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Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnet 3

Updated on September 21, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


Sonnet 3

Unlike are we, unlike, O princely Heart!
Unlike our uses and our destinies.
Our ministering two angels look surprise
On one another, as they strike athwart
Their wings in passing. Thou, bethink thee, art
A guest for queens to social pageantries,
With gages from a hundred brighter eyes
Than tears even can make mine, to play thy part
Of chief musician. What hast thou to do
With looking from the lattice-lights at me,
A poor, tired, wandering singer, singing through
The dark, and leaning up a cypress tree?
The chrism is on thine head,-- on mine, the dew, --
And Death must dig the level where these agree.

Reading of Sonnet 3

The speaker of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnet 3” from Sonnets from the Portuguese contemplates the differences between her beloved and her humble self. She continues her study of unlikely love employing the use of the Petrarchan sonnet form for the sequence. The speaker thus dramatizes her musings as they focus on her relationship with her beloved partner.

First Quatrain: “Unlike are we, unlike, O princely Heart!”

The speaker begins, “Unlike are we, unlike O princely Heart!” The humble speaker and her newly formed romantic partner perform very different roles in life; thus they would naturally be on the road to very different "destinies," one would assume.

The speaker then paints a fantastic image wherein a couple of angels look with surprise, "On one another, as they strike athwart / / Their wings in passing."

This unusual pair of lovers possesses very different guardian angels, and those angels find themselves taken aback that this pair with such differing stations in life should come together and apparently begin to flourish in doing do.

The angels' wings begin fluttering, as they questioningly peer upon the unlikely couple.

Second Quatrain: “Their wings in passing. Thou, bethink thee, art”

The speaker reports that her new beloved has often been "a guest for queens to social pageantries.”

The speaker is only a shy and retiring individual; she thus offers the contrast between her own social station and skills to that of one who has shined so brightly as to attract the acceptance into the company of royalty.

The speaker assumes that the folks he surely meets at the spectacular affairs of royalty no doubt look at him with “a hundred brighter eyes” than her own. Her tears even cannot be enough to render her eyes as bright as what he must experience at such high level social affairs.

First Tercet: “Of chief musician. What hast thou to do”

The speaker then contends that unlike her lowly self, her new found love has played the role of "chief musician" at those gatherings of royalty. She, therefore, must question the notion that he would even bother to give her a second thought, after encountering the glamor and glitz of upper class events.

The speaker then puts the question to her romantic partner in order to become informed as to why one such as he would be “looking from the lattice-lights” at one such as herself. She wants to know why one who can so easily attract and associate with royalty can at the same time seem to be like a commoner, as he “lean[s] up a cypress tree,” while peering up at her through her shaded-window.

Second Tercet: “The dark, and leaning up a cypress tree?”

Finally, the speaker declaims that her loved one sustains “chrism” on his head, but she possesses only “dew.” The precious oil coming together with only plain dew boggles her mind; thus, she evokes the image, “Death must dig the level where these agree.”

On the earthly plain and in a definitely class based society, the speaker cannot conciliate the differences between herself and her beloved. She therefore suggests that she will just allow “Death” to establish the meaning and purpose of this seemingly bizarre, but happy, occurrence.

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes


Submit a Comment

  • Maya Shedd Temple profile image

    Linda Sue Grimes 2 years ago from Spring Hill, TN

    Thank you, FIVE-DPRODUCTIONS! Really appreciate your comment. Blessings for the day.

  • FIVE-DPRODUCTIONS profile image

    FIVE-DPRODUCTIONS 2 years ago from ~WORLD WIDE ~


  • Maya Shedd Temple profile image

    Linda Sue Grimes 2 years ago from Spring Hill, TN

    It's not one that is widely read. Only a few of the Sonnets from the Portuguese have garnered wide-spread attention. But they are so fascinating and deeply spiritual when read all together. I will continue my commentaries on them for I do believe they are important to the world of poetry.

  • FatBoyThin profile image

    Colin Garrow 2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

    Good thing you're able to explain it, Linda, cos this one would've gone straight over my head!