This just might be the most familiar love poem of all time.
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.
~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning
A writing teacher once told me that with poetry, you have to make every word count. The opening lines of this poem have become the lexicon of love and romance, and it’s hard to imagine anyone having not heard them. They also serve as an excellent example of what that teacher told her students.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning led what many might consider a romantic life—courted by a fellow poet, living in Italy, working as a prolific and highly respected writer. What we believe about her life may be true or it may simply be a romantic ideal that’s been created over time. Either way, that romance is captured in the timelessness of her work.