The other day, I was listening to a recording of choral music that I’ve heard dozens of times. For some reason, though, this particular time my ears perked up to one particular anthem that was sung. It’s called “How Do I Love Thee?”, and I realized upon listening carefully that it is, in fact, a musical setting of what is arguably the most popular sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnet 43, written as a love poem to her husband, Robert Browning.
For years, in (sort of) listening to this piece, I thought it was just another choral anthem of praise to the Lord. I hadn’t thought it was an anthem of praise to the poet’s husband!
However, if you examine the words, you can, without difficulty, make it into a song of praise to God:
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.
It works, doesn’t it?
Now, go back and read it again, and put God in the first person, so that it tells of God’s love for you.
Victorian-Romantic poetry may not always have been intended for God, but we can make it so.
Spend some time with this sonnet, and make it your own praise to the Lord.
“Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord!” (Psalm 150.6, NLT).
If you want to listen to the arrangement that struck me, here’s a setting.