The first line of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's most well-known poem, "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways" (Beaty 811) has been written and quoted by people in love for almost one hundred and fifty years. Although, most people only know the first ten words of the poem, and they often make lists of actions or feelings that support the two phrases. However, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's famous poem goes beyond simple lists of feelings or actions. She paints a vivid picture through images that pull at the emotions and senses of the reader. Furthermore, this poem is appealing to the readers because it is a basic form of expression that evokes emotions by "compressing language to what is most essential" (Pollick). Using this compression she is able to, in less than one hundred words, describe the physical, physiological and emotional boundaries of true love in this world as well as the boundaries of love after death.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote this poem to her future husband, Mr. Robert Browning. However, she kept her love for Robert secret because he was disliked by her overbearing and controlling father. Because, Ms. Barrett lived in a time before the telephone, Hallmark cards and email formal courting was essential and often relied on simple and subtle gestures between couples.
I had the wonderful experience to have a great-great aunt whose teenage age years were during the turn of the century. Although, she grew up fifty years after Elizabeth Barrett Browning, I believe that courtship rituals of that time were not that different than during Elizabeth's time. On occasion, my Aunt Cleone would describe her courtship with her future husband as simple, innocent and romantic. Sharing poetry or short notes was a large part of this formal courtship.