Once upon a time long ago and far away – but not too far away – I was in hot pursuit of Pretty who was clearly out of my lesbian league. In an attempt to impress her with my heat by being ultra cool, I recited love poems to her including one of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s most famous Sonnets from the Portuguese. You know the one. How do I love thee, let me count the ways.
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.
Who could resist such a passionate declaration of undying love, I thought, and who wouldn’t be impressed by someone who quoted poetry with no prompts.
I was stunned the night I professed Browning’s promises to Pretty who didn’t miss a beat before responding with Edgar Allan Poe’s Annabel Lee
It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.
I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love—
I and my Annabel Lee—
And, then, of course Pretty went on for the entire six stanzas, three with six lines, one with seven lines and two with eight. My sonnet looked weak by comparison. Sigh. Pretty was definitely out of my league.
She still is, but miraculously twenty years later How Do I Love Thee was enough.
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