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Elizabeth Barrett Browning Sonnet XLIII Commentary

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Introduction

Written Commentary Olivia Braley October 2011 Commentary of Sonnet XLIII During her lifetime, poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning was widely known as one of the most prominent poets of the Victorian era. Her Sonnet XLIII, published in 1850, was written in the Italian format and set in iambic pentameter. Sonnet XLIII was one of a series of 44 sonnets entitled Sonnets From the Portuguese, which she composed in secret to express her extraordinary love for her fiance, Robert Browning. In Sonnet XLIII, Elizabeth Barrett Browning professes her passion and devotion towards her beloved, emphasizing how the love that she feels is both intense and eternal. In Sonnet XLIII, the first line of the octave is unique in that it begins the poem by posing a question. When she asks, "How do I love thee?" Browning intends for the question to be rhetorical; it is put into her sonnet to create a contemplative mood and give a preview of what was to be the focus of her sonnet. In doing this, Browning has, in the first 5 words of Sonnet XLIII, directly proposed the question or theme that is commonly addressed in the octave of an Italian sonnet. ...read more.

Middle

Line 7 reads "I love thee freely, as men strive for Right." With this simile, Browning illustrates her love as existing without interference or outside pressures. She then goes further to compare the intensity of her love to the fervor of men who fight for any supremely just cause. Line 8 mirrors the structure of line 6, using another simile that creates a connection between her personal feelings and a broader societal affair. In saying "I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise," Elizabeth Barrett Browning is describing her love as being genuine, originating in her, and her alone, and unconditional, needing nothing in return. She seeks no reward for her love, as noble men ask no reward for their noble deeds. Both lines 7 and 8 contain repetition of the phrase "I love thee," just as in line 5, line 2, and line 1. This extreme reiteration of this phrase is significant, for it displays the idea of everlasting love in a literal sense, and gives the feeling that Browning is literally counting off the ways that she loves Robert Browning, as she eludes to in line 1, "Let me count the ways." The final 6 lines of Sonnet XLIII make up the sestet of the poem, in which Browning develops her feeling in a more personal manor and reaches her conclusion regarding the theme. ...read more.

Conclusion

In these lines, Browning is implying that she loves this man with all aspects of her life, but, God-willing, their love will transcend the boundaries of life and death, becoming eternal and immortal. Elizabeth Barrett Browning composed many beautiful works of literature, making her one of the most famous poets of her time. In Sonnet XLIII, the octave creates broad, impersonal analogies, drawing comparison between the poet's love and overarching political and religious ideologies, whereas the succeeding sestet draws more personal analogies, equating the intensity of love that she as an individual experienced whilst writing the poem to the intensity of emotions that she has experienced in various situations earlier in her life. Her use of iambic pentameter, with no irregularities or deviations is equally as steadfast and unfaltering as her love for her fianc�, Robert Browning. The tone of this piece indicates that the writer finds her emotions to be singularly her own, unparalleled and exalted as compared to the feelings of all others. Through the use of literary conventions as well as structure and passion, Elizabeth Barrett Browning effectively expressed her devotion towards her betrothed, Robert Browning, putting emphasis how her love is immutable and everlasting. ...read more.

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