“Love, hope, fear, faith - these make humanity. These are its sign and note and character.” – Robert Browning
Some writers say love is a major influence on how and what they write, but in Robert Browning’s case it was THE influence in his writing career. Languishing as a middle-of-the-road poet, at best, he fell in love with Elizabeth Barrett, one of England’s most prominent female writers in the 1840s. It was a love story that not only fired his writing, but also led her to write some of her most poignant and meaningful poems, including her famous love sonnets, highlighted by the well-known "How do I love the? Let me count the ways."
Their courtship, started as an exchange of dozens and dozens of letters, was carried on in secret for fear of her Puritanical father who had decreed that his daughter would never marry, and despite the fact that she was nearly invalided from tuberculosis.
In 1846 Browning and Barrett defied both her illness and her family and married, starting one of history's most famous literary marriages. Disinherited by her father and rejected by Barrett's brothers, the couple moved to Italy where they would live for the rest of her life. She died of her disease at the relatively young age of 55.
Her influence on him and his writing led to his becoming a much improved and highly respected dramatic poet -- one of the foremost of the Victorian Era -- in the 30 years that followed her death. Barrett’s work, particularly the love poems she wrote during her courtship years and marriage, also placed her among the all-time leading poets.
How Do I Love Thee? – Elizabeth Barrett Browning
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 candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with a 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.
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