The poem How Do I Love Thee? Essay
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The sound of the poem is measured, rhythmic and quiet and the poet’s use of alliteration, assonance and sibilance give a sense of a hushed, calm tone. Her choice of diction, enjambment and the chosen rhythm of iambic pentameter gives a precise and unhurried feel to the sound of the poem. The reader senses the poet’s passion and enduring love in a gentle way and is left with a feeling that the poets life spent within doors, quietly considering her love of Browning, is reflected in the poem – particularly with the line “I love thee to the level of every day’s Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light”.
Other poetic techniques used to convey the ever lasting and deep love displayed in the poem is the use of enjambment in lines 2 and 3, 5 and 6, 9 and 10, and in lines 11 and 12. Her use of enjambment conveys the freedom, continuance and endurance of her love and allows the poem to flow freely. The poet also uses parallelism in the lines 7 and 8: “I love thee freely, as men strive for Right; I love thee purely as they turn from Praise.
” By repeating similar syntax in these lines, she emphasises that her love is both free and pure; but these lines also represent the same fervour of dedication to the rights of man that both Barrett Browning and her new husband would have felt. As Liberals and Romantic poets, both Robert Browning and Barrett Browning would have felt the same passion for liberty, fraternity and equality, and the lines 7 and 8 reflect both the poets and Robert Browning’s opinions, maintaining a familiarity of belief between the lovers.
Hyperbole is used by Barrett Browning to express the extremes of her love and is shown clearly in lines 2, 12 and 13. The lines are: “I love thee with the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach” and “I love thee with the breath smiles, tears of all my life”. By using hyperbole to exaggerate and emphasise the boundless and limitless extremities of her love she is conveying her love to be eternal, without restraint and endless. The poet also uses tripling in these lines which may convey her sense of the divine within the trinity of God as well as making an emphasis on the depth of her love.
The shape of the poem can be separated into an octave and a sestet, where, in line 9, the “volta”, shows a change in the content of the poem. In the octave, Barrett Browning is conveying her love to be in the present, using terms to declare her love in the now. However, the volta shows a change in tense and within the sestet the poet is referring her love to her past. Here, she is comparing her love to the “old griefs” and her “childhood’s faith”, and that she loves “with a love I seemed to lose With my lost saints”.
By using the present and past tenses in the octave and sestet she is declaring her love to be eternal, limitless and without the constraints of time. She refers to her past and present, and in the final line, to her future. The last line “I shall but love thee better after death” refers to her love enduring after death, into her own future and beyond. With there not being a gap between the octave and sestet, and the poem reading as a whole of fourteen lines, the poet is conveying her love to be entire, complete, and unbreakable and given wholly.
The poem is rich with alliteration and imagery and conveys her love to be both deep and eternal. The poem is a declaration of her love for Robert Browning, and with various religious connotations, likens her love to that of her love for God, God’s love for man and her love for Robert Browning as being one of the same. The poem can be read as a vow to Browning, made before God, showing her everlasting and enduring love for him; and the promise found within the poem is encircled by the love of God.
Barrett Browning conveys deep and eternal love through her choice of diction by declaring her love in eight ways; by her reference to her present, past and future and showing her love to be constant throughout her life; her use of alliteration, representing “love”, and assonance, representing “I” and “thee”; her emphasis of meaning through her use of parallelism and the sense of enduring, timeless love through her use of enjambment and her soft, quiet use of the tone and sound of the poem.
The reader is left with a lasting impression of the deep and enduring love Barrett Browning conveys in the poem, and the poem remains on of the most famous love poems in literature.