How Do I Love Thee By Elizabeth Barrett Browning Meaning

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Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Background

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) was a British poet of the Victorian era. She was one of the most prominent female poets of the period and was renowned for her intense passion and love for her husband, Robert Browning. Browning’s work is renowned for its passionate, romantic style, and her poem “How Do I Love Thee” is one of her most famous works. In it, Browning expresses her love for her husband, who she married in 1846. The poem explores many themes, including the power of love, the beauty of devotion and the never-ending bond of marriage.

Analysis of the Poem

The poem is written in the sonnet form, consisting of 14 lines. It is composed of three quatrains and a couplet. In the quatrains, the speaker reflects on her feelings for her beloved, describing how deeply and completely she loves him. She speaks of different aspects of her love and devotes each quatrain to a different one. In the first quatrain, for example, she states that she loves him “with a love that no man can sever”, suggesting that her love for him will never end. The second quatrain refers to the power of her love and its ability to “grow stronger by weak opposition”. The third quatrain is devoted to her love for his inner beauty, describing her love as something that “bears it out even to the edge of doom”.
The couplet is composed of two contrasting elements: the first half speaks of the power of love, she says “If the whole world could look inside of my heart, it would find there the treasure of my dearest part”, while the second half speaks of the fragility of their love, “But if it had to perish twice, yet nothing could come close to my love for thee”. This contrast speaks to the paradoxical nature of true love – it is both powerful and vulnerable.

Meaning of the Poem

The poem can be interpreted in a variety of ways, depending on the individual reader. However, one of its main meanings is a declaration of undying love. The speaker is telling her beloved that she will love him forever and that her love is strong enough to defy even the most difficult of obstacles. The poem is a reminder to readers that love, even in the face of death, can still be strong and powerful. It is also a reminder that love should be cherished and nurtured, and that the strength of a couple’s bond should not be taken for granted.

Symbolism in the Poem

The poem contains many symbols that are used to emphasize its themes and enhance its beauty. For example, the use of the phrase “edge of doom” could be seen as a reference to death, or the ultimate power over life. This symbol speaks to the strength of the speaker’s love and her dedication to her beloved despite the risk of death. Additionally, the image of “treasure” in the final line of the poem could be seen as a symbol for the beauty, wealth and value of true love.

Structure Analysis of How Do I Love Thee

The poem is written as a sonnet, and its structure is consistent with the traditional form of a sonnet. The poem consists of 14 lines that are divided into three quatrains and a couplet. Each quatrain introduces a new thought or idea and develops a particular theme, while the couplet is used to provide a summary or conclusion to the poem. The poem also uses alternating rhyme and has an ABAB rhyme scheme, with the rhymes emphasizing the themes and ideas in the poem.

Comparison to Other Works

When compared to other works of the period, “How Do I Love Thee” stands out as a unique expression of love and devotion. Unlike other works of the period, it does not romanticize love as a fragile emotion but instead celebrates it as something that stands against the odds of life and death. This is in contrast to the works of the Romantic poets, who tend to focus more on the emotional aspects of love and its fragility.

Critical Reception of How Do I Love Thee

Since its publication in 1850, “How Do I Love Thee” has been widely praised. Critics have noted its emotional power and its exploration of love as a powerful force that transcends death. It has been said to encapsulate the “essence of true love” and likened to a “devotional hymn”. The poem has also been seen as a tribute to the undying bond between two people who are in love, and has been cited as a source of inspiration by many.

Language Analysis of How Do I Love Thee

The language of “How Do I Love Thee” is powerful and evocative. The use of vivid imagery and strong words serve to emphasize the emotion and power of the speaker’s love for her beloved. The use of adjectives such as “great”, “deeper” and “stronger” deepen the intensity of the poem, while the use of religious terms such as “doom” and “heaven” give it a spiritual quality. All of these devices combine to create a poem that is deeply moving and powerful.

Interpretation of How Do I Love Thee

The poem “How Do I Love Thee” can be interpreted as a tribute to the beauty and power of true love. The speaker is telling her beloved that she loves him deeply and completely, and that nothing will ever change that. The poem also speaks to the idea that love is strong enough to defy even death, a reminder of the importance of cherishing and nurturing one’s relationship.


Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem “How Do I Love Thee” is a powerful declaration of love that has resonated with readers for centuries. The poem speaks to its readers of the power and beauty of true love, and its themes have inspired readers around the world. Through its passionate words and vivid imagery, the poem is a reminder of the importance of cherishing and nurturing relationships.

Dannah Hannah is an established poet and author who loves to write about the beauty and power of poetry. She has published several collections of her own works, as well as articles and reviews on poets she admires. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, with a specialization in poetics, from the University of Toronto. Hannah was also a panelist for the 2017 Futurepoem book Poetry + Social Justice, which aimed to bring attention to activism through poetry. She lives in Toronto, Canada, where she continues to write and explore the depths of poetry and its influence on our lives.

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