Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Poems

Romantic Language Comparison: How do I Love Thee? and Sonnet 116 12th Grade

Both ‘How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 116’ explore the ideas of love and romance in the traditional form of a sonnet. Whereas Browning writes about the intense love she felt towards her husband-to-be in Sonnet 43, which was part of a series of sonnets written in secret, Shakespeare depicts what he believes the true qualities of love to be in a reflective attempt to define and understand what it is in its purest, and somewhat most idealized, form.

Both Browning and Shakespeare present love in an overtly romanticized manner, employing enjambment to create flowing rhythms which suggest the boundlessness of their love, and the continual joy it brings. Shakespeare metaphorically proposes that love ‘is an ever-fixed mark’ which ‘looks on tempests, and is never shaken’. This use of sea imagery illustrates Shakespeare’s belief that true love is immortal, ‘ever-fixed’, and once established can never be lost. The praising tone indicates that he strongly believes love defies all ‘impediments’, thus insinuating that it can and will survive the most severe of obstacles, even a ‘tempest’. Shakespeare perhaps intentionally draws our attention to the line ‘o no; it is an ever-fixed mark’...

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