English Literature
From Sonnets from the Portuguese XXIV

From Sonnets from the Portuguese XXIV

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The Importance of Love in Our Daily Lives

Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "Let the World's Sharpness, Like a Closing Knife" (Sonnet 24) from her collection "Sonnets from the Portuguese" sheds light on the protective role of love amidst the harshness of the world. Through personification, Browning contrasts love with the sharpness of the world, highlighting their opposing effects and the conflict between them.

The Context of "Sonnets from the Portuguese XXIV"

To fully comprehend the themes and message of this poem, it is crucial to consider the biographical and literary context of its author.

Biographical Context

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was a renowned Romantic poet during the Victorian Era (1806-1861). Despite lacking a formal education, she educated herself through extensive reading and began writing poetry at a young age. Her collections, such as "The Seraphim and Other Poems" (1838) and "Poems by Elizabeth Barrett" (1844), were well-received.

Furthermore, Browning's personal experiences greatly influenced her writing. After the death of her mother, her father forbade her and her siblings from marrying. However, she eventually met and fell in love with fellow poet, Robert Browning. Their relationship led to their elopement and disownment by her father, and the couple eventually settled in Italy.

Literary Context

Browning's writing style was groundbreaking and defied the literary norms of the 19th century. For instance, her first poem, "The Battle of Marathon" (1820), was an epic poem, a form typically seen in ancient societies. This unconventional choice of poetry form was innovative for a 19th-century poet.

"Let the World's Sharpness, Like a Closing Knife" is part of the collection "Sonnets from the Portuguese" (1850), which comprises 44 love sonnets written by Browning for her husband. Interestingly, she presented the collection as translations of foreign sonnets to maintain privacy, resulting in the collection's title.

A Brief Summary of "Sonnets from the Portuguese XXIV"

The poem opens with the persona seeking protection from the world's sharpness, asking for it to enclose upon itself and cause no harm, while finding solace and safety in love. The persona then leans on their loved one without fear, feeling shielded from the harshness of the world. The final lines of the poem suggest that only God, who blessed them with the richness of love, has the power to make them poor.

The Significance of the First Line as the Title

The first line of the poem serving as its title allows for its contents to convey its essence without any influence from a separate title, making it a powerful tool in conveying the poem's meaning.

The Structure and Form of Sonnet XXIV

The first part of the stanza, known as the octave, introduces the main issue of the sonnet: the contrast between the sharpness of the world and the softness of love. This establishes the recurring theme of love as the solution to the world's sharpness. The second part of the octave further develops love as a protective force, providing a sense of security and protection to the persona.

The Concluding Sestet

The final six lines of the poem break away from the regular rhyme scheme of the first eight lines, creating a contrast between the two sections of the stanza. The sestet is dominated by natural imagery, reminiscent of the style of Romantic poets like William Wordsworth. This vivid imagery emphasizes the importance of love in the poem. The last lines of the sonnet conclude the argument that love has the power to shield us from the sharpness of the world.

In Conclusion

By considering the biographical and literary context, alongside the poem itself, we can truly appreciate the intricacy and beauty of Browning's exploration of love and its significance in our lives.

The Impact of William Wordsworth on Sonnet XXIV

William Wordsworth, a prominent English poet, played a significant role in shaping the Romantic era of English Literature. His collaboration with Samuel Taylor Coleridge in publishing Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems (1798) is recognized as one of the first works of this literary movement. Following Wordsworth's death in 1850, there was much consideration for Elizabeth Barrett Browning to take his place as poet laureate.

The Characteristics of Romanticism

Romanticism is a literary movement that centers on individual experiences and a deep appreciation for nature.

The Structure and Form of Sonnet XXIV

Sonnet XXIV follows the structure of a Petrarchan Sonnet, consisting of one octave and a sestet. This form, also known as an Italian Sonnet, differs from the popular Shakespearean Sonnet in its rhyme scheme. Instead of ending with a rhyming couplet, a Petrarchan Sonnet concludes with a sestet following either a CDE CDE or a CDC CDC rhyme scheme. The second half of the sonnet aims to resolve the question posed in the first half.

Octave: The first eight lines of a Petrarchan sonnet, also referred to as an eight-line stanza.

Sestet: The final six lines of a Petrarchan sonnet, also known as a six-line stanza.

Meter and Literary Devices Used in Sonnet XXIV

Sonnet XXIV primarily follows iambic pentameter but strategically deviates from this pattern for emphasis. For instance, in the fifth line, "After the click of the shutting. Life to life—" the word "life" breaks the iambic pentameter, drawing attention to its significance. The rhythm also reflects the theme of love, resembling a heartbeat.

Iambic pentameter: A line of verse containing five iambs. An iamb is a pair of syllables where the first is unstressed and the second is stressed.

The literary devices utilized in Sonnet XXIV include personification and simile. Personification is used to attribute human characteristics to non-human entities, evident in lines such as "the world's sharpness" and "love." This technique highlights the contrast and tension between these two concepts. Additionally, the simile "like a clasping knife" further enhances the image of sharpness by connecting it to a tangible object.

Simile: A literary device that compares two things using "like" or "as."

Personification: Giving human traits to something that is not human.

The Use of Juxtaposition in Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnet XXIV

In her poem Sonnet XXIV, Elizabeth Barrett Browning masterfully employs juxtaposition to contrast love and sharpness, presenting two opposing forces in the world. The first eight lines juxtapose the harshness of the world with the tenderness of love. This contrast continues throughout the poem, as the semantic field of violence ("sharpness," "knife," "strife," "stab") is pitted against the semantic field of safety and comfort ("soft and warm," "guarded," "charm," "reassure").

Semantic field: A group of words with a common theme or subject.

Enjambment: When a sentence continues from one line of a poem onto the next.

Enjambment is also utilized in the poem, creating a seamless flow as sentences extend beyond a single line. For instance, in the beginning of the final six lines (sestet), Barret Browning writes:

  • And feel as safe as guarded by a charm
  • Against the stab of worldlings, who if rife

This use of enjambment not only maintains the poem's fluidity but also emphasizes the phrase "Against the stab of worldlings" by giving it its own line. In this instance, enjambment emphasizes the protective nature of love against the harshness of the world.

Enjambment: A break in the line of a poem, typically caused by punctuation such as a period, question mark, or exclamation point.

Caesura, or a pause or break in the line of a poem, is also employed twice in Sonnet XXIV:

  • After the click of the shutting. Life to life—
  • And
  • Are weak to injure. Very whitely still

In both instances, the caesura disrupts the poem's rhythm, emphasizing the harshness of the world being described.

By breaking up the flow of the poem, Elizabeth Barrett Browning emphasizes the harshness of the world and its stark contrast to the gentleness of love.

Caesura: A pause in a poem caused by punctuation marks like periods, question marks, or exclamation points.

Symbolism and Tone in Sonnet XXIV

Sonnet XXIV utilizes powerful imagery that connects to nature and protection. In the final five lines, nature imagery dominates, reflecting the influence of Romanticism on Browning's writing. She carefully chooses words like "lilies," "blossoms," "roots," "dews," and "hill," which evoke growth and development, highlighting the constant and ever-expanding nature of love and its ability to shield us from the "stab of worldlings."

The shift to natural imagery at the end of the poem also signifies the perseverance of love despite the world's "sharpness." As the theme of nature emerges, the violent imagery disappears completely. The poem uses imagery of protection to emphasize the idea that love can act as a shield against the cruelties of the world. This extended metaphor is reinforced through language like "closed hand," "clasping knife," and "guarded," portraying love as a powerful defense against the harshness of reality.

In this close hand of love, pixabay.com

The tone of Sonnet XXIV is lyrical and heartfelt, aided by Browning's use of iambic pentameter and an ABBAABBA rhyme scheme in the first eight lines. The theme of romantic love further enhances this tone, present throughout the poem and reflected in the semantic field of protection and safety.

The Main Themes of Sonnet XXIV

The primary theme of Sonnet XXIV is romantic love, dominating the poem and portraying the belief that love can protect us from the sharpness of the world. This theme is visible in the linguistic choices of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, such as her use of personal pronouns like "us" and "our," highlighting the narrator's dependency on their lover for support in the face of the world's hardness.

The Art of Love: Exploring Romantic Themes in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese XXIV’

The use of personal pronouns in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese XXIV’ adds to the overarching theme of love and protection portrayed throughout the poem. The narrator finds solace and security in their lover’s support and affection.

Browning also incorporates a reference to God in the final line of the poem, “God only, who made us rich, can make us poor.” This adds a spiritual element to the romantic love expressed throughout the sonnet.

The narrator’s love, which shields them from the harshness of the world, is attributed partly to a higher power. This transcendental aspect elevates the love beyond mortal and physical realms.

Key Takeaways from ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese XXIV’

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was a renowned poet of the Romantic movement during the Victorian Era, living from 1806 to 1861. ‘Let the world’s sharpness, like a closing knife’ is one of 44 sonnets included in her 1850 collection, ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’.

The poem follows the structure of a Petrarchan Sonnet, with an octave and a sestet. The first eight lines have an ABBAABBA rhyme scheme and are written in iambic pentameter.

Browning effectively uses literary devices like enjambment and caesura, as well as personification and simile, to enhance the poem’s imagery and themes of nature and protection.

Exploring the Soft and Warm Themes in ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese XXIV’

In ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese XXIV’, the hand of love is described as “soft and warm”, which adds to the overall tenderness and intimacy of the poem.

Uncovering the Key Theme of ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese XXIV’

The central theme of the poem is romantic love and its ability to shield us from the hardships of the world. The narrator finds comfort and safety in the love shared with their partner.

The Meaning Behind ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s collection of love sonnets, ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’, was given its title as a disguise to keep her and her husband, Robert Browning, out of the public eye.

The Structure of ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese XXIV’

The poem’s first eight lines follow an ABBAABBA rhyme scheme, while the last six lines have no specific structure.

Why ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’ Endures as a Classic

Known for her exceptional writing, Elizabeth Barrett Browning almost became Poet Laureate after William Wordsworth’s passing. Her acclaimed work, ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’, stands as a beloved collection of love sonnets dedicated to her husband, Robert Browning, who was also a poet.

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