Elizabeth Barrett Browning was born 208 years ago today. She was a fascinating, complicated, talented woman who wrote beautiful, enduring poetry. You’ll know her from “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…” It wasn’t a cliche when she wrote it. She was almost entirely self-educated and suffered from ill health and depression (it is surmised) almost her entire adult life. The love story between her and Robert Browning (he was an admirer of her work) is one for the ages, and deserves better treatment than I could give it in a short blog post. Situated primarily with the late Romantics, she was the first female poet to be considered for poet laureate. Tennyson was chosen to follow Wordsworth instead (no surprise there, however well merited), but that indicates the kind of influence she had. An ocean away, both Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allen Poe claimed her as influential on their own work. So here’s to you, Elizabeth Barrett Browning! Let’s read my favorite poem of hers to celebrate:
If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love’s sake only. Do not say,
“I love her for her smile–her look–her way
Of speaking gently,–for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day”–
For these things in themselves, Beloved, may
Be changed, or change for thee–and love, so wrought,
May be unwrought so. Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity’s wiping my cheeks dry:
A creature might forget to weep, w ho bore
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
But love me for love’s sake, that evermore
Thou mayest love on, through love’s eternity.