Study Guide

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

By Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Language and Communication

"How do I love thee?" is a poem about its own poetic nature, a list and catalog of all the different ways of loving that the speaker experiences. It's very important to this speaker to find phrases, metaphors, and language that can encapsulate her love, so that she can communicate its complexity to the beloved – and to the reader.

Questions About Language and Communication

  1. Who is the intended audience of this sonnet? That is, who do you think is supposed to be reading it and overhearing the speaker list the ways that she loves? Is it "thee"? Is it another group of people? Is it just for herself?
  2. Why does listing kinds of love count as performing the act of loving? To put it another way, this sonnet is meant to be a "love poem," something you can give to somebody you've got the hots for to show them how you feel. What's romantic about making a list?
  3. Why is the word "love" repeated so frequently in this poem when it would be easy for the poet to find synonyms for it? Why use the same language over and over instead of varying it?

Chew on This

In "How do I love thee?", the constant, almost numbing repetition of the word "love" challenges the reader's familiarity with that term, making the word and the feeling strange and new.