Sonnet 24 (Let the world's sharpness, like a clasping knife)

Sonnet 24 (Let the world's sharpness, like a clasping knife) Literary Elements

Speaker or Narrator, and Point of View

The speaker’s gender is never specified in the poem. However, we can consider Elizabeth Barrett Browning to be the speaker, as she dedicated this poem to Robert Browning, her husband. The speaker discusses the pain and negativity of the world. She believes that the love she shares with her husband—the addressee of the poem—is the antidote to all this suffering.

Form and Meter

Sonnet 24 is a Petrarchan sonnet. It contains 14 lines: one octet (eight lines) followed by a sestet (six lines). The poem follows a traditional rhyme scheme for this type of sonnet: ABBAABBACDCDCD. It contains end rhymes and follows iambic pentameter, following a natural rhythmic pattern.

Metaphors and Similes

“Let the world’s sharpness” (metaphor) Sharpness refers to the harm that people can cause one another, whether it be physical or emotional. The speaker wishes to shut out this pain and negativity.

“Like a clasping knife” (simile) The speaker likens the pain and negativity to the sharpness of a knife. People’s words and deeds have the ability to cause harm, just as a knife might do.

“This close hand of Love” (metaphor) The speaker’s loving hand is a metaphor for all good deeds in humanity as well as God’s love. While she wishes to protect her beloved and herself from pain, she suggests that love in general can heal the world—specifically, the love of God.

“As safe as guarded by a charm” (simile) The speaker’s husband makes her feel safe and reassured. She feels protected, just as a magic charm might shield someone from evil and harm.

“The stab of worldlings” (metaphor) The speaker explains that there are materialistic and selfish people in the world—“worldlings”—who may cause harm through their words and actions. The “stab” refers to this harmful behavior.

“The lilies of our lives” (metaphor) The lilies may represent love and the life cycle. The flowers' pure whiteness reflects the sanctity of the speaker’s marriage to her husband as well as their love’s ability to survive in a difficult world. Alternatively, the lilies may suggest the fragility of the life cycle. God’s love nourishes life, just as it nourishes nature. However, God also has the power to destroy—more so than the harmful acts of human beings.

Alliteration and Assonance

“In this close hand of Love, now soft and warm” (alliteration) The repetition of the “s” sound in “close” and “soft” creates a soothing effect, just as the speaker banishes pain with the gentleness of her love.

“And let us hear no sound of human strife” (alliteration) The repetition of the “s” sound in “us,” “sound,” and “strife” once again creates a soothing effect. The speaker is proposing a loving solution to the hate of the world.

“Life to life” (alliteration and assonance) The repetition of the word “life” flows off the tongue and stresses the importance of the speaker and her husband to each other’s lives. Both the “l” and the long “i” sound contribute to this effect.

“The lilies of our lives” (alliteration) The “l” repetition has a calming effect and once again conveys the speaker’s gentle tone.

“Alone to heavenly dews that drop not fewer” (alliteration) The repetition of the “d” sound resembles the dropping sound of water, like the dew mentioned in the line.

“I lean upon thee” (assonance) The long “e” sound in “lean” and “thee” has a harmonious effect, depicting the speaker’s joy in being able to trust her husband.

“That drop not fewer” (assonance) The back-to-back “o” sound in “drop” and “not” gives the line a heavy sound, like the sound of a drop.


In the last line of the sonnet, the speaker makes it clear that she believes in God. Throughout the poem, she insinuates that God is the source of her love with her husband and that all nourishment in life comes from Him. However, the last line also states that God has the ability to make people both rich and poor. While He is the source of her happiness—and the joy of mankind—He is also the only one who is able to take it all away. The speaker seems to be at peace with this idea, and she worships Him just the same.


Victorian poetry; autobiographical poetry; love sonnets.


There is no distinct setting in the poem. However, the second half of the poem conveys a pastoral image, suggesting that all that is mentioned in the poem—love, nature, pain—is universal and a natural part of the life cycle.


The tone is gentle, confident, and religious. The speaker gently conveys her love throughout the poem, especially when she describes her relationship with her husband. She is also confident, as she believes that her love can block out pain and that God is always there to protect her. She makes religious references throughout the poem, and she cites God directly in the last line to emphasize her belief that He alone is able to govern the ways of the world.

Protagonist and Antagonist

The speaker is the protagonist, describing her love for her husband and the ways in which they try to protect one another. The antagonists are the “worldlings” who may try to threaten their love and cause them pain.

Major Conflict

The speaker wishes to shut out the pain of the world through her God-given love. The “wordlings” threaten her love, but she is confident that God will continue to let her thrive and be at peace with her beloved.


The climax occurs in line nine, at the start of the final sestet. The speaker begins referring to nature and using it as a metaphor for her love’s endurance. She eventually reveals at the sonnet’s conclusion her belief that God is responsible for the love on Earth.


The last line of the sonnet foreshadows the possibility of the speaker losing her joy one day. Just as God has made her life rich with love, He can take it away.


No examples of understatement.


The speaker alludes to religion and nature in the poem. The two ideas seem to be intertwined, as God is responsible for all living creatures. She believes that her love is God-given, and the life cycle—as symbolized by the lilies—is ultimately in God’s hands.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

“Sharpness” (metonymy) Sharpness refers to the harm and negativity in the world.

“Close hand of Love” (metonymy) The hand represents the gesture of a loving person trying to shield another from harm. It may further represent the good deeds of humanity, like lending a helping hand.

“Stab of worldlings” (metonymy) This refers to the harmful words and deeds of self-serving, materialistic people.


“The lilies of our lives may reassure/Their blossoms.” The lilies are personified as creatures that can reassure, or speak to, their blossoms.


“Like a clasping knife." The ill deeds and words of others are considered to be as dangerous and painful as a sharp knife.

“The stab of worldlings.” People’s words and actions are so hurtful that they can cause harm like the stab of a knife.


“After the click of the shutting.” The speaker describes the action of closing a loving hand over a knife as making a clicking sound. The “click” signifies shutting out pain and keeping love safe.