brings across the idea of her vast expanse of emotion towards her lover. Therefore, she does effectively bring across the extent of love to the listener and by doing so she extends a sense of universality to her love.

    Past griefs are also brought into the picture making her current love resonate with her old pains. Browning’s love is given a multidimensional quality as now it is compared to the intangible idea of her past pains. This is a change from the previous mathematical explanation of her love, adding a sense of sentimentality. The poet writes ‘I love thee with the passion, put to use In my old griefs…and with my childhood’s faith’ and through the use of a melancholic tone she evokes a sense of nostalgia towards lost innocence, trust, and faith, thus lending emotionality towards her love. Therefore Browning engages the reader by making him relate to lost childhood innocence. She makes the reader realize the extent of her love by stirring up reminiscence and old griefs, engaging the reader by evoking the universal idea of lost childhood innocence.

    Browning’s love has a sense of universality, thus giving it an immortal quality. She is bringing in universal human concepts of mathematics, religion, life and death. The reader now can relate to the poet’s unique love through these basic concepts that humanity can understand. She evokes theological figures such as ‘Saints’ and ‘God’ as well as her ‘childhood’s faith’. By evoking universal, theological figures she shows the divinity of her love, therefore giving it an immortal quality. This is further illustrated when Browning says that she will love him ‘all [her] life’ and ‘better after [her] death’, showing the undying quality of her love.

    Browning has likened her love with various abstract ideas to show the diverse and immortal qualities of it. Through these techniques, she is trying to teach the reader of the immense love she has for her lover. She also makes the reader appreciate the various qualities of love, and by using such varied explanations of love she enables the reader to choose one which they can easily relate to. This leads to a level of understanding between the poet and the reader, as the audience is allowed to explore the passion given off by the poet. The reader is therefore allowed to comprehend each comparison made in their very own way to get the idea of the infinite and powerful quality of love the poet is portraying.

  3. shakespeare ‘s sonnet is very intresting i like it sonnet william shakespeare write a 154 sonnet and sonnet invented in italy in 13th centuary and high form of development franceso petrarch ( 1304- 74)

  4. This was really helpful! Thank you so much to whoever put this on here I found it intriguing and fascinating to the comments that the writers made

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