Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Sonnets from the Portuguese: XLIII

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 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.

* * *

Time for another Browning sonnet! This one's probably the most famous, although no one can seem to get past the first line.

First, she talks about how big her love is -- the breadth and depth and height of her soul. Next, how small it is -- it fits in gently with the everday things. She loves him with all the strength of every virtue -- justice, long-suffering, faith. She remembers her "lost saints" -- probably her mother and brother, whose deaths saddened her greatly -- and find that she loves him the same way. All her life is love for him -- and so will the next life be.

The voice of the modern world is plainer, but says the same: "This is true love -- you think this happens every day?" True love is beyond everything -- because all true love is of God.

I've been reading the Brownings' letters to each other lately. They are very beautiful. I'll have to copy out some bits later on.