Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 418

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...

(The entire section contains 418 words.)

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  • Themes
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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 absence and strengthened by it, but only if she can see beyond the merely physical aspects of her life—“The widest land/ Doom takes to part us,” for example. Seeing no further than the “hand” or the “palm” is to miss the highest meaning of their existence, and the purer realm of spirit. The poet makes her metaphors transpose physical into spiritual reality, where “thy heart in mine” can be and where “pulses” can “beat double.”

Ordinary union pales before the union she feels and envisions; it is as real yet as rarefied as the taste of the grape in the wine, and the lovers are so commingled that in speaking her own name, God “hears that name of thine.” The final line of the poem illustrates the poem’s underlying paradox. Tears in the poet’s eyes suggest grief, doubled because God will see both the poet’s tears and her lover’s, but in that union of grief (over their necessary parting) they will be united, and the tears may be seen as tears of joy and triumph. From their parting comes their ultimate oneness.

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