How Do I Love Thee Elizabeth Barrett Browning Summary

Background Information

‘How do I Love Thee?’ is one of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s most recognized pieces of poetry written in 1845 when she was just 24 years old. Inspired by her love for her future husband Robert Browning, the poem is the ultimate love letter to him and expresses the depth of her devotion and strong emotion. The poem is written in an abbaabba form, which is simple and elegant, yet powerful and effective. The speaker in the poem sings his love for the lover with typical Victorian sentimentality.

Content Analysis

The poem begins with the speaker declaring that she loves her beloved more than any “word or deed” could ever describe. She expresses that she loves him not just for the immediate present, but for the long run too, even after her physical death. The central image of the poem is that of two lovers speaking with each other from a distance, as if they were two travelers who were unable to cross a great divide. This image underlies the entire poem, as it suggests the tremendous longing of love between two people who are separated.
The final verse encapsulates the heart of the poem: the speaker claims that her love will continue beyond her physical death. Thus, this poem celebrates the enduring commitment of a love that transcends even death itself. The poem is both beautiful and heartbreaking in its depiction of a love so deep and so powerful that it persists even after life’s end.
The poem’s structure is straightforward and simple, but also powerful in its emphasis on the lasting nature of true love. The poem is composed of two stanzas, each consisting of two quatrains. Each of the quatrains has its own internal rhyme scheme, which helps to unify the poem. The poem’s central idea is the idea that eternity surpasses the limits of the human lifetime, as demonstrated by the speaker’s devotion to her beloved that will persist even after her death.

Data Sources

The poem is often interpreted as an expression of Barrett Browning’s devotion to her beloved Robert Browning, whom she married in September 1845. This interpretation is supported by her other works, such as the love sonnets Sequence of Sonnets of the Portuguese, which she wrote before she was married to him. Scholars have argued that Barrett Browning’s love poems reflect a shift in her poetry from religious themes to the personal and human expressions of love.
The poem has also been compared to other love poems of the Victorian era, such as Alfred Tennyson’s “The Lotos Eaters.” The comparison demonstrates the persistence of love’s themes in the Victorian era, suggesting a commonality of experience among the writers of this period.

Expert Perspectives

According to experts in the field, the poem is an example of Barrett Browning’s romantic preference for the side of nature and human emotion and her love for the idea of two lovers transcending their physical world. The poem is a testimony to Barrett Browning’s strong emotion as well as her belief in the power of love to endure beyond the limits of physical death.
One notable scholar has argued that the poem, in its own unique way, expresses the yearning for a kind of spiritual union between two lovers. This union is not just physical but also metaphysical, transcending the physical world and existing in an eternal spirit of devotion and love.


The poem “How Do I Love Thee?” is a powerful expression of Barrett Browning’s passionate devotion to her beloved Robert Browning. It expresses her belief in the power of love to surpass physical death and to exist as an indestructible force in the physical world. Through a simple yet powerful rhyme scheme, the poem conveys the speaker’s longing for a spiritual union that transcends the physical world.
The poem is evidence not just of Barrett Browning’s love for Robert Browning but also of her devotion to the romantic idea of true love and its transcendent power. It is a testament to the enduring nature of love, and it is no surprise that the poem has become a classic of the Victorian era.

Style Techniques

The poem is written in an abbaabba form, with a repeating internal rhyme scheme for each quatrain. This simple structure serves to emphasize the poem’s central theme of an eternal love, as the poem’s structure creates a sense of continuity and unity in the text. Additionally, the poem’s brevity and simplicity helps to convey Curtis’s strong emotion and passion.
Furthermore, the poem utilizes imagery to great effect, as the image of a great divide between the speaker and her beloved serves as a metaphor for the persistent longing of love. Overall, Barrett Browning’s use of imagery, simple structure, and rhyme scheme creates a powerful yet elegant work that speaks to the power of love and devotion.

Original Insights

What struck me as I read “How Do I Love Thee?” was the juxtaposition of a deep longing and devotion combined with a stillness and calmness. The poem expresses an intense emotion but without any trace of hysteria or melodrama. This is due to Barrett Browning’s masterful handling of style and language in the poem. The poem’s simple structure and simple language are effective tools for conveying the true emotions behind her words.
The poem also demonstrates Barrett Browning’s love of nature and her use of nature imagery to express her own emotions. This is exemplified in the poem’s central image of two lovers separated by a river. This image captures the intensity of the speaker’s longing for her beloved and creates a powerful metaphor for an eternal love.

Historic Relevance

“How Do I Love Thee?” is an enduring classic of the Victorian era, and its themes of enduring love and devotion are as relevant today as they were during Barrett Browning’s time. The poem has been widely anthologized and is studied in universities around the world. Its power lies in its universal themes coupled with its simple yet effective poetic structure.
The poem can also be seen in the context of the culture and values of the Victorian era. During this period, romantic love was seen as a powerful force that could transcend the physical world and exist as an eternal connection between two people. Barrett Browning’s poem captures this idea perfectly, emphasizing the power and immortality of love.

Modern Interpretation

In our modern age, the poem has taken on a new relevance as the themes of eternal love and devotion are still highly relevant. The poem speaks to the idea of a love that cannot be contained by the physical world and is instead an entity that exists in the spirit, beyond death and all physical limitations.
This idea is particularly relevant in our modern times, where love is often viewed as something fleeting or ephemeral and lasting love is seen as something that is increasingly difficult to come by. The poem speaks to the power of true, unconditional love and speaks to the idea of a lasting connection that can exist beyond the physical world.


The poem has been widely praised for its emotional depth and the strength of its language. It has been hailed as one of Barrett Browning’s greatest works and is often considered one of the best love poems of the Victorian era. The poem has also been praised for its poetic structure, as critics have noted that its simplicity and brevity allow the poem to pack a powerful emotional punch.
The poem has generated a great deal of critical analysis, as scholars have sought to unpack the complexity of the poem’s themes and imagery. In doing so, they have sought to interpret the poem from

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.

Leave a Comment