Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Silk in the Sorrows
Suffering can be a powerful way of recognizing the inherent goodness of life
Elizabeth Barrett Browning1, in her letter to Miss Commeline, briefly reflects on the dichotomy of life's joys and sorrows, likening them to the two sides of a silk fabric. I appreciate the way she acknowledges the profound weight of suffering, while also reminding us that suffering can be a powerful way of recognizing the inherent goodness of life. It reminds me of a line from Fred Rogers Dartmouth College Commencement Address, "Sometimes we need to struggle with a tragedy to feel the gravity of love." Browning's perspective is the same, she encourages us to perceive sorrow not as mere hardships but as opportunities for growth. I think I mostly agree with what she writes. Sorrows, though arduous and burdensome, may indeed hold great intrinsic value. I think that’s right, but with one caveat, I don’t think sorrows are the only way to discover that great intrinsic value. There are other ways.
May God bless and comfort you, I say, with a full heart, knowing what afflictions like yours are and must be, but confident besides that 'we know not what we do' in weeping for the dearest. In our sorrow we see the rough side of the stuff; in our joys the smooth; and who shall say that when the taffeta is turned the most silk may not be in the sorrows?
It is true, however, that sorrows are heavy, and that sometimes the conditions of life (which sorrows are) seem hard to us and overcoming, and I believe that much suffering is necessary before we come to learn that the world is a good place to live in and a good place to die in for even the most affectionate and sensitive.2
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) was a prominent English poet of the Victorian era, celebrated for her romantic works such as "Sonnets from the Portuguese." Struggling with health issues, she found solace in her Christian faith, which deeply influenced her poetry and social activism. Her marriage to Robert Browning was a notable romantic partnership, and the couple's shared passion for literature led to a prolific collaboration. Elizabeth's faith-driven perspectives on social reform and morality continue to resonate with readers, making her an enduring figure in literary history.
Browning, Elizabeth Barrett, selected and edited by Frederic G. Kenyon. The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1 of 2). London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1898.
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