Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnet “How Do I Love Thee?” was published in 1850 in the collection The Sonnets From the Portuguese (Avery and Stott). The predominant themes of the poem are the love and the admiration the speaker feels for the unnamed lover. Similarly, the main themes of William Shakespeare’s poem “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?” address the feeling of romantic but also the immortality of literature. Shakespeare’s poem was published in 1608, and it is the 18th poem published in Shakespeare’s collection (D. Ravitch and M. Ravitch). Even if “How Do I Love Thee?” and “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?” differ in pattern, they both touch upon the themes of love and poetry. “How Do I Love Thee?” is a Petrarchan sonnet composed of an octet and a sestet. The rhyme scheme follows the classical Petrarchan pattern, so the rhyme scheme is ABBAABBACDCDCD. The predominant rhythm is an iambic pentameter since each line is composed by five stressed feet; nevertheless, the first line is an exception since it is a question, so the stress changes and the line is composed by a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed one. However, unlike the classical Petrarchan sonnets in this one, the turn happens at the eleventh line when the author admits that she is experiencing such a strong love that seems to disappear.
“Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?” is a Shakespearean sonnet. It’s rhyme scheme follows the traditional pattern of the Shakespeare’s sonnet, so it is ABABCDCDEFEFGG. The principal rhythm is the iambic pentameter; however, even this poem begins with a question, so the first line constitutes an exception. The line “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” (Shakespeare) is composed by a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed one. Even if in the Shakespearean’s sonnets the volta usually occurs in the final couplet, in this sonnet it occurs in the ninth line. In the octet, Shakespeare explains how even the most beautiful things decay with, but in the ninth line he affirms that the beauty of his lover will never end because her beauty is timeless. In the first eight lines of “How Do I Love Thee?” Browning uses many examples of figurative language,
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.
In the second line, Browning uses a metaphor and compares the love her soul feels to an unnamed physical object that has three dimensions (depth, breadth and height). Consequently, love becomes a tangible and concrete object that can have dimension and that can be touched by the speaker when she feels melancholic for not being with her lover. In the sixth line, Browning uses symbols to enhance the meaning of the stanza, the sun and the candle-light becomes symbols that help her to express her love in the sad day she has just described. In fact, the light of the candle and of the sun help her see better when she feels “out of sight.” In the second and in the fifth lines, she uses an alliteration in “t” between the word “thee” “to” “the.” By using this alliteration, Browning emphasizes the addressee of the poem. Moreover, in the fifth, the seventh and the eight lines, she uses an anaphora. The parallel structure created by the anaphora highlights the main theme of the poem: the different way in which she has loved her love. In the seventh and eight lines, Browning uses two similes. She compares the love she feels to the effort made by a man to find the right way of behaving because she believes that love need effort and sacrifice. She also compares the love she feels to “they turn from praise” to say that she is not writing about her love because she wants readers approval, but she needs to express what she feels as men need to express their feelings to God. Moreover, through the poem, Browning uses many enjambments that help the rhythm of the poem seem more natural. In the next six lines, there is an extensive use of figure of speech,
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.
In the fourteenth line, Browning uses a hyperbole. By saying that the speaker will “love thee better after death,” she looks beyond the limit of mortal life and does something that is physically impossible: she is able to feel an emotion after death. Furthermore, she uses the same anaphora used before to further support the main topic of the poem. The “lost saints” are a metaphor she uses to indicate that love also relates to faith and that you have to trust in the people you love even if they may disappoint you. The smile is a metonymy that indicates the happiness that love makes you feel, just as the tears are a metonymy that indicates the pain love makes you experience. In his poem “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?” Shakespeare uses many figures of speech,
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate. Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date. Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed; And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed; But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st, Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow’st. So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
In the first line, Shakespeare uses a metaphor that he explores throughout the whole poem. He compares his lover to the beauty of a summer day that is typically full of joy. Just as Browning highlights the immortality of her love in her poem, Shakespeare also suggests that his lover will always be young, and that time does not influence his beauty because he is preserving it with his poetry by writing, “But thy eternal summer shall not fade.” Therefore, Summer becomes a symbol of youth and of the light heartedness that is typical of that age. In the fifth line, Shakespeare uses a metaphor and compares the sun to the “eye of heaven” to highlights once again the effects that summer has on youth. Furthermore, in the eighth line, Shakespeare uses alliteration with the words “chance,” “changing,” and “course” to highlight the haphazardness that determines the development of our life. Here, in the eighth and in the ninth line, Shakespeare uses anaphora by repeating the conjunction “and” which reinforces the claim he makes in the next line.
In other words, by listing the ephemeral things that lose their beauty with the passing of years, Shakespeare emphasizes the fact that his lover beauty will never end. Another anaphora is used in the tenth and eleventh lines, in which Shakespeare repeats the conjunction “nor.” The repetition of this negative conjunction highlights even more the fact his lover represents an exception to the human condition of mortality. In the eleventh line, Shakespeare uses personification to bestow on the death the human ability of boasting. He asserts that his lover will not die because poetry will make her be immortal. Finally, in the last rhyming couplet, Shakespeare uses an anaphora to re- emphasizes the eternity of his love. To sum up, even if the poem “How Do I Love Thee?” is a Petrarchan sonnet and the poem “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?” is a Shakespearean sonnet, they have many similarities. In both sonnets, the authors emphasize and praise their lovers’ beauty and individuality through the use of numerous figures of speech. Moreover, both Browning and Shakespeare acclaim the use of poetry: for Browning, poetry is a means to express her feelings to a lover she is not able to express her feelings directly, while for Shakespeare, poetry is an instrument to make his lover, and the love he feels for her, immortal and eternal.