14 February 2016

How Does He Love Thee? As Much As He Loves His Bike?

Pity Elizabeth Barrett Browning. While her husband wrote poems that tackled the Big Questions (including those of the very nature of poetry) and are in every anthology in the English language, she's seen as a "chick lit" poet.  Even if she'd written The Inferno or The Waste Land, she'd've never lived this line down:

            How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.

It certainly wouldn't look out of place in a Hallmark card.  But some of the greatest works of literature contain passages that, frankly, are even more banal. The problem with that line is that it's what comes first in the sonnet. The rest of becomes more serious, even darker:

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.

"I love thee with a love I seemed to lose/ With my lost saints."  Hmm...I wasn't expecting that with my box of Godiva.  "[A]nd if God choose/I shall but love the better after death."  I know that love is patient--but is it that patient?
Say what you will, but I actually like the poem. No, forget that:  I love it.  Somehow I believe Robert did, too, in his heart of hearts.  Had they been cyclists, one might have sent the other something like this:

Counting the ways I love you with every pedal stroke of my bicycle!

Being poets, they probably had a sense of humor.  (Believe it or not, verse and mirth are not mutually exclusive!)  So I could also see them exchanging something like this:
Super Great Bike Themed Valentine E-cards

Couldn't you?  Happy Valentine's Day.


  1. I'd lock my bike to you, priceless!

    1. (She blushes.) Coline, I'd be delighted if you did, ma cherie!

  2. Another line to live down:

    A girl with eager eyes and yellow hair
    Waits me there

    Robert Browning
    Love Among the Ruins, 1855


    1. Leo--And Elizabeth Barrett was the "sentimental" poet in that couple? Hmm...

      Thanks! I love both of the Brownings, so I can forgive them a schmaltzy line or two!