Sonnets From the Portugese is a collection of love poems written by Elizabeth Barret Browning in 1850. Browning didn’t want to publish the poems because she felt they were too intimate and personal. Her husband, Robert Browning, convinced her otherwise, but to be safe she published them under the guise of foreign sonnets. She titled the collection Sonnets From the Portugesebecause Robert’s pet name for her was, “my little Portugese.”
With a love story like that behind it, it’s only appropriate that on this Valentine’s Day we find our inspiration from what is probably the most famous sonnet from the collection. It’s Sonnet 43, more commonly known by the title, “How Do I Love Thee?”
HOW DO I LOVE THEE? (Sonnet 43)
BY 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 every day’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 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.
FOR ADDITIONAL READING: See Sonnets From the Portugese and Other Poems by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
More nuggets for Valentine’s Day:
The Feast of Saint Valentine was originally celebrated to honor early Christian martyrs.
There were actually several martyrs named Valentine. But the one we most often associate with the holiday is the third-century Saint Valentine of Rome. According to legend, Valentine was imprisoned for his faith and restored the sight of his jailer’s blind daughter. Later versions of the story have Valentine sending the daughter a letter before his execution, bearing the signature, “Your Valentine.”
The first association of Valentine’s Day with romantic love comes from a poem by Geoffrey Chaucer in 1382.
Chaucer’s poem describes a vision of a gathering of birds choosing their mates, but the verses were meant to honor the engagement of King Richard II to Anne of Bohemia. The poem reads:
“For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day
When every bird comes there to choose his match
(Of every kind that men may think of!),
And that so huge a noise they began to make
That earth and air and tree and every lake
Was so full, that not easily was there space
For me to stand—so full was all the place.”
In the centuries that followed, the feast of Saint Valentine became less about the celebration of Christian martyrs and more about Chaucer’s version of a celebration of romance.
But the first mass-produced Valentines didn’t appear in the U.S. until sometime around 1847.
They were the brainchild of Esther Morgan, the daughter of a Massachusetts stationery store owner. She got the idea from a Valentine she received from her father’s English business associate, and began importing paper lace and other materials from England to make similar versions for the American marketplace. Her idea took off and helped popularize the commercial holiday in the States. Just two years later, a writer for Graham’s American Monthly noted:
“Saint Valentine’s Day … is becoming, nay it has become, a national holyday.”
Although Valentine’s Day is mostly associated with romantic love these days, it’s worth noting that in many traditions it also marks the beginning of spring.
In Slovenia, Valentine is a saint of spring, the saint of good health, and the patron saint of beekeepers. He’s believed to bring the keys to roots, which enable plants and flowers to begin growing. So, Valentine’s Day is traditionally the day work begins in vineyards and fields.
Our words of wisdom for Valentine’s Day come to us from the great mystic theologian and writer, Thomas Merton:
“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone — we find it with another.”
I hope you have a special someone who helps you find meaning in life, and I hope you have a very happy and love-filled Valentine’s Day.
And that’s today’s Spiritual Almanac.
For additional reading, see Sonnets From the Portugese and Other Poems by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. There’s a link above.
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