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son-nets from the portuguese

Sonnets from the Portuguese

Sonnets from the Portuguese, written ca. 1845–1846 and first published in 1850, is a collection of forty-four love sonnets written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The poems largely chronicle the period leading up to her 1846 marriage to Robert Browning. The collection was acclaimed and popular even in the poet's lifetime and it remains so today.

Elizabeth was initially hesitant to publish the poems, feeling that they were too personal. However, Robert insisted that they were the best sequence of English-language sonnets since Shakespeare's time and urged her to publish them. To offer the couple some privacy, she decided that she might publish them under a title disguising the poems as translations of foreign sonnets. Therefore, the collection was first to be known as Sonnets from the Bosnian, until Robert suggested that she change their imaginary original language to Portuguese, probably after his nickname for her: "my little Portuguese." The title is also a reference to Les Lettres portugaises.

By far the most famous poem from this collection, with one of the most famous opening lines in the English language, is number forty-three:

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 candlelight.
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 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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