Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Photo courtesy of Noel Collection

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

by Elizabeth Barret Browning
"Sonnets from the Portuguese #43"


English poet of the romantic movement. Browning was born on March 6, 1806, at Coxhoe Hall, Durham. the wife of Robert Browning. She was the first of twelve children born to Edward and Mary Barrett. Elizabeth was the first in her family born in England in over two hundred years. For centuries, the Barrett family, who were part Creole, had lived in Jamaica, where they owned sugar plantations and relied on slave labor. Privately educated. By her twelfth year she had written her first "epic" poem, which consisted of four books of rhyming couplets. Two years later, Elizabeth developed a lung ailment that plagued her for the rest of her life. Doctors began treating her with morphine, which she would take until her death. While saddling a pony when she was fifteen, Elizabeth also suffered a spinal injury. Despite her ailments, her education continued to flourish. Throughout her teenage years, Elizabeth taught herself Hebrew so that she could read the Old Testament; her interests later turned to Greek studies. Accompanying her appetite for the classics was a passionate enthusiasm for her Christian faith. She became active in the Bible and Missionary Societies of her church.

In 1826 Elizabeth anonymously published her collection An Essay on Mind and Other Poems. Two years later, her mother passed away. Due to mismanagement and the abolishing of slavery, Elizabeth's father sold his rural estate at public auction. He moved his family to a coastal town before settling permanently in London. Elizabeth continued to live in her father's London house under his tyrannical rule. He began sending Elizabeth's younger siblings to Jamaica to help with the family's estates. Elizabeth bitterly opposed slavery and did not want her siblings sent away. During this time, she wrote The Seraphim and Other Poems (1838), expressing Christian sentiments in the form of classical Greek tragedy.

Her first poems were published at 19, and other volumes appeared in 1838 and 1844. Her translation of Prometheus Bound, by the Greek dramatist Aeschylus, appeared in 1833. In 1844 she produced a volume of poems including "The Cry of the Children" and "Lady Geraldine’s Courtship."

After the drowning death of her brother in the early 1840s, Browning became a virtual recluse. She did not want to meet anyone who did not belong to her close circle of friends, and she conducted most of her friendships through letters. In 1845 the poet Robert Browning began to write to Elizabeth to praise her poetry. The two met several months later and fell in love. They wrote to each other daily. They exchanged 574 letters over the next twenty months. The marriage was bitterly opposed by her father and in 1846, the couple eloped and later settled in Florence, Italy, where Elizabeth regained her health and gave birth to her son, Robert "Pen" Barrett Browning. Her Sonnets from the Portuguese, dedicated to her husband and written in secret before her marriage, was published in 1850, her best-known work. ‘Portuguese’ was her husband, Robert Browning's, pet name for her.

Photo courtesy ofWikipedia.org

Critics generally consider the Sonnets, one of the most widely known collections of love lyrics in English. She expressed her intense sympathy with the struggle for the unification of Italy in the collections of poems Casa Guidi Windows and Poems Before Congress. Her longest and most ambitious work is the didactic, romantic poem in blank verse Aurora Leigh (1856), speculates with wit and force on social responsibilities and the position of women, it portrays male domination of a woman. In her poetry she also addressed the oppression of the Italians by the Austrians, the child labor mines and mills of England, and slavery, among other social injustices. Although this decreased her popularity, Elizabeth was heard and recognized around Europe.

During her lifetime she was criticized for her progressive social ideas and her audacious metrical experiments. In her later years she developed an interest in spiritualism, and also in Italian politics.

"How do I love thee, let me count the ways."the most well known line from any of her works (Sonnets from the Portuguese 43).
Elizabeth Barrett Browning died in Florence on June 29, 1861.

My Heart and I
The Cry of the Children
Meeting at Night


To view more of Elizabeth Barrett Brownings's poems:
Famous Poets and Poems
Representative Poetry On-line


Some more of her poems includes:

A Child Asleep, A Curse For A Nation, A Dead Rose, A Man's Requirements, A Musical Instrument, A Sea-Side Walk, A Thought For A Lonely Death-Bed, A Woman's Shortcomings, A Year's Spinning, Adequacy, An Apprehension, Bianca Among The Nightingales, Change Upon Change, Cheerfulness Taught By Reason, Chorus of Eden Spirits Comfort, Consolation, Discontent, Exaggeration, Futurity, Grief, Insufficiency, Irreparableness, Lord Walter's Wife, Minstrelsy, Mother and Poet, Only a Curl, Pain In Pleasure, Past And Future, Patience Taught By Nature, Perplexed Music, Rosalind's Scroll, Sonnet 1-44, Substitution, Tears, The Autumn, The Best Thing In The World, The Deserted Garden, The House Of Clouds, The Lady's Yes, The Landing Of The Pilgrim Fathers, The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers, The Look, The Meaning Of The Look, The Poet And The Bird, The Prisoner, The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point, The Seraph and Poet, The Soul's Expression, The Two Sayings, The Weakest Thing, To Flush, My Dog, To George Sand: A Desire, To George Sand: A Recognition, Work And Contemplation


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Reference, Research and Source Information

The History Channel

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