This subject of comfort and succour reminds me of Sonnet 43 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “How do I love thee?
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.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 -1861)
Born on March 6, 1806, at Coxhoe Hall, Durham, England, Elizabeth Barrett Browning was an English poet of the Romantic Movement. The oldest of twelve children, Elizabeth was the first in her family born in England in over two hundred years. For centuries, the Barrett family, who were part Creole, had lived in Jamaica, where they owned sugar plantations and relied on the forced labor of enslaved individuals. Elizabeth’s father, Edward Barrett Moulton Barrett, chose to raise his family in England, while his fortune grew in Jamaica. Educated at home, Elizabeth apparently had read passages from Paradise Lost and a number of Shakespearean plays, among other great works, before the age of ten. By her twelfth year, she had written her first “epic” poem, which consisted of four books of rhyming couplets.
Not surprisingly the schoolbook commonality was translated into a less mournful analysis by theatre.
How Do I Love Thee? is a 1970 American comedy-drama film directed by Michael Gordon. It stars Jackie Gleason and Maureen O’Hara and is based on Peter De Vries’s 1965 novel Let Me Count the Ways.
In spite of the latitude afforded by these two sets of artists spanning centuries and the North Atlantic Ocean, my personal rendition of things that sustain me is neither comic nor mournful. If I were to attach to it an underlying singularity it would most likely be what I fashion as axiomatic; that is, self-evident or apodeictic. This abbreviated regard derives in part from the etymology of the word; viz., in late 18th century from Greek axiōmatikos, from axiōma ‘what is thought fitting’. This critical feature I find blends well with what in philosophy is called “synthetic a priori knowledge”; and what in law is called either deductive or (curiously) legal fiction. By way of summary explanation, legal fiction is not so much a fabrication as a creation which is true by definition.
And while philosophers have questioned whether there is a distinction to be made between propositions which are analytically true and propositions which are synthetically true, my closer absorption is motivated more intently by convenience and simplicity. Some things just work. And if you’re wondering what has prompted such casual analysis it is in fact the very real and impending end of the road.
I find life – what I have seen of it from my perspective obviously – is a potentially rough and tumble road. Few of us if any have escaped the occasional disaster. The characterization is rendered more abruptly by the reminder to enjoy it while you can. Each of us has his or her peculiar strains which when nourished foment a strength of purpose and ambition. It matters not whether the elements are tangible or intangible. Inevitably we’re going to be staring back along the road well traveled. In the meantime we might as well get on with it!