Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Literature / Great Writers & Poets

Brief biography and works of English poet Elizabeth Barrett Bowning, famous for "Sonnets from the Portuguese."

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was the finest woman poet in England famous for the line "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways."  She is best remembered for her love poems inspired by her husband Robert Browning.

Early Life of Elizabeth Barrett 

English poet Elizabeth Barrett (1806-1861), was born on March 6, in Coxhoe Hall, Durham. She grew up in the west of England, at Hope Hill in Herefordshire, the eldest of 12 children of a rich British owner of Jamaican estates. Taught at home by a tutor, she quickly learned Latin and Greek and read and wrote fervently that by ten years old she had written a long poem and plays that were acted out in the family nursery. When she was fourteen, her father privately published her poem "The Battle of Marathon." 

Illness Struck the Teenager

At fifteen years old, Elizabeth Barrett developed a tubercular discomfort that damaged her spine, and spent much of her life as an invalid. The Barretts decided to move to a London house when she was 29, where she kept to her room, becoming more deeply depressed by the death of her brother Edward who drowned along with other friends during a boating expedition party at Torquay in 1840. 

The Poet Flourishes

Soon after, however, Browning's poetry started to pick up and making her famous. Critics praised The Seraphim and Other Poems, while her Poems written in 1844 brought praise from one young British poet Robert Browning and the American writer Edgar Allan Poe.

Love and the Brownings

She was 39 years old when she met Robert Browning, six years her junior. Elizabeth and Robert fell in love and married the following year they met. Against her father's wishes they secretly married and moved to Italy, first in Pisa and then Florence, where the couple became the center of intellectual literary circle there. There they had a son, Robert, Jr., and Elizabeth Barrett Browning lived happily for her last 15 years.
Her famous "Sonnets from the Portuguese" – 44 poems about her love for the man she married – appeared in 1850. 'The Portuguese' was Robert Browning's nickname for dark-haired Elizabeth.

Works by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
The Seraphim and Other Poems, 1838
Poems, 1844 (including "The Cry of the Children")
Sonnets from the Portuguese, 1850
Casa Guidi Windows, 1851
Aurora Leigh, 1856
Poems Before Congress, 1860
Last Poems, 1862 (Published after she died) 

Video Credit:
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways - Elizabeth B. Browning. ESL and Popular Culture. Accessed March 6, 2018

Biographical Dictionary, edited by Una McGovern, Chambers (2002)
Dictionary of Writers, edited by Rosemary Goring, Larousse (1994)   

Note: I first published this piece for Suite101.com, July 3, 2008. / Tel  

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