Text of the Poem

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 thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.


  1. Sonnet 43 is an example of apostrophe, which involves addressing something or someone who is unable to respond in the moment. In this poem, the speaker addresses a romantic interest who never appears. Apostrophe enables Browning to convey strong emotion in a way that is more concrete than simply discussing love as a concept.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. Browning includes a caesura in the first line of the poem. A caesura is a break or interruption, usually in the form of punctuation, within a unit of verse. Here, that unit is the metrical foot made by “thee” and “let.” Caesurae are regularly used to create variation in a poem’s rhythm; in this case, however, it isolates the phrase “How do I love thee?” in order to signal to the reader that the rest of the poem will answer this initial question.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. The question that opens the poem—“How do I love thee?”—is an example of aporia, the expression of real or pretended doubt in order to make a point. Browning employs aporia as a rhetorical device to emphasize the intensity of love that the speaker feels for her beloved.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. The noun “breadth” is another word for width, or the distance from side to side of something. The speaker suggests that love, which is generally considered to be an abstract concept, is a measurable entity that fills the space that her soul can reach.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. In repeating the phrase “I love thee” throughout the text, Browning uses anaphora, or the repetition of words or phrases at the beginning of successive lines. Anaphora, like most other forms of repetition, enables a speaker to emphasize her stance.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. While “end” is commonly read as the point at which something stops, it can also refer to something’s function or purpose. Here, it’s possible that Browning’s speaker is using it that way to describe a feeling of purposelessness.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. Lines three and four use assonance, or the repetition of vowel sounds in order to highlight important details in a text. By repeating words that contain an “ē” sound—“reach,” “feeling,” “being,” and “ideal”—Browning further emphasizes the magnitude of the speaker’s feelings.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. Browning employs simile in lines seven and eight. A simile is a literary device that compares two things by using the words “like” or “as.” In this context, the speaker compares herself to people who choose to do the right thing without expecting recognition. The reader is therefore encouraged to associate the speaker’s love with freedom of choice and humility.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. Browning alludes to the Christian saints, who are people recognized within their faith as being exceptionally virtuous, holy, or close to God. Depending on the Christian denomination, some saints are believed to have been chosen by God. The speaker suggests that her love for her beloved has replaced the love that she once felt for the saints of her “childhood’s faith.”

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff