Elizabeth Barrett Browning was born in County Durham in 1806, a sickly child who suffered from severe migraines and a constant spinal pain that was to see her not only become addicted to laudanum in adult life but live in constant fear and expectation of imminent death.
In what was to become one of the great love stories of the Victorian era in her late 30’s, and after being diagnosed with tuberculosis, she met fellow poet Robert Browning who courted her despite Elizabeth’s failing health and the disapproval of her father who would later disinherited her.
The new Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning were, a loving couple but they didn’t always see eye-to-eye and their disagreements were often played out in the letters columns of various newspapers.
Despite her always frail health Elizabeth remained an active campaigner against slavery and the exploitation of child labour.
She was also one of the most popular poets of her time, so much so that she was considered a serious rival to Alfred, Lord Tennyson for the position of Poet Laureate vacated by the death of William Wordsworth at a time when a woman was expected to be the ‘Angel in the House’ and little more.
How Do I Love Thee, was published in 1850, five years before Elizabeth’s death, and remains one of the most popular and enduring love poems in the English language.
How Do I Love Thee
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, — I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.