Saturday, December 3, 2011

SPM English Literature: Sonnet 43


There are many facets with regard to love. Discuss. 
‘Sonnet 43: How do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways’ is an elegant, heartfelt, romantic yet gracefully simple poem written by Elizabeth Barrrett Browning for her husband, Robert Browning. This sonnet celebrates the many facets of love. 
The sonnet begins with a rhetorical question — ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways’. This line in itself suggests that there is no one way to love someone, but that love can be shown in many different aspects of life. Elizabeth Browning goes on to describe the ways in which she loves her husband — “I love thee to the depth and breadth and height / My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight”. The ‘depth and breadth and height’ mentioned here is traditionally used to describe a spiritual sort of love for God. As such, Elizabeth Browning suggests that one may love one’s partner with similar magnitude and devotion typically reserved God. The word ‘reach’ in the following line is dramatic, as though it is difficult to attain such heights of divine love. 
Aside from loving in a spiritual dimension, love also encompasses our daily existence. Browning writes, “For the ends of Being and ideal Grace. / I love thee to the level of everyday’s / Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.” The word ‘ends’ suggests that love is stretched to its limit; the word ‘Being’, on the other hand, connotes one’s existence. When one truly loves someone else, one’s existence will be devoted to loving one’s partner to the limits. Besides, as love encompasses one’s existence, it is constant throughout the days and the the nights. Elizabeth Browning attests to this, using imagery of the ‘sun’ to represent day and ‘candle-light’ to represent night. Regardless of time and circumstance, pure love will continue to shine.
Besides that, love is selfless, unbounded and sincere. In the sonnet, Elizabeth Browning writes: “I love thee freely, as men strive for Right”. Elizabeth Browning wrote the sonnet at a time when the anti-slavery movement was at its height, and she compares her love for Robert Browning to the intensity of men fighting for freedom. In addition, the word ‘freely’ can also be interpreted to mean that one should love willingly and without compulsion. In the following line, Elizabeth Browning writes: “I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise”. Love should be sincere and virtuous; it should give and not expect admiration and praise in return. This unconditional love is the highest form of love for it has no ulterior motives. 
Love may also be seen as balm to a wounded soul. Both Elizabeth Browning’s brother and mother died in her lifetime, causing her to grieve immensely. However, when she fell in love with Robert Browning, she loved him with the same kind of passion and intensity she felt when mourning over the deaths of her brother and mother. Love and anguish are both exceedingly intense feelings, and in that light, Elizabeth Browning makes it clear that one may be able to substitute for another. This can be seen in the line: “I love thee with the passion put to use / In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.’ 
Furthermore, love is an all-encompassing element — it goes beyond emotions, and perhaps even life itself. The line, “I love thee with the breath, / Smiles, tears, of all my life!” reflects the universal nature of love. The word ‘breath’ connotes one’s life, while ‘Smiles’ and ‘tears’ reflect the emotions that we all go through in life. Whether one is happy or sad, love remains as life’s constant variable. Elizabeth Browning then proceeds to highlight the eternal quality of love, as can be seen in the line, “— and, if God choose, / I shall but love thee better after death”. The end of one’s life does not necessarily denote the end of love, but rather, love may continue to flourish even after death. Elizabeth Browning promises this for her husband.
In conclusion, love is a beautiful, multifaceted thing and it encompasses all of life. In fact, the purest form of love even goes beyond life itself and continues after death. At all times, at all places, we should always strive to love sincerely, unconditionally and purely. 

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