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

Sonnet 24 (Let the world's sharpness, like a clasping knife) Summary and Analysis of Sonnet 24 (Let The World's Sharpness, Like a Clasping Knife)


Lines 1-4

The speaker uses a confident tone as she introduces the main conceit, or elaborate metaphor, of the poem: a knife. She establishes that the world possesses a “sharpness” that resembles a knife clasped in one’s hand. Rather than allowing this sharpness—anything that might cause pain or destruction—to harm her, she declares boldly that it should instead be put away. Love, she proclaims, should take its place.

In the fourth line, the speaker makes the first reference to another person with the word “us.” This person is her beloved, and she claims that love can shield her and her lover from the world’s pain. On a grander scale, the “us” may be read as humanity as a whole, and the speaker may be suggesting that love can quell all human suffering.

Lines 5-8

In the fifth line, the speaker completes the thought first mentioned in line four. She now addresses her husband directly as she tells him that he will no longer hear the sound of human conflict once it is shut out. The figurative closing of the speaker’s hand is likened to the shutting of a door or other object that might produce a “click” sound.

The speaker then reveals her great faith in her husband and the way in which she both supports and counts on him in life. She addresses him with a term of affection, “Dear.” Once again, a word is capitalized to emphasize its meaning. "Dear" also replaces her husband’s actual name, as if this were his nickname. She explains how she “leans” upon him without any “alarm,” or concern. She is not worried that he will let her down. He gives her such comfort and safety that she feels as though she is protected by a magic charm.

In the eighth line, she elaborates that he is in fact shielding her from the metaphorical “stab,” or hurt, of “worldlings,”—people who are so caught up in materialistic things that they may harm others through their careless deeds or words. There may be many people like that in the world, but her husband makes her feel safe from them.

Lines 9-14

In line nine, the speaker once again finishes a thought from the previous line. In line eight, she mentions that there are “worldlings” who may threaten her husband and herself. However, even if there are many of them in the world, they are unable to harm her. She is protected by the love she shares with her husband.

The speaker then refers to nature for the first time. She mentions the “lilies” of their lives as still being purely white. These flowers may symbolize purity, their mutual love, and the life cycle. By describing the lilies, the speaker also conjures a religious image. She explains that these metaphorical lilies are deeply rooted in the ground and uniquely receptive to “dews,” or nourishment, from a heavenly source that keeps on giving. If the lilies are meant to symbolize life and death, the speaker is suggesting that they are still alive and white and nourished by a divine source. As a symbol of their love, they are well nourished by God’s love and deeply rooted in solid ground. They are growing straight, out of the reach of man—any person who might try to disrupt the life cycle or harm their love.

The speaker concludes the sonnet by making the only direct reference to God. She claims that only He can make them rich or poor. Just as He is the source of all the love and goodness in the world, He is also the only one who can determine what happens to his creatures.


The sonnet’s tone is both romantic and confident. The use of the imperative “let” as the first word of the poem establishes the speaker’s confidence. She seems to boldly challenge the “sharpness” of the world by suggesting that love is a better option and a true savior for all. The word “sharpness” is ambiguous, but it may refer to any source of pain and suffering—just as a knife may cause injury. Rather than allowing the knife to cause harm, the speaker proclaims that it should simply close in on itself in her hand.

With the mention of the word “this” in line three, the poem becomes more intimate. The speaker is not only suggesting that love should replace pain, but that it is specifically her hand that will quell suffering and offer love. Tellingly, the word “love” is capitalized to highlight its power. Love is given equal status to a person—it is elevated to the status of a proper noun. The use of the word “close” implies both proximity—a nearby hand to help ease suffering—and the closure of a hand into a fist. By gently wrapping her hand around this metaphorical knife, or source of pain, she offers peace and harmony, replacing sharpness with a “soft” and “warm” feeling.

In the fourth line, the mention of the word “us” further deepens the intimacy of the poem by introducing a listener. This person is most likely her beloved husband, whom she wishes to protect with her love. Through their mutual love, they will no longer hear the sound of human strife, or conflict. This conflict may stem from people who wish to do them harm. Alternatively, the word “us” may suggest a larger hope for humanity. The speaker may be suggesting that love is the answer to the ill deeds of mankind, and she wishes to shut out pain by believing in love.

The way in which the speaker’s thought flows from line four to five is an example of enjambment. (This device is commonly used in Petrarchan sonnets.) In line five, the speaker likens the closing of her hand to the clicking shut of a door or enclosed object. Once the sharpness of the world is shut out with a “click,” she and her husband are safe. At this point, the speaker elaborates that it is not only she who protects her husband. In fact, he is her protector as well. They are joined together “life to life,” suggesting that they need each other to survive.

The speaker uses the word “lean” to emphasize her need for his support. Her term of affection for him, “Dear,” is capitalized to underline his importance. He is clearly her beloved, and this term replaces his actual name. She feels no “alarm,” meaning that she can completely trust him to protect her. She is not worried that anyone or anything will harm her or that he will abandon her. In fact, the speaker is so reassured by her husband that she feels as though she is safely “guarded,” or protected, by a “charm.” While the word “charm” seems to signify a character trait at first—a pleasant disposition, for example—the deeper meaning is that her husband’s love for her is like a magic charm. He fends off all evil, just as a spiritual or religious relic can make negative forces go away.

In the eighth line, she offers more insight into the source of such negativity and harm. The speaker references “worldlings,” or worldly, materialistic people who are mostly concerned with the pleasures in life. The insinuation is that they may be insensitive to morality or religion and may disregard other people’s emotions. These worldlings may inflict harm and threaten the love and survival of her husband and herself, through either actions or words. However, her husband’s love protects them both from the harmful “stab” of their behavior.

Line nine features enjambment once again, as the speaker finishes her thought regarding the “worldlings” who cause harm. She mentions in the previous line that even if they are “rife,” or plentiful, they are unable to “injure” her. In other words, such self-absorbed and superficial people are unable to hurt her in any way. Her husband’s love shields her from any harm they may attempt.

In the next few lines, the sudden shift to a nature image gives the poem a more spiritual tone. The mention of white lilies suggests the purity and innocence of a bride, perhaps recalling the speaker herself when she married her husband. She is comparing the love they share to pure white lilies that bloom confidently and are untouched by harm. They are personified as reassuring their blossoms from the roots up—the love they represent is firmly rooted in the ground and untouchable. Furthermore, “heavenly” dews nourish those roots, suggesting that the couple’s love is continuously nourished by the love of God.

However, white lilies are also known to symbolize death—for this reason, the speaker may also be referencing the life cycle. The lilies are thriving, but they are nonetheless living creatures that one day must perish. The lilies are personified as reassuring their blossoms that they are indeed thriving.

The last two lines of the poem connect the speaker’s belief in God to the overall meaning of the sonnet. The lilies are growing tall and straight, “out of man’s reach.” If we view the lilies as a symbol of love, we can interpret the line as saying that harm and negativity caused by other people can never threaten the love of the speaker and her husband. Their bond is untouchable. The last line goes on to cement the speaker’s belief that in the end, only God has the ability to govern His creatures and decide their fate. God has made the speaker and her husband rich with love and joy, just as humankind can feel these things. However, God can take away those things as well. The speaker, however, seems to be at peace with that thought. Her words suggest that people can never truly threaten her, and she trusts that God’s love will always do the right thing. Only He can ultimately provide the richness of love and harmony in the world, and only He can take it away. Mankind may attempt to commit terrible acts or show love, but God’s love is always most powerful and conquers all.