We are coming to the end of Week 6 of the 10 Premodern Poems by Women public online course by Stanford University. The featured poem this week was ‘How do I love thee?’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. It is touted as one of the most beautiful poems of the 19th century.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s life story is one of those marvelous stories that surpassed works of fiction and the silver screen in interest and excitement. It had all the makings of an epic, a blockbuster love story with the added element of triumphing against the odds.
When she was 15, Elizabeth developed an ailment and became frail. Some scholars speculated that she might have suffered from a spinal disfigurement. Elizabeth had a very domineering father, who actually encouraged her frailty. She spent her days in a darkened room upstairs, receiving a few visitors every day. It was quite a depressing scene. By early afternoon, she would already be exhausted.
However, at that time, Elizabeth had already become a well-known poet. One of her visitors turned out to be Robert Browning, one of the most popular poets of the time. He came to pay his addresses to her and to tell her that he absolutely loved her poetry. He was four to five years younger than her.
This went on for a few years. All that time, she still considered herself too frail to have a life. Her father was not a help at all. In fact, the man did not even want Elizabeth or any of his other children to marry.
Somewhere along the line, Robert Browning finally persuaded her to leave her house and try for her own life. She was almost 40. They actually did that – they eloped to Italy! Elizabeth and Robert had a son and were very productive poets in Italy. However, her father was so disappointed, he never spoke to her again.
Till this day, ‘How do I love thee?’ remained one of the most compelling poems of the 19th century. It is considered to be one of the best written, and one of the best managed sonnets.
‘How Do I Love Thee?’ (Sonnet 43)
By Elizabeth Barrett Browning
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 everyday’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 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.
My Poem for Week 6
Since Week 3, one of the three weekly assignment questions would be on poetry writing, and I’d always choose that one. It’s the only one I like (if normal people actually liked to do assignments). 🙂
Question 3 was straightforward enough – write a sonnet! Must be fourteen lines with a rhyme scheme, preferably ten syllables per line.
I chose to write a sonnet using the Italian rhyming scheme: abba abba cdecde (taken from here). The sonnet is 14 lines long, and has 10 syllables in each line.
The inspiration for my poem: (1) Sting’s ‘Every Breath You Take’, and (2) Mother’s Day (May) and Father’s Day (June).
Here’s my poem:
EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE
Every breath that you take, I watch from above
From the depths of my soul, I miss you so
Every breath you take, everywhere you go
A gaze so soft, like the down of a dove
Every hurt you take; cushioned with my glove
From the depths of my heart, I miss you so
Every breath you take, everything you know
I’m looking out for you, from far above
Dear child, hold your head up high; don’t give up
Walk out that door and give it your best shot
Wipe away those tears; don’t give in to fears
So easy to grow weary and fed up
Rise; seize the day; do you believe me not?
Know that you always have my blessings, dear
A sonnet by
Khor Hui Min
11 May 2015
Now, here is the poem again with the rhyming scheme shown:
(A) Every breath that you take, I watch from above
(B) From the depths of my soul, I miss you so
(B) Every breath you take, everywhere you go
(A) A gaze so soft, like the down of a dove
(A) Every hurt you take; cushioned with my glove
(B) From the depths of my heart, I miss you so
(B) Every breath you take, everything you know
(A) I’m looking out for you, from far above
(C) Dear child, hold your head up high; don’t give up
(D) Walk out that door and give it your best shot
(E) Wipe away those tears; don’t give in to fears
(C) So easy to grow weary and fed up
(D) Rise; seize the day; do you believe me not?
(E) Know that you always have my blessings, dear
To visit the Stanford University public online courses page, click here.