43 is a love poem in the form of a sonnet. A
sonnet is a 14-line poem with
a specifc rhyme scheme and meter (usually iambic
pentameter). This poetry
format—which forces the
poet to wrap his thoughts in a small, neat package—originated
in Sicily, Italy, in the 13th Century with the sonnetto
little song), which could be read or sung
to the accompaniment of
English poets began writing poems in imitation of
these Italian poems,
they called them sonnets, a term coined
from sonnetto. Frequently,
the theme of a sonnet was love, or a theme related
to love. However, the
theme also sometimes centered on religion,
politics, or other topics. Poets
often wrote their sonnets as part of a series,
with each sonnet a sequel
to the previous one. For example, William
Shakespeare (1564-1616) wrote
a series of 154 sonnets on the theme of
Barrett Browning (1806-1861) wrote a series of 44
sonnets, in secret, about
the intense love she felt for her husband-to-be,
poet Robert Browning.
She called this series Sonnets From the
Portuguese, a title based
on the pet name Robert gave her: "my little
Portugee." Sonnet 43 was
the next-to-last sonnet in this series. In
composing her sonnets, she had
two types of sonnet formats from which to choose:
the Italian model popularized
by Petrarch (1304-1374) and the English model
popularized by Shakespeare
(1564-1616). She chose Petrarch's model. For an
in-depth discussion and
analysis of both sonnet models, click
1850, the London firm of Chapman and Hall
published Sonnet 22 and the other
poems in Sonnets from the Portuguese in Poems,
of an 1844 collection of the same name.
Scheme and Divisions
rhyme scheme of "Sonnet 43" is as follows: Lines 1
to 8—ABBA, ABBA; Lines
9 to 14—CD, CD, CD. Petrarch's sonnets also rhymed
ABBA and ABBA in the
first eight lines. But the remaining six
lines had one of the following
schemes: (1) CDE, CDE; (2) CDC, CDC; or (3) CDE,
DCE. The first eight lines
of a Petrarchan sonnet are called an octave; the
remaining six lines are
called a sestet. The octave presents the theme of
the poem; the sestet
offers a solution if there is a problem, provides
an answer if there is
a question, or simply presents further development
of the theme. In Browning's Sonnet 43, the octave
draws analogies between the poet's love and
and political ideals; the sestet draws analogies
between the intensity
of love she felt while writing the poem and the
intensity of love she experienced
earlier in her life. Then it says that she will
love her husband-to-be
even more after death, God permitting.
is in iambic
pentameter (ten syllables, or five feet, per
line with five pairs of
unstressed and stressed syllables), as lines 2 and 3
of the poem demonstrate.
43 expresses the poet’s intense love for her
husband-to-be, Robert Browning.
So intense is her love for him, she says, that it
rises to the spiritual
level (lines 3 and 4). She loves him freely, without
coercion; she loves
him purely, without expectation of personal gain.
She even loves him with
an intensity of the suffering (passion: line 9)
resembling that of Christ
on the cross, and she loves him in the way that she
loved saints as a child.
Moreover, she expects to continue to love him after
dominant figure of speech in the poem is anaphora—the
of I love thee in eight lines and I
shall but love thee
in the final line. This repetition builds rhythm
while reinforcing the
theme. Browning also uses alliteration,
as the following examples illustrate:
(Lines 1, 2, 5, 9, 12).
Right (Line 7)
Text of the
do I love thee?
Let me count the ways.
the poet's husband, Robert Browning
love thee to the depth
My soul can reach, when
feeling out of sight
. . . Grace: when my soul
feels its way into the spiritual realm
the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
of sight) to find the
goal of being alive and living
love thee to the level
love you enough to meet all of your
simple needs during the
quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
(sun) and even during the night
love thee freely,
as men strive for Right;
willingly—and just as intensely as men who
fight for freedom
love thee purely,
as they turn from Praise.
genuinely, without desire for praise
love thee with
the passion put to use
an intensity equal to that experienced
during suffering or
griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love you with the blind faith of a
love thee with
a loveI seemed to lose
. . . saints: with a
childlike fervor for saints and holiness
my lost saints!—I love thee
with the breath,
to lose when I grew
echoes breadth, Line 2
tears, of all my life!—and,
if God choose,
. . . life: perhaps too
shall but love
thee better after death.
love is eternal, never ending
Questions and Writing
sonnet about love,
religion, politics, or another topic.
an essay about how Elizabeth Barrett Browning
influenced other poets, including
Edgar Allan Poe.
an essay comparing and contrasting Elizabeth
Barrett Browning's love poetry
with that of her husband, Robert Browning.
the reaction of Elizabeth's father to her
marriage to Robert Browning?