Studying The Sonnet Of Elizabeth Barrett Browning English Literature Essay

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Elizabeth Barrett Browning's sonnet "How do I love thee?..."is a powerful expression of love, reflecting upon her moving experience during her courtship with Robert Browning (Sonnets from the Portuguese 43, The Norton Anthology of Poetry, pg. 947). In sonnet form, Browning is capable of articulating and, moreover, intensifying her passion and dedication; evident through the use of figurative language, tropological usage and poetic rhythm. The poet openly addresses Robert Browning and the aspects that constitute their romance; recasting her passion in light of childhood experiences and a context that defies temporality. Her articulate skill, in addition to the range of poetical devices and techniques Barrett Browning employs, accounts for the overall impact and effect of her literary work.

In Petrachan Sonnet form, "How do I love thee?..." is composed of the following rhyme scheme: Lines 1 to 8 (octave)- ABBA, ABBA; Lines 9 to 14 (sestet)- CD, CD, CD. When verbalised, the rhythm and concept are effectively synchronised, developing a sense that Browning articulates the force and intensity of her passion on a more truthful intellect. Throughout the text, Browning demonstrates that she can express her love and passion with the capacity to incorporate rhyme:

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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. (1-4)

The opening line of the sonnet features an apostrophe: "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways" (1). Here, Barrett Browning immediately submits her poem as direct address to her significant other. The explicitness and intimate quality of the text is further enhanced through the use of the pronouns 'I' and 'thee'. These two particular pronouns are used to initiate the text and are also repeated in subsequent clauses. It therefore becomes apparent that Barrett Browning is forwarding her personal thoughts and expression; offering an instinctive approach towards a love and a passion that has captivated her emotions. Furthermore, Barrett Browning begins her sonnet with a rhetorical question "How do I love thee?" (1); a figure of speech that does not require a response, but instead is effectively employed with the intention to assert the passion and love that appears to have completely arrested her imagination.

The subsequent lines portray an image of a love that exhibits qualities of immense "breadth and depth and height"(2). Asyndeton is used in this particular line as a bold attempt to list- in a single clause- of the extent of her love and passion:

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. (2-4)

The images portrayed vividly characterises her love as a concept that holds a resemblance to the transcendent nature of her soul; a love that is inherent and exists strongly beyond the realm of physical reality.

Another effective articulation of love is the resemblance between Barrett Browning's commitment to Robert and the strive for freedom and justice: "I love thee freely, as men strive for Right/ I love thee purely, as they return from Praise" (7-8). Barrett Browning employs such tropological usage to invite the reader to set a different focus; establishing a relationship between two different concepts and thus, articulating in a metaphorical logic to convey meaning in a more captivating and vivid representation. In this particular image, Barrett Browning effectively characterises a link between the emotional connection with a significant other and one's allegiance with their government. By alluding to political ideals and the ongoing struggle for rights, one can infer the conceptualisation of passion and love in a different and compelling logic, further justifying the true nature and immensity of her feelings towards Robert Browning.

Anaphora is rhetorical device that consists of repeating a sequence of words at the beginning of neighbouring sentences, thereby lending an air of emphasis:

I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;

I love thee purely, as they return from Praise.

I love thee with a passion put to use (7-9).

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Browning repeatedly addresses Robert in this sequence of clauses to reveal the multiple facets of her passion, which she feels can only be expressed through the reiteration of the statement "I love thee..." (7-9). The exert reveals that her love for Robert is overwhelmingly liberating and thus pure; a love that is free from coercion and self-interest.

Barrett Browning's poetical adeptness and her ability to articulate her passion remains consistent throughout her literary work. In the closing lines of the sonnet, Browning reveals that her love and passion is one that defies temporality: "I shall but love thee better after death"(14). The concluding line discloses that she does not fear that her love for Robert will cease to exist, but rather, if God permits, will be a love that grows stronger even after death. Alluding to religion: "and, if God choose"(13), creates the notion of a love that is eternal and transcendent, characterising her love as something that exists outside the context of temporality.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning's sonnet "How do I love thee?..." is both rhetorically and passionately effective. Her passion and love is clearly evident in the literary text that she has addressed explicitly to Robert. It becomes evident that sonnet is both poetically and vividly effective; expressing her passion and love through the execution of figurative language, tropological usage and poetic rhythm. Barrett Browning successfully employs the use of poetical devices and techniques that account for the overall effect and impact of her work.