How Do I Love Thee?

This study guide will help you analyze the poem “How Do I Love Thee?” (1850) by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. You can also find a summary of the poem, as well as ideas for interpreting it and putting it into perspective.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 – 1861) was an English poet belonging to the Romantic movement. She achieved popularity for her poetry during her lifetime, particularly in the United Kingdom and the United States. “How Do I Love Thee?” is considered one of her most famous poems alongside “Aurora Leigh” (1856). She was married to writer Robert Browning and it is believed the poem “How Do I Love Thee?” was addressed to him.


Here, you can read an extract from our study guide:

Inner composition

The poem follows a linear composition taking the form of a list. 

The poem represents the speaker’s monologue where she describes her love. The first line of the poem starts with the question “How do I love thee?” which suggests the speaker has either been asked the question by her lover or she is thinking out loud. She then announces she will answer the question by saying “let me count the ways”.

The speaker then compares her love to different experiences in order to show the depth of her feelings. First, the speaker compares the extent of her love to the limits her soul can reach – using distance to quantify her love (ll. 2-4). She says her love extends past what human beings can see. The words “ideal grace” (l. 4) have a religious association and imply that her love is even beyond spiritual bounds. 

The second comparison sets her love against everyday experiences. She compares her love to the everyday “most quiet need” (ll. 5-6). Rather than the grandness of the spiritual, this comparison brings to mind a peaceful and enduring love that is continuously present through the day and night: “by sun and candle-light” (l. 6). 

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How Do I Love Thee?

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