The speaker’s gender remains ambiguous throughout the sonnet. However, it is generally accepted that all the sonnets in this volume were dedicated to the poet’s husband, Robert Browning. Therefore, the speaker may be considered a woman, and more specifically, Elizabeth Barrett Browning herself. The speaker is a religious person who is well aware of the darkness in the world. She believes that there are people in the world who mercilessly harm others through their words and actions. However, by clasping her hand over a metaphorical knife—any harm and pain in life—the speaker can protect her lover and herself. Their love is enough to sustain them and shield them from harm. Even more importantly, a merciful God is protecting them.
One may assume that the listener—addressed at one point as “Dear”—is the speaker’s husband. He is the love of the speaker’s life, and she wishes to protect him and their love. The listener provides the speaker comfort and is essential to her survival. She leans upon him and feels safe, as his love gives her security.
The speaker makes a brief reference to “worldlings”—people devoted to interests and pleasures in the world. However, the connotation is a negative one, as such people are often materialistic and may exploit others for the sake of their self-interest. In the sonnet, these people are depicted as people capable of harming the speaker and her husband through harsh words or actions. The speaker aims to protect herself from any people who might cause destruction in her life.
God is a benevolent force in the sonnet. He is the source of the love shared by the speaker and her husband, and he protects them from harm. However, the speaker also acknowledges, at the poem’s conclusion, that God, and only God, can make them rich or poor. Therefore, this divine force does have the capacity to change their lives as He wishes. The speaker nonetheless has faith that whatever He chooses to do is for the best and that only God—not other people—has such power over her life.
Sonnet 24 (Let the world’s sharpness, like a clasping knife) Questions and Answers
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Study Guide for Sonnet 24 (Let the world’s sharpness, like a clasping knife)
Sonnet 24 (Let the world's sharpness, like a clasping knife) study guide contains a biography of Elizabeth Browning, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.