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On December 10, 1845, Robert Browning wrote a letter Elizabeth Barrett, a well-known poet who had praised the younger writer’s work in print.
The letter opens with Mr. Browning’s gushing praise. “I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett — and this is no off-hand complimentary letter that I shall write.”
The gushing continues. “I do, as I say, love these books with all my heart — and I love you too.”
Writers today might call security over that last line, but the next day, Miss Barrett, who was bedridden with respiratory illness and six years older than Mr. Browning, wrote to a friend, saying Browning’s letter “threw me into ecstasies.”
That’s how England’s greatest literary love affair began and we are all richer for it. Although Barrett’s tyrannical father refused to allow any of his 12 children to marry, Elizabeth and Robert carried out their romance in secret and eloped four years later. Her father refused to see her again.
During their secret courtship, Elizabeth wrote “Sonnets from the Portuguese,” which includes the now practically cliched line, “How do I love thee, let me count the ways.”
If you haven’t had the good fortune to read the most famous love poem of all time, here it is. Enjoy.
Sonnets from the Portuguese, XLII
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.
— Elizabeth Barrett Browning
The Monday Motivator is a weekly quote posted to encourage, inspire, and motivate writers of all skill levels and across genres. I’d love suggestions if you have a favorite quote to share. Click here to see past Monday Motivators.