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How Do I Love Thee: Love Poem

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,
In whispers of dawn and sunset's embrace,
Through time's eternal, unyielding gaze,
I find thy love in every sacred place.

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,
In every breath, thy love I do embrace.

I love thee freely, as men strive for right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise;
I love thee with the passion put to flight
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's grace.

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.



Stanza Explanations

Stanza 1: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways, In whispers of dawn and sunset’s embrace, Through time’s eternal, unyielding gaze, I find thy love in every sacred place.”

In this stanza, the speaker begins by contemplating the many ways they love their beloved. The love is described as present in the quiet moments of dawn and the comforting embrace of sunset, symbolizing a love that spans the entire day and, metaphorically, all of time. The mention of “time’s eternal, unyielding gaze” suggests that this love is timeless and enduring, found in every sacred place, implying a deep, spiritual connection.

Stanza 2: “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, In every breath, thy love I do embrace.”

Here, the speaker quantifies their love, describing its vastness—encompassing the depth, breadth, and height that their soul can reach. Even when not physically present or seen, the love extends to the very edges of existence and ideal grace, suggesting a love that is boundless and transcendent. Every breath is an embrace of this love, indicating its pervasive presence in the speaker’s life.

love thee
Image by Ben Kerckx from Pixabay

Stanza 3: “I love thee freely, as men strive for right; I love thee purely, as they turn from praise; I love thee with the passion put to flight In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s grace.”

In this stanza, love is described as freely given, akin to the way people pursue righteousness—voluntary and virtuous. It is also pure, without seeking validation or praise. The love is passionate, replacing past sorrows with newfound intensity. The reference to “childhood’s grace” evokes a sense of innocence and purity, suggesting that the love is both fervent and sincere.

Stanza 4: “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 chooses, I shall but love thee better after death.”

The final stanza reflects a love that has been rediscovered after a loss, perhaps of loved ones or spiritual guides (“lost saints”). This love is all-encompassing, expressed through every breath, smile, and tear, signifying a love that permeates every aspect of the speaker’s existence. The closing lines suggest a belief in the eternal nature of this love, indicating that if divine will allows, the speaker’s love will continue and even deepen after death, emphasizing its eternal and boundless nature.

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