“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 freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passions put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
. . .
And if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.”
(Sonnet # 43, Sonnets from the Portuguese, Elizabeth Barrett Browning)
As I type the words onto this page, the month of February, the ‘Month of Love’ is in full swing. Valentine’s Day – and all the trimmings! Yes, whether we’re in the mood or not, we are going to be surrounded all month by reminders that it is a good thing to love. This article is my attempt to take a look at two of the world’s greatest lovers and learn what they have to teach us on the subject.
First, let me lay just a little foundation from “The Book.” God’s Word says all of the Ten Commandments of Jehovah are fulfilled in living our lives in genuine love. It also says that fear is cast out of our hearts and our lives by love. And, most important of all, it tells us repeatedly that the God we serve is Love. He’s what it’s all about, and He’s the source of all genuine love. But when the Word talks about love, it’s referring to much more than just an emotion. Certainly, the emotion is important – and extremely satisfying. But the love that really makes a difference in this world is love that does something.
Love, according to the original language of the scriptures, is the fulfilling of a duty or a responsibility to another – whether to God or to the people in our lives. It works good toward another person whether it ‘feels’ something or not. The truth is that feelings of love – like feelings of anger, happiness, hurt, etc. – come and go. But the act of loving another person is fueled by that deliberate intent of the will to do them good. Like faith, real love is more of an action verb than a noun.
I’m grateful that in my life I have known a great many people who love in this active way. But every time I ponder the subject of love – and especially around Valentine’s Day, when people are prone to send little ‘love letters’ to each other in the way of commercial Valentine cards – my mind turns to two particular lovers of the past who knew and experienced the power of love to change people’s lives completely.
Poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning lived one of the most powerful and life-changing love stories ever experienced by human beings. Much of their poetry, especially Sonnets from the Portuguese, describes that love and the power it had to overcome enormous obstacles, and to vanquish debilitating sorrow and hovering death. While the best remembered and most often quoted lines from all of those sonnets are the words, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” the truth is that some of the most riveting portions are Elizabeth’s descriptions of how that love destroyed death and renewed her life. In Sonnet VII she says this:
“The face of all the world is changed, I think,
Since first I heard the footsteps of thy soul
Move still, oh, still, beside me as they stole
Betwixt me and the dreadful outer brink
Of obvious death, where I, who thought to sink
Was caught up into love and taught the whole
Of life in a new rhythm . . . .”
In truth, it was that love that literally saved Elizabeth’s life and gave both lovers many happy years of marriage and fruitful writing that blessed the world for generations. It also gave them a son, whom they loved dearly.
But prior to their marriage, Elizabeth and Robert courted, primarily by letter, for a period of 20 months. During that 20 months, they exchanged a total of 574 love letters. Think of it: 574 love letters! In 20 months, that is an average of more than 28 letters each month. Never running out of ways to say “I love you,” and never growing tired of manifesting that love openly.
Have you, dear readers, experienced the joy of seeing that love gives life to those who need it? My Valentine’s wish for each of you is that you will experience that reality.
And, by the way, does the person you love know without a doubt how you feel? Why not take advantage of this ‘Month of Love’ to make sure?
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