The speaker uses the symbol of a knife to represent pain and negativity in life. She believes that self-absorbed, materialistic people often exploit others and cause harm. Their malice is likened to the sharpness of a knife, and she believes that only the love of God can shield her—and all of humanity—from people’s damaging deeds and words.
White lilies (symbol)
White lilies may depict several things in the sonnet. As the speaker has a loving relationship with her husband, they may represent the sanctity and love of their marriage. Alternatively, white lilies may represent death and symbolize the life cycle. While people may harm each other, only God can make lilies bloom tall and take them away. The lilies are thriving, but they are nonetheless living creatures that one day must perish.
The speaker makes both subtle and direct references to God throughout the sonnet. The mention of “heavenly” dews in line 12 implies that the nourishment of the white lilies comes from a divine source. Whether the lilies symbolize love or the life cycle, God has a hand in their existence. Most directly, the speaker mentions God in the last line of the poem. She states that only He can decide what happens to all living creatures. His also love protects her, and it is the true source of her love with her husband.
As in the other sonnets in this collection, Sonnet 24 is centered on love. The speaker is first and foremost in a loving relationship with her husband. They protect one another and rely on each other for happiness and survival in an otherwise difficult world. At the poem’s conclusion, the speaker further elaborates that all love on Earth stems from God. Their marital bliss is God-given, and God’s love has the power to make everyone both rich and poor as He sees fit.
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.