Study Guide

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. (Sonnet 43) Identity

By Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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In "How do I love thee?", the speaker defines herself entirely through the ways in which she loves someone else. Love for another becomes the foundation of her existence. In fact, we think this speaker might go so far as to say "amo, ergo sum" – I love, therefore I am. She certainly wouldn't be the speaker of the poem without her love, or her beloved!

Questions About Identity

  1. What do we actually know about this speaker's personality and characteristics? What do we actually know about her beloved, the person only referred to as "thee"?
  2. Why aren't there any markers of gender (his, her, she, he) in this poem? How would the poem change if we could be sure of the speaker's and the beloved's gender?
  3. How is the speaker's identity connected to her experience of love?

Chew on This

The speaker conflates her own existence with her feeling of love; the extent of her soul and the extent of her love are actually the same thing.

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