Sep. 19, 2003

Sonnet 43: How do I love thee, let me count the ways

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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Poem: "XLIII," by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, from Sonnets from the Portuguese and Other Love Poems (Random House).


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 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.

Literary Notes:

It's the anniversary of the day in 1846 that poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning eloped. Robert Browning was a struggling poet at the time: his latest book, Sordello, had gotten horrible reviews, and people accused him of being too obscure. Elizabeth Barrett was thirty-eight years old, constantly sick, and living under the care of her overprotective father. In 1844, Robert Browning read a newly published collection of poems by Elizabeth Barrett. He wrote her a telegram that said, "I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett .... I do ... love these books with all my heart—and I love you too." Elizabeth was alarmed by how direct he was, and she wrote to a friend that his letter "threw (her) into ecstasies." Over the next twenty months, Elizabeth and Robert exchanged 574 letters. They met for the first time in 1845. Elizabeth's father didn't want her to marry, so they courted in secret and eloped to Florence the following year, where they spent the rest of their married life. Elizabeth's father never spoke to her again.

On this day in 1819 the young poet John Keats took a trip to Winchester, England and wrote a poem called "To Autumn." The idea for it came while he was out walking in the countryside. He wrote to a friend, "Somehow a stubble plain looks warm—in the same way that some pictures look warm—this struck me so much in my Sunday's walk that I composed upon it." He was 23 years old and near the end of his very short career. "To Autumn" begins, "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, / Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun / Conspiring with him how to load and bless / With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run."

It's the birthday of the man who wrote Lord of the Flies (1954), William Golding, born in Cornwall, England (1911). He became a schoolteacher in 1939. But his career was interrupted by World War II, and he joined the Navy. He was a lieutenant in charge of a torpedo ship that sank the German battleship the Bismark, and he fought at the Invasion of Normandy. Golding was shocked by the violence and cruelty of war. Shortly after he came home, he wrote Lord of the Flies, about a group of boys who become stranded on a desert island and struggle for survival. One of the boys tries to establish a democracy, but a bunch of boys break off from the main group and it turns into violent anarchy. Golding compared the boys' actions to the savagery that he saw in the war. He said Lord of the Flies was "an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature." The book was rejected by 21 publishers before it was finally printed in 1954. It became an international bestseller.

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