Sonnets from the Portuguese

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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How does Sonnet 22 from Sonnets from the Portuguese challenge societal values?

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The original question had to be edited down.  I would suggest that one particular societal value that is seen in Sonnet 22 is the notion that men and women could not stand equal to one another.  In Sonnet 22, the speaker makes it clear that men and women can find equal footing, standing with one another in a paradigm of equality.  Consider the opening of the poem as an example of this.  The idea of both souls standing "erect and strong" helps to convey the notion of equality that can be found in both souls in this setting.  Another social value that is challenged is the idea that all human beings must strive for the realm that is not in the temporal.  This appeal to an after- life or a life not on Earth is what makes love purer.  Yet, the speaker rejects this.  The speaker in the Sonnet makes the case that the love that both share is so strong that there is "no wrong" that can be done to them.  In bringing the case of why transcendence might not appeal to their love, the speaker rejects the idea that the two lovers cannot share in a powerful notion of affection and care in the here and now.  The love that is being appealed to in the poem is one that shows passion, devotion, and a sense of honor in the temporal condition.  Warts and all, this particular vision of love seems to assert itself best in the present tense, repudiating the idea that all love that is worthwhile has to be geared towards the elsewhere.

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