Comparing “How Do I Love Thee?” with Robert Browning’s Porphyria’s Lover

Comparing “How Do I Love Thee?” with Robert Browning’s Porphyria’s Lover

How Do I Love Thee?” is a sonnet and Porphyria’s Lover is a dramatic monologue.  Both the romantic poems were published in early 19th century.  The language is natural and the theme of love is common in both these poems but both explore the romance in a different way.  The underlying theme of both these poems is love that is timeless and universal, but the presentation, emotions, profoundness and the styles are ways apart.  In both these poems, love is unconditional, pure and profound.  However, the views on love is differently portrayed and handled in a unique way. Elizabeth’s sonnet is a biographical master piece of love in English literature.  In Porphyria’s Lover, the words convey the setting, action and also disclose the character of the speaker.  It also conveys how women were treated as an asset, a possession in a male dominated society.  Both these love poems can be read from different perspective.  “How Do I Love Thee?”is a genuine romantic feelings of a wife for her husband and Porphyria’s Lover expresses the extreme obsession of a lover for mistress..  The poems share the common theme of love and belongingness where one is the conventional and acceptable love by society whereas in the other it is unconventional one that is not accepted in society.

In the final lines both these poems express the religious feeling and the role conventional religion play in the lives of people.  However, How Do I Love Thee depicts love of a devoted wife, whereas Porphyria’s Lover shows the passion of an obsessed persona.  In “How Do I Love Thee?” Elizabeth expressed that if God permits, she will continue to love her husband even after she dies.  Whereas, in Porphyria’s Lover he reassures and justifies his act of killing because even God has not said a word or punished him.  How Do I Love Thee; a Petrarchan sonnet with repetitive words like I Love Thee emphasize and reinforce the love for her husband.  Her profound sentiments and selfless love are expressed in the most natural and pure form (Spacey). Overall, it is a classic romantic Victorian-era poem where a woman loves her husband unconditionally.

On the other hand Porphyria’s lover presents a horrific example of an obsessed psychotic lover.  The lover kills Porphyria out of his extreme love for her and he feels this is the only way he can live with her forever.  In Porphyria’s Lover, the murderer’s intense love for his beloved reaches the height of madness.  Rural simplicity, cozy cottage, rosy-cheeked girl are expressions of sublime nature.  In this poem, sex out of wedlock is portrayed in the most acceptable manner.  The pure and intense love becomes fiery passion and turns him to a psychopath.  The portrayal of possession and obsession is at peak in this poem whereas in “How Do I Love Thee?” she articulates her feelings and uses religious similes to compare and equate her love.(Spacey)

In sum, the theme of love is present in both these poems but the ways of love expressed in both the poems is unique.  The choice of words, structure, rhythm In Porphyria’s Lover is violent and obsessive.  On the contrary in How I Love Thee the lover is passionate and caring.  In an era, where women were considered as mere possession, Elizabeth openly prophesizes her love and her unquestionable love symbolizes the most pure form of love between a wife and husband. (Griffiths)

Works Cited

Spacey, Andrew. “Analysis of Poem “How Do I Love Thee? by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.” 25 January 2019.

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