A poem is a piece of literature that is written to pass certain messages to people or express various emotions such as love, hate, or even anger (Glennis, 98). It is because of these reasons that poetry requires skillful selection of words and sentence structures so as to make sure that the contents of a poem are able to pass the desired messages to the audience who in this case are the readers. There are a variety of writing techniques that are used in poetry and they include the use of repetition, metaphor, and similes among others (Avery, 143). These poetry writing techniques were well employed by Barrett Browning in her poem, “How Do I Love Thee?” and therefore this piece of work tries to analyze some of the techniques used by Barrett in her poem and also analyze some aspects of the poem.
There are different kinds of poems such as praise poems, mourning poems, and love poems. Each type of poem can express an emotion that is different from emotions expressed by other types of poems. This implies that poems are not just “empty words” but they are words that are well organized so as to convey a particular message, opinion, or idea to the readers. The words can also be well organized to express certain emotions. The poem, “How Do I Love Thee” is an example of a love poem or simply a wedding poem.
Writing techniques used in the poem
In this poem, there is heavy use of imagery and word association to express emotions of love. By studying how the words in this poem are organized, we can say that these are words of a bride to a bridegroom. A poem might be interpreted differently by different people but the major theme in a poem always comes out very clearly to every individual when imagery is well used by the poet. Well-experienced poets like Barrett Browning was, do not just use imagery to make their poems look fancier than they would have looked when imagery was not used but they use them to create some mental pictures in the minds of the readers. For example, in the poem “How Do I Love Thee”, the use of imagery can be seen where the bride is trying to describe how she loves the bridegroom. In the second line of the first verse, the bride says that she loves the bridegroom to the depth, the breadth, and the height that her soul can reach. This description creates a mental picture in the mind of a reader who can now visualize the extent of the love being described. This description implies that the love is too much.
Another appropriate use of imagery in this poem is found in the sixth line. It can be seen that the bride describes her love for the bridegroom as a “day’s most quiet need by sun and candlelight”. Barrett used this technique of writing a poem and a reader is able to appreciate its effect in this particular poem.
Repetition is another aspect of poetry writing that was well used by Barrett Browning in this poem. When talking about a poetic language used by a poet, repetition is usually recognized because it is a feature that can be identified easily in a poem and it is also a feature that is used by many poets (Adams, 153). Repetition is usually used in poetry so as to stress or put emphasis on a particular point or message being passed across. In the poem, “How Do I Love Thee”, the phrase, ‘I love thee…’ has been repeated in every verse of the poem. This repetition gives a reader an idea that the main subject matter in this poem is love. This is because a reader will have to pay attention to any repetition since it is obvious that a line, phrase, or word is usually repeated intentionally by a poet to accomplish a specific mission.
The effect of repetition in this poem is that it shows the reader that the writer loves the person being referred to who in this case we are assuming to be a bridegroom. It captures the mind of a reader who would actually want to know the reason why this phrase is repeated so many times. The theme of this poem is, therefore ‘love’ which is actually being emphasized by the use of repetition. As it has been stated earlier, the essence of using repetition is to put emphasis on a particular point, idea, or emotion. This is well illustrated by Barrett in this her poem. There might be other poetry writing techniques that were used by Barrett in writing this poem but the most notable ones are the ones that have already been discussed above and their effects can be felt in the poem.
The use of rhetoric question is a poetic language that Barrett made good use of in this poem. For example, when the bride asks a question, “How do I love thee?” it is obvious that she does not expect an answer from the bridegroom because we can see that she immediately proceeds to answer this question by herself. Like other techniques, rhetoric questions also trigger emotions or compel a reader to think more about the subject being talked about (Lootens, 128).
Although Barrett made good use of imagery in her poem “How do I love thee”, there are various changes that a modern poet might make to the imagery that was used. For example, even though imagery usually refers to visual images, a modern poet can use aural images which is simply the use of words that sound like their meaning to create an image in the readers’ mind (Avery, 57). These aural images are created by a technique called onomatopoeia. For example, a modern poet can write, “When I hold your hand and close my eyes, I hear a murmur…” this can create an image in a reader’s mind. The murmuring can be interpreted to mean that there are some people who are complaining when they see the two lovers together and are therefore against the relationship of the two lovers.
Another change that a modern poet might make to the imagery of this poem is to include the use of metonymy. Metonymy is when a poet mentions one thing while she/he actually means something else which is closely connected to the thing that has been mentioned (Adams, 89). For example, a poet might say, “I love your bright forehead” while she/he actually means to say, “I love your bright eyes”.
Gender difference in the Victorian age
Considering gender issues, this poem portrays women in the Victorian age as women who were to love and express sentiments of love to their men in all possible ways. The way the speaker in this poem is describing her love for the bridegroom shows the reader how the women in the Victorian age were committed in their relationships. In this poem, very little is talked about concerning the male gender. For example, the word ‘man’ is only mentioned in line seven which is, “I love thee freely, as men strive for the right”. From this line, we are able to get a clue that men in the Victorian age took it to themselves that it was their right to be loved by women.
In conclusion, this poem is a very good love poem that is able to express emotions of love as intended by the writer. It is also important to note that sentence structure in a poem must not necessarily be correct but have to be well arranged in a particular way so as to convey the desired information. Most grammar mistakes in a poem are intentional because this is what most poets use as their poetic language but care is taken so the information is not distorted.
Adams, Ruth. Introduction to The Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Cambridge Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974.
Avery, Simon. ‘How Do I Love Thee?’: Love and Marriage. Elizabeth Barrett Browning. New York: Longman, 2003.
Glennis, Stephenson. Elizabeth Barrett Browning and the Poetry of Love. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1989.
Lootens, Tricia. Lost Saints: Silence, Gender, and Victorian Literary Canonization. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1996.