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Analysis of “How Do I Love Thee” by Elizabeth Barret Browning

Born in 1806, Elizabeth Barret Browning was a female author in the mid-1800s. Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese” was published in two volumes titled Poems. “How do I love Thee?” is sonnet number XLIII from that work, published in 1850(Browning 1). In “How Do I Love Thee?”, Browning’s techniques of word choice, structure, and style can be unfolded and analyzed to give the reader new knowledge and a better understanding of this piece of literature. In “How Do I Love Thee”, Browning uses word choice as a method of portraying her message to the reader. “I love thee with the passion put to use” is a strong descriptive sentence using distinctive word choice, to solidify the feelings of love (Browning 9). “Passion put to use”, can only mean one thing, making full use of one’s passion, which the reader feels like very strong love. Another example of Browning’s strong word choice is in line two of the poem, “I love thee to the depth and breadth and height…”

Browning doesn’t just say “I love thee a lot”, she paints a picture in the mind of the reader of an almost never-ending vastness of love. The adjectives put to use inline two, incorporate all aspects of the physical realm; up, down, and around, to truly impact the reader. The word choice put to use by Browning unlocks knew doors in the path readers take in the development of the poem. Another literary element Browning uses in “How do I Love Thee?” is structure. The structure is the arrangement of elements to form a whole piece of literature (Kirszner 1986). The fourteen lines of this poem along with the use of the rhyme pattern of abba-abba clearly meet the criteria for a sonnet. With the structure of a sonnet, Browning was able to develop a lyric in iambic pentameter as noted in the rhyme scheme of “ways” and “grace” (1-4).

“Height” and “sight” as well as “light” and “right” are used to really capture the mood of the poem and keep it in strict sonnet form (2-7). With the structure of a sonnet, Browning ended the poem in a cd/cd rhyme pattern using the words “lose” and “choose” for the C portion. With the D segment ending in “Breath” and “Death” (10-14). The last word in the poem, “Death” is also symbolic in regard to Spatio-temporal aspects of the poem, as “Death” is also what ends our lives (14). The solid structure put to use by Browning helps clarify her feelings of love and desire to the reader, greatly increasing the effectiveness of this poem. Style is another important element of the poem “How Do I Love Thee?”. Style is defined as the way an author selects and arranges words to express ideas and, ultimately, the theme (Kirszner 1986). In Browning’s unique style she begins by asking the question, How do I love you and answers by saying, let me count the ways (1). This sets the reader up for the different ways Browning has found to love. She then begins to explain all the unobvious ways to love another human being, including the level of everyday use.

She uses the fact that “men strive for the right” to illustrate how freely she can love, which is an exceptional use of parallelism. Browning’s style seems to follow a chronological order of how she can love, as evident in “I love thee with a love I seemed to lose…” (11). Browning must have loved before if now she loves with a love she thought she had lost. Also, the fact that Browning writes that she loves with all her life and plans to love even more after she dies is a huge statement in support of her undying love (12-14). Browning’s creative style is a necessity and definitely adds to the creation of her strong purpose of love in this sonnet. Browning’s spectacular “How Do I Love Thee?”, may at first seem vague, but with a more thorough approach, the reader can gain new insight into Browning’s purpose. Browning uses her unique style and word choice to spice the poem and give it flavour, while the sonnet format keeps the poem simple. Browning proved her excellence and innovativeness as an author, in the multi-dimensions of “How Do I Love Thee?”.

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Analysis of "How Do I Love Thee" by Elizabeth Barret Browning. (2021, May 25). Retrieved September 19, 2021, from https://essayscollector.com/essays/analysis-of-how-do-i-love-thee-by-elizabeth-barret-browning/