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How Do I Love Thee?


In 1846, at the age of 40, the British poet Elizabeth Barrett first met Robert Browning, a renowned man of letters. At the time, Barrett was an unmarried, drug addicted (morphine), semi-invalid (she had injured her spine in a fall from a pony in 1821), who was living with her father, a neurotic, autocratic man who had forbidden his children to ever marry.

Barrett and Browning, however, fell in love so, in order to avoid the dictates of her father, they courted in secrecy. Within a short time, they eloped to Italy, where they were soon married.

Barrett, an accomplished poet, wrote a large number of beautiful love poems to her husband. In 1850, she published 44 of these poems as a collection entitled Sonnets from the Portuguese. The title comes from the fact that Browning often called his wife "my little Portuguese", because of her dark complexion. Of all the sonnets, the most famous is #43, which begins "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways?"

Here is the entire sonnet, which I am sure you will agree is one of the most romantic poems you have ever read:

Sonnets from the Portuguese, #43
by Elizabeth Barrett-Browning (1850)

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 candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the 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 with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

As you can see, Elizabeth Barrett-Browning was a superb, highly skilled poet. However, if she had one fault, it was that she was a tad old-fashioned. As a public service, then, here is a more up-to-date version of the sonnet, suitably improved for a modern audience.

As you might imagine, rewriting the sonnet was not an easy task, but I have never been one to shirk from my duty as a writer.

Truly, in the service of romance, we are all slaves.

Sonnets from the Internet, #43
by Harley Hahn (2003)

How do I access thee? Let me count the ways.
I access thee to the depth and breadth and height
Your topology can reach, when connecting out of sight
For the ends of bandwidth and ideal servers.
I look at thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by Web site and email.
I look at thee freely, as men strive for data;
I look at thee purely, as they turn from spam.
I look at thee with the hypertext put to use
In my old browsers, and with my childhood's graphics.
I look at thee with a resolution I seem to lose
With my lost pixels — I look at thee with the bits,
Bytes, folders, of all my data! — and, if God choose,
I shall but look at thee better after losing my connection.