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Wed, Apr 16, 2014 03:07 PM
Issue of April 9, 2014

A hope note
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A hope note
Dr. Wayne Willis reflects on life and hope.

Love Story

February 12, 2014 | 09:43 AM

Robert wrote to Elizabeth in January of 1845 to praise her poetry: "I love your verses with all my heart."

Elizabeth Barrett, one of England's more prominent poets, was an invalid. In her mid-teens, she had been struck down by a mysterious illness that rendered her reclusive and bedridden.

A cousin of Elizabeth, John Kenyon, arranged for Robert Browning, six years her junior, to visit in her room. There began one of the most famous love stories immortalized in writing.

In one of Robert's early visits, Elizabeth was able to lift her head off the pillow for the first time in a long time. Between visits, they exchanged nearly 600 letters. Robert kept her room populated with flowers. Elizabeth became able to sit up in bed.

Twenty months after their first meeting, they eloped, permanently leaving the polluted air of London for the warmer, cleaner, therapeutic air of Italy.

Elizabeth never saw her father again. He disinherited her, as he did all of his 11 children who married. Letters from Elizabeth to her father were returned unopened.

Elizabeth's health improved remarkably in Italy. At age 43, she was able to give birth to a son. The family of three lived happily there for 15 years. Elizabeth died in Robert's arms.

Out of that relationship came some of history's greatest expressions of romantic love. One of her "Sonnets from the Portuguese" begins: "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach." The verse ends: "I love thee with the breath, smiles, tears of all my life! And, if God choose, I shall love thee better after death."

Here's hoping you'll be able to make it a romantic Valentine's Day.

Dr. Wayne Willis


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