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Famous Love Poems: An Analysis of "How do I Love Thee" by Elizabeth Barret Browning"

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/20/2012

As a modern man I've read my fair share of love poems, but Elizabeth Barret Browning penned some of the world's greatest. This analysis of "How do I Love Thee" takes a look at her most famous.

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    Before doing an analysis of "How do I Love Thee" by Elizabeth Barret Browning, you should read it (I've put the rhyme scheme at the end of each line).

    1. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. (a)
      I love thee to the depth and breadth and height (b)
      My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight (b)
      For the ends of Being and ideal Grace. (a)
      I love thee to the level of every day's (c)
      Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight. (d)
      I love thee freely, as men strive for Right; (d)
      I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise. (c)
      I love with a passion put to use (e)
      In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith. (f)
      I love thee with a love I seemed to lose (e)
      With my lost saints, I love thee with the breath, (f)
      Smiles, tears, of all my life! and, if God choose, (e)
      I shall but love thee better after death. (f)
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    Analysis

    Heart 

    To learn how to do your own analysis of "How do I Love Thee" and other famous love poems, read these instructions on how to do a poetry analysis. Elizabeth Barret Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese contains several famous love poems. This is the most famous.

    1. The poem is a sonnet, a 14-line poem written in iambic pentameter. Although it does not follow the precise rhyme scheme of an Italian sonnet, the poem's structure follow the form of an Italian sonnet, consisting of an octet - the first eight lines, and the sestet, the final six lines. The end of the octet is called the volta, meaning the turning point.
    2. In the octet the poem's speaker lists the depth of her love through hyperbole, or exaggeration, a fitting poetic device for a love poem. The sestet discusses a more mature love, a love that transcends all, including death.
    3. In the first line the speaker expresses her desire to "count the ways" she loves. She only mentions six, a lot for a 14-line poem, sure, but not as many as I expected. The expression of the intensity of her love, therefore, should not be measured in the quantity of expression but in the quality or depth of expression, a depth which equals "the depth and breadth and height / My soul can reach," "to the level of every day's / Most quiet need," and a love that will continue after death.
    4. Repetition - The repetition of "How do I Love Thee" emphasizes the intensity of the speaker's love.
    5. Theme - The poem's theme can be found in the final six lines: True love overcomes all and is eternal in nature.
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    Sample Paragraph

    The Brownings 

    After the annotation and note-taking is completed, you are ready to write a paragraph analysis of "How do I Love Thee." I've included a sample paragraph, which I give you permission to use with proper attribution.

    Elizabeth Barret Browning in "How do I Love Thee" expresses the eternal nature of love and its power to overcome everything, including death. Line 1 serves as the poem's introduction and captures the reader's attention with a simple question, "How do I Love Thee?" The remainder of the poem serves as an answer as the poem's speaker counts the ways. The repetition of "I love thee" serves as a constant reminder, but it is the depth of love, not the quantity of love, that gives the poem its power: She loves. for example, "the depth and breadth and height / My soul can reach," and "To the level of every day's / Most quiet need." The ultimate expression of her enduring love occurs in the last line which states her love will be stronger "after death."