Skip to main content

Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnet 3: "Unlike are we, unlike, O princely Heart!"

Elizabeth Barrett Browning masterfully employs the Petrarchan form in her classic sonnet sequence, her tribute to her belovèd husband.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 3: "Unlike are we, unlike, O princely Heart!"

The speaker of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnet 3 from her classic sonnet sequence, Sonnets from the Portuguese, is contemplating the differences between her belovèd 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 belovèd partner.

Sonnet 3: "Unlike are we, unlike, O princely Heart!"

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: "Unlike are we, unlike, O princely Heart!"

Commentary

The speaker in sonnet 3 is musing on how unlikely it seems that a plain singer such as herself would begin a relationship with a person who has attracted the attention and respect of royalty.

First Quatrain: Contemplating Differences

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

The speaker begins with an excited remark. 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: A Guest of Royalty

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

The speaker reports that her new belovèd 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.

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Owlcation

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: Her Lowly Self

Of chief musician. What hast thou to do
With looking from the lattice-lights at me,
A poor, tired, wandering singer, singing through

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: A Precious Oil

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.

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.

The Brownings

The Brownings

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on November 01, 2015:

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

FIVE-DPRODUCTIONS from ~WORLD WIDE ~ on October 31, 2015:

GREAT WORK

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on October 31, 2015:

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.

Colin Garrow from Inverbervie, Scotland on October 31, 2015:

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

Related Articles