Elizabeth Barrett Browning
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"How Do I Love Thee?"
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 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.
The Beloved's Possible Response to Browning's Poem by Ngoc Nguyen
In Browning’s poem, one might imagine its recipient to respond with a deep, profound sense of awe and humbled gratitude and appreciation for someone whose expression of love and affection is so pure and ennobling to the spirit. The recipient might also feel exalted and lifted up by such noble expression of love. Such a feeling on the recipient’s part might also cause him to earnestly desire to reciprocate that love in kind and in degree. If I were the recipient—and the speaker my wife or lover—I would want to be a better man for her; I would move the world for her; I would go to the ends of the earth for her! And I would surpass the limits of infinity for her! My life would revolve around her as the Earth revolves around the Sun! And like the Moon in orbit around the Earth, I would forever dwell in orbit around Her! She would be the sine qua non of my existence! And she would literally be my greatest possession and most treasured prize, whom I would jealously protect and encircle with trenches of love! Truly, if I were Browning’s husband, that would be my response.
The recipient might feel and respond this way because Browning’s expression of love is rich and robust with sublime and majestic language and choice of words: “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.” She loves the recipient to the complete fullness of dimension, as it were. She also loves the recipient to the rhythm and level of everyday existence: “I love thee to the level of every day’s/ Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.” She loves the recipient with flowing unrestraint: “I love thee freely, as men strive for Right; .” And she loves the recipient with humble purity: “I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise; .” She loves the recipient with the passion that arises from the sorrows and the pains of life; and with the simple, child-like faith that is free from stain or taint: “I love thee with the passion put to use/ In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.” And she loves the recipient with a love that is painful and poignant, a love that causes her pain in its complete and utter expression: “I love thee with a love I seemed to lose/ With my lost saints—.” She loves the recipient with a love that makes all the essentials of life possible, such as the breath in one’s lungs, the joys of smiles, and the sorrows of tears shed: “I love thee with the breath,/ Smiles, tears of all my life!” Finally, she loves the recipient with a love that transcends even Death—for her love is a love immortal, framed in her mortal body of flesh and blood: “—and, if God choose,/ I shall but love thee better after death.”