The sonnet’s most prominent theme is love. The speaker’s love is multifaceted and is compared to her various experiences from life. Her love is initially described as an otherworldly force that comes from deep within her soul. The speaker then contrasts this image with the description of a calmer, more mundane love that sustains her on a daily basis. Her love is then compared to the humble efforts of mankind in wishing to do good for the world without a need to be praised. Love then takes on a passionate tone once more, as the speaker proceeds to compare her feelings to the intensity that arises from spirituality and the childlike innocence of believing in goodness. The sonnet as a whole describes how the love the speaker feels for her husband consumes her body and soul, and it relays the hope that she can continue to love him even more once she is gone.
The speaker’s identity seems to be defined by her love for her husband. Her love manifests itself physically, spiritually, and morally—essentially, in every aspect of her being. The speaker’s love is so intense that it is described as contained within her breath, smiles, and tears. Her love appears to physically sustain her in life. Her love is also exalted to the point of spirituality, as she cares for her husband the way she once cared for “saints”—people or religious figures she once fervently admired. She further elaborates that she hopes God will allow her to love her husband in the afterlife, giving her affection a religious power. Her moral sense of self is also highlighted, as she describes her feelings as natural, pure, and just—as one might describe people striving to help one another through humble, selfless acts. Her love is a pure and righteous act, just as one person might selflessly help another.
The speaker makes references to her spirituality and belief in God. She equates her feelings for her husband to the intensity with which she once revered the “lost saints” of her life. These saints may refer to people—or even religious figures—whom she once believed in deeply. The mention of God at the sonnet’s conclusion illustrates that the speaker is still a religious person. She believes that God has the power to decide whether or not she will be able to love her husband from beyond the grave.
Sonnet 43 (How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.) Questions and Answers
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Study Guide for Sonnet 43 (How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.)
Sonnet 43 (How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.) study guide contains a biography of Elizabeth Browning, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.