Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In this sonnet, the reader is in the world of profound feelings in the presence of spirit, although the physical world is not ignored. Indeed, it is used to convey the poet’s feelings and inner states. She sees aspects of the physical world as an expression of the spiritual or abstract realm within her own being. The “threshold” of her “individual life” is a metaphorical expression of her inner state, though “sunshine” (line 6) moves thought into the physical realm despite its symbolic value. In subsequent lines, “palm,” “land,” “heart,” “grapes,” “eyes,” and “tears” all refer to physical things, but their meanings in the poem relate to and reflect spiritual and emotional qualities. In them, her thoughts and feelings are embodied. What they represent, in the poem, explains how the poet sees her condition, herself, and her feelings.

As early as line 2, Barrett Browning suggests that she will be incapacitated by her lover’s departure—she cannot act “Without the sense of. . ./ Thy touch upon the palm.” Rather than rendering her helpless, however, her denial of his presence (“that which I forbore”) will leave a “sense” of him with her, his “touch upon the palm.” This image deftly suggests a strengthening, but his presence—no more than a “sense” and “touch”—nevertheless increases her, both spiritually and physically. Separation has taught her that she is both weakened by her lover’s...

(The entire section is 418 words.)