The Love Letter

Posted by M ws On Tuesday, February 28, 2012 2 comments
A poem from the Victorian era that I have loved since a young teenager in the throes of first love is "How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861).

How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)

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 purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with a 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.

~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) ~
from Sonnets from the Portuguese


Between 1845 and 1846, Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote the forty-four poems/love sonnets that became Sonnets from the Portuguese while she was being courted by Robert Browning. From then till now, the collection, especially "How Do I Love Thee?" is widely acclaimed and greatly loved by many all over the world. Many regard it as the greatest love poem of all time.

Written in her Italian days at the Casa Guidi, Elizabeth Barrett Browning was actually addressing her husband who used to call her 'My little Portuguese" as she was dark.

According to Wikipedia HERE:

The courtship and marriage between Robert Browning and Elizabeth were carried out secretly as she and her siblings were convinced their father would disapprove. Six years his elder and an invalid, she could not believe that the vigorous and worldly Robert Browning really loved her as much as he professed to. After a private marriage at St. Marylebone Parish Church, they honeymooned in Paris. Browning then imitated his hero Shelley by spiriting his wife off to Italy, in September 1846, which became her home almost continuously until her death. Elizabeth's loyal nurse, Wilson, who witnessed the marriage, accompanied the couple to Italy.

Mr. Barrett disinherited Elizabeth, as he did each of his children who married. Elizabeth had foreseen her father's anger but not expected the disgust of her brothers, who saw Browning as a lower-class gold-digger and refused to see him. As Elizabeth had some money of her own, the couple were reasonably comfortable in Italy, and their relationship together was harmonious. The Brownings were well respected in Italy, and even famous. Elizabeth grew stronger and in 1849, at the age of 43, between four miscarriages, she gave birth to a son, Robert Wiedemann Barrett Browning, whom they called Pen. Their son later married but had no legitimate children. At her husband's insistence, the second edition of Elizabeth’s Poems included her love sonnets; as a result, her popularity increased (as well as critical regard), and her position was confirmed.
Please CLICK HERE to read more about her life and you would be thoroughly amazed to discover how precocious she was as a child. Despite the many struggles and challenges she experienced, she remained positive and productive, even as an invalid. In Italy where she and her beloved husband lived, they hobnobbed with other brilliant artists and writers such as William Makepeace Thackeray, sculptor Harriet Hosmer, Harriet Beecher Stowe,Margaret Fuller and the female French novelist George Sand. They met with Lord Tennyson in Paris, and John Forster, Samuel Rogers, and the Carlyles in London, later befriending Charles Kingsley and John Ruskin. With such an inspiring circle of friends, it is no wonder that each of them were prolific in their own right leaving a legacy of brilliant literary works for us to remember them!

Personally, I regard this poem as the ultimate epitome of love poems where the writer just pours out the emotions of her heart in every single word simply and yet sublimely! Try reading it aloud and you might have goosebumps on your skin, especially from Lines 9-12.

It is not easy to write sonnets. A sonnet is a poem of fourteen lines that follows a strict rhyme scheme and specific structure. A Shakespearean, or English, sonnet consists of 14 lines, each line containing ten syllables and written in iambic pentameter, in which a pattern of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable is repeated five times. The rhyme scheme in a Shakespearean sonnet is a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f, g-g; the last two lines are a rhyming couplet. (Source: Wikipedia)

This post is actually a distraction because I woke up early to finish grading my essays before I hang my laundry and then I am off to college for my lecture. Yet, in between my marking, this poem came to my mind and I was inspired to write about it.

Interestingly, the love letters did not flow one way for Robert Browning also wrote beautiful mails to reciprocate her outburst of love to him. In fact, it was her 1844 volume Poems which shot her to fame that inspired Robert Browning to write to her, telling her how much he loved her work.

He had been an admirer of her poetry for a long time and wrote "I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett" praising their "fresh strange music, the affluent language, the exquisite pathos and true new brave thought".

Here is the original love letter he wrote to her on 10th September, 1846:

It might be easier to read this version without straining your eyes :-).

I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett, -- and this is no off-hand complimentary letter that I shall write, --whatever else, no prompt matter-of-course recognition of your genius and there a graceful and natural end of the thing: since the day last week when I first read your poems, I quite laugh to remember how I have been turning again in my mind what I should be able to tell you of their effect upon me -- for in the first flush of delight I though I would this once get out of my habit of purely passive enjoyment, when I do really enjoy, and thoroughly justify my admiration -- perhaps even, as a loyal fellow-craftsman should, try and find fault and do you some little good to be proud of herafter! -- but nothing comes of it all -- so into me has it gone, and part of me has it become, this great living poetry of yours, not a flower of which but took root and grew ... oh, how different that is from lying to be dried and pressed flat and prized highly and put in a book with a proper account at bottom, and shut up and put away ... and the book called a 'Flora', besides!
After all, I need not give up the thought of doing that, too, in time; because even now, talking with whoever is worthy, I can give reason for my faith in one and another excellence, the fresh strange music, the affluent language, the exquisite pathos and true new brave thought -- but in this addressing myself to you, your own self, and for the first time, my feeling rises altogether. I do, as I say, love these Books with all my heart -- and I love you too: do you know I was once seeing you?
Mr. Kenyon said to me one morning "would you like to see Miss Barrett?" -- then he went to announce me, -- then he returned ... you were too unwell -- and now it is years ago -- and I feel as at some untoward passage in my travels -- as if I had been close, so close, to some world's-wonder in chapel on crypt, ... only a screen to push and I might have entered -- but there was some slight ... so it now seems ... slight and just-sufficient bar to admission, and the half-opened door shut, and I went home my thousands of miles, and the sight was never to be!
Well, these Poems were to be -- and this true thankful joy and pride with which I feel myself.

Yours ever faithfully
Robert Browning

No wonder she fell in love with him even though she was SIX years his senior and an invalid! I would swoon too if someone wrote to me that way :-). Apparently, Barrett wrote to a friend that Browning's letter 'threw her (me) into ecstasies'. Now that is romantic!!

In Love Letters: An Anthology of Passion, Michelle Lovric wrote about the letter seals used by Elizabeth and Robert. Robert used a signet ring bearing a seal of the Browning crest and motto, a lion rampant upon a shield above the word "Virtue.' Elizabeth's seal contained her 'pet' name, 'Ba.'

I know. That was in the 19th century and we are living in the 21st century. Still, there is no reason why you cannot write a love letter to the person who occupies your heart, mind and life today! :-) Such romantic gestures are rare and few in between. I remember how I used to wait everyday for the postman because my first love wrote to me EVERY single day. Mondays/Tuesdays were bonuses for there is always no mail on Sunday.

Try it, dear reader! You may not be Robert Browning but I am sure that you will touch the one you love today because you said it straight from your heart! Have a nice day! :-)

*Thanks to all friends and readers who sent me Get Well wishes. I am much better today! :-) And yes, I am running late!

2 comments to The Love Letter

  1. says:

    walla From Mary Haskell's journal on Kahlil Gibran's words:

    "With you, Mary," he said today, "I want to be just like a blade of grass, that moves as the air moves it - to talk just according to the impulse of the moment. And I do." (January 10 1914)

    "You have helped me in my work and in myself. And I have helped you in your work and in yourself. And I am grateful to heaven for this you-and-me." (12 March 1922)

    "Follow your heart. Your heart is the right guide in everything big. Mine is so limited. What you want to do is determined by that divine element that is in each of us." (12 March 1922)

    "That deepest thing, that recognition, that knowledge, that sense of kinship began the first time I saw you, and it is the same now - only a thousand times deeper and tenderer. I shall love you to eternity. I loved you long before we met in this flesh. I knew that when I first saw you. It was destiny. We are together like this and nothing can shake us apart." (12 March 1922)

    "The relation between you and me is the most beautiful thing in my life. It is the most wonderful thing that I have known in any life. It is eternal." (11 September 1922)

    "I care about your happiness just as you care about mine. I could not be at peace if you were not." (23 April 1923)

    "What difference does it make, whether you live in a big city or in a community of homes ? The real life is within." (27 May 1923)

    "You listen to so much more than I can say. You hear consciousness. You go with me where the words I say can't carry you." (5th June 1924)

    "No human relation gives one possession in another - every two souls are absolutely different. In friendship or in love, the two side by side raise hands together to find what one cannot reach alone." (8 June 1924)

    "What-to-Love is a fundamental human problem. And if we have this solution - Love what may Be- we see that this is the way Reality loves - and that there is no other loving that lasts or understands" (2 February 1925)

    "Life without love is like a tree without blossoms or fruit.

    And think not you can guide the course of love. For love, if it finds you worthy, shall guide your course."

    "A friend who is far away is sometimes much nearer than one who is at hand. Is the mountain not far more awe-inspiring and more clearly visible to one passing through the valley than to those who inhabit the mountain?"

  1. says:

    masterwordsmith My dear Walla

    I am speechless!!!

    Thank you so much for such a delightful complement to my post!!!

    You are truly a gem!!!

    Big hugs for you!!!

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