I wrote recently about sharing romantic verse as we approach 14th February, Valentine’s Day. One way of showing how much you care is to write your own romantic verse to your other half. Here is a heartfelt poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning that counts out the ways in which she loved her then courtier, Robert 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 candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men might 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.
(XLIII, Sonnets from the Portuguese)
Elizabeth Barrett wrote 44 poems between 1845 to 1846, of which one was Sonnet 43, ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.’ At this time, she was still being courted by Robert Browning, whom Miss Barrett would eventually marry on 12 September 1846 at a clandestine wedding at St. Marylebone Parish Church, London. Her sonnets chronicle her emotional journey of romantic love for her future husband leading up to their marriage.
The title of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poems, Sonnets from the Portuguese, was so named to partly disguise and yet acknowledge the poems’ connection with her husband. Robert Browning’s pet name for his wife was ‘my little Portuguese’; and naming this collection of poems Sonnets from the Portuguese would give readers the impression that they were a translation of Portuguese verse whilst protecting the couple’s privacy. Sonnet 43 truly reflects the depth and sincerity of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s love for her husband. She was disowned and disinherited by her father because she dared to marry.
Today the Brownings are often known or remembered primarily for the unique love story of two poets joining their voices and lives together. In October 1997, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnet, “How Do I Love Thee,” tallied twice as many votes as any other poem to win the title “love poem of the year.” This familiar sonnet was first published in Poems (1850), where it took its place as “XLIII” in what is now considered one of the great sonnet sequences in English literature. Even if somewhat well-worn, it holds up as a timeless expression of the love and devotion that one poet felt for another.
And to celebrate your own romance, why not consider a breakaway from the usual mill of things and take a few days out in the beautiful Lake District, a land beloved of the Romantic Poets? Blenheim Lodge, our guest house in Bowness-on-Windermere, is a great place to relax in, with easy access on foot or vehicle to all those lovely spots in the Lake District that you can visit and enjoy together. We have en-suite rooms with Lake and mountain views ranging in price from £53.50 per person per night including breakfast, and special rates for longer stays of 3 or more nights over Valentine’s Day weekend. Just give us a call or email us for more details or to book.
Blenheim Lodge . . . panoramic Lake views, peace and tranquillity, nestled against acres of beautiful fields and woodlands, in the heart of the English Lake District National Park.’