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Valentine's Day comes up soon

"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways." The familiar words from "Sonnet 43" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning float through my mind as Valentine's Day draws near. And the well-known verse continued like this: "I love thee to the depth and breadt...

"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways."

The familiar words from "Sonnet 43" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning float through my mind as Valentine's Day draws near. And the well-known verse continued like this:

"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.

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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,

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Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death."

Those words are far more gentle and meaningful than you find in Valentines swirling around this time of year. These words by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (EBB) should express enough emotion to last until next Valentine's Day. But I took it one step further and contacted Sandra Donaldson, a professor of English at UND who has made the study of EBB her life's work.

As a matter of fact, I caught up with Professor Donaldson in New York City, where she has been spending two weeks doing work on her goal of putting together a scholarly edition from which the poem of EBB can be selected and used as a textbook.

"When I was a student," Donaldson said, "EBB was written off as the wife of Robert or ridiculed for being political - or idolized for being in love.

"As a matter of fact," Donaldson said, "it's hard to grasp the meaning of 'to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach'." She said, "We just surrender and say yesssss - which doesn't mean it's a bad poem. It means you really can't teach it."

The words, "When our two souls stand up" also are pretty abstract. But Donaldson recommends the sonnet to people because it's about loving someone else, not about how you feel about yourself.

"Her writings about mutual love are what interest me," she said.

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Donaldson began her study of EBB in a doctoral program at the University of Connecticut 30 years ago. She was sold on the idea when she read a biography by Mary Jane Lupton. She said EBB wrote so much more than 44 sonnets, including anti-slavery poems and war poems. She wrote a verse novel, "Aurora Leigh," about a female writer's efforts to manage love and work, poems about conditions of work in factories and mines.

Donaldson's doctoral dissertation focused on EBB's feminist and poetic philosophies in "Aurora Leigh" and other poems. After receiving her Ph.D., she came to UND in 1977 to teach Victorian literature and women writers. Most of Donaldson's publications have to do with EBB and her husband, Robert. One is on Virginia Woolf, who wrote a biography of the Brownings' courtship from the viewpoint of EBB's dog and titled with the dog's name, "Flush."

Donaldson has had two students do their graduate writing on EBB and supervised one Ph.D. dissertation on a short story EBB wrote when she was 10 years old. One of the graduate students, Jane Stewart Laux, is working with her now on the new book, supported by a National Endowment for Humanities grant and additional funding from Research Development and Compliance at UND.

They will travel to the United Kingdom in March to do work at libraries and contact private holders of manuscripts.

Donaldson will present a talk March 10 before the Browning Society in London. And the work continues. Donaldson said they have a contract with Pickering & Chatto for a five-volume edition including juvenile work by EBB.

Donaldson described EBB as an engaged intellectual.

"That's what she means to me, why she is such an inspiration," she said.

Footnote: Donaldson is married to Lonnie Winrich, professor emeritus of computer sciences, who often finds for her Valentines or birthday cards with words from "Sonnet 43."

Reach Marilyn Hagerty at telephone 772-1055 or mhagerty@gra.midco.net or mhagerty@gfherald.com

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