Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnet 22
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Sonnets from the Portuguese
This volume includes all 44 sonnets in the sequence.
The speaker in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s "Sonnet 22" from Sonnets from the Portuguese contrasts the heaven created by the soul force of the lovers with the contrary state of worldly existence.
In order to elevate this growing relationship to its highest pinnacle, the speaker attempts to describe the wedding of souls.
Instead of the mere, mundane marriage of minds and physical encasements as most ordinary human beings emphasize, this speaker in concerned with eternal verities.
This speaker is engaged in creating a world within a world wherein the spiritual is more real than the material level of existence.
First Quatrain: "When our two souls stand up erect and strong"
The speaker dramatizes the couple’s wedding, fancying that their souls are standing and meeting as they draw closer and closer together in the silence facing each other.
The couple resembles two angels who will merge into one. But before they merge, she allows the tips of their wings to "break into fire / At either curvèd point."
The speaker's other-worldly depiction at first seems to imply that she sees their love as not belonging to this world, but the reader must remember that this speaker’s exaggeration often lowers expectations as much as it elevates them.
This speaker is convinced that the two lovers are soul-mates; thus, she would stage their marriage first at the soul level, where nothing on earth could ever detract from their union.
Second Quatrain: "Can the earth do to us, that we should not long"
The speaker then asks the question, what could anyone or anything earthly do to hamper their happiness? Because they are united through soul force, even on earth they can "be here contented."
Indeed, they could be content anywhere, for as the marriage vow declares, "what God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (Matthew 19:6).
The speaker commands her belovèd to "think"; she wants him to reflect on the efficacy of remaining earth-bound in their love relationship.
If they allow themselves to ascend too high, "the angels would press on us and aspire / To drop some golden orb of perfect song / Into our deep, dear silence."
First Tercet: "Into our deep, dear silence. Let us stay"
The speaker implies that they are not ready for total perfection; they must remain earthbound and contend with whatever circumstance men might cause.
The "unfit / Contrarious moods of men" will have to be rebuked; thus, they must remain "on earth" in order to vie with them.
However, the speaker is certain that the couple will be able to overcome all adversity offered by others, and their love will cause their adversaries to "recoil away."
Second Tercet: "And isolate pure spirits, and permit"
The speaker’s faith in the united soul force of the two lovers deems them "pure spirits," and they will endure like a strong, self-sustaining island.
Their love will be "a place to stand and love in for a day." Even though around them the darkness of earthly, worldly existence will trudge on, for them their haven will endure indefinitely.
Reading of Barrett Browning's Sonnet 22
© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes