‘The Best Thing in the World’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning is a twelve-line poem that is contained within one block of text. The lines follow a rhyme scheme that is close to the following pattern: AABCCABDBBAD. There might be some alternations to this pattern depending on one’s pronunciation, but it is fairly consistent.
In regards to the metrical pattern, every line contains seven syllables, except for line four. Generally, poetry is written with pairs of syllables, known as metrical feet. When this does not occur, and the lines end up with odd numbers, especially consistency so, it is in an effort to keep the reader unbalanced, or on the edge of their seat. The lines often feel that there is something unresolved by the time one reaches the end of a line, even if there is end-stop punctuation.
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Summary of The Best Thing in the World
The poem begins with the speaker asking the reader what they think the “best thing in the world” is. It is clear from the next lines that the speaker has an answer and she’s ready to provide it.
She goes on to list out a number of features, experiences, and forces of the world she loves the most. All of these, from natural beauty to the south wind and harmless truth, are united by their intangibility. The last lines summarize the fact that the best parts of the world are things that humanity cannot physically grasp on to.
Sensory Images in The Best Thing in the World
Browning uses the reader’s senses to create vibrant images within ‘The Best Thing in the World.” When her speaker describes the truth, or pleasure, or beauty, all of these terms and forces have different connotations within the reader’s mind. They will bring up whatever is most intimately connected to that person’s life. This means that Browning’s poem creates different images for each person, depending on their own life experiences.
Additionally, one should take note of the unifying phrases used by Browning. Her “best thing” was not something that one can buy at the store or would only have access to one country. Good memories, truth, and beauty, these are things that can be found everywhere on earth and within every person. This speaks to an overall theme of unity, as well as self-understanding, that is connected with the text.
Analysis of The Best Thing in the World
What’s the best thing in the world ?
June-rose, by May-dew impearled;
Sweet south-wind, that means no rain;
In the first lines of ‘The Best Thing in the World’ the speaker begins by asking the question that fuels the entire poem. This is also one or two or three of the most important lines of the text. She asks the reader to think about what the best thing in the world is.
The fact that this line is immediately followed by another, which seems to embark on an explanation of sorts, makes it clear the speaker has an answer. It is a rhetorical question. She does not need the reader or listener’s input, in fact, she is preparing to explain what she thinks is the best thing in the world.
The next two lines are ephemeral, just like all those which follow. There is not one single thing the speaker is thinking of. Rather, the best things in the world are emotions, or a series of emotions, which transcend everyday life. All of these are centered around love though—self-love, love of the world, and love of others.
First, she mentions the way that dew acts on flowers. She describes the roses as “impearled” or made into pearls. This refers to the drops of dew on the petals, but also to a process in which something is preserved beautifully. She also speaks on a wind blowing in from the “south” that is “Sweet.” It does not signal a coming rainstorm. Instead, it just exists and the speaker is able to love it while it’s there.
Truth, not cruel to a friend;
Pleasure, not in haste to end;
Beauty, not self-decked and curled
In the next two lines, she adds three more emotions and ways of getting into her idea of what the best thing or things in the world are. The first is “Truth” that is good for everyone. The one speaking the truth does not have to fear that it will hurt a friend or cause pain to any who hears it. At this moment the truth is the right thing to say or reveal, there are no negative consequences. This is a theme carried over from line three. Just as the south wind does not portend rain, the truth does not lead to anger and resentment.
Next, she goes on to “Pleasure.” Since the speaker doesn’t state what kind of pleasure this is, a reader should consider it to be all pleasures. It does not end quickly. It lingers, allowing one to soak it in for an extended period of time.
The last phrase that is started in line six and continued into line seven refers to one’s beauty. One of the best things in the world to the speaker is when beauty comes naturally it is not “Self-decked” or put on purposefully by oneself.
Till its pride is over-plain;
Light, that never makes you wink;
Memory, that gives no pain;
In the speaker’s world of perfection, this kind of beauty has nothing to do with pride. It’s clear she doesn’t respect those who “curl” their beauty until it is “over-plain” and obviously curated.
The next lines go onto another part of the world— light. Just like beauty, truth, and pleasure, light is something that one cannot touch. She loves seeing, feeling, and being around light that “never makes you wink.” It’s never too bright or too warm. Just like the wind and the truth, there are no consequences to its presence.
In line nine she mentions another untouchable thing she loves about the world, memories that give no pain. These could be few and far between. The speaker takes joy from finding a memory to settle on that is not tinged by pain or unhappiness in some way.
Love, when, so, you’re loved again.
What’s the best thing in the world ?
— Something out of it, I think.
In the last three lines, the speaker explains one of the most important “best things” she knows. That is: “Love, when so, you’re loved again.” This is the presence, and recurrence of love. One is allowed to be loved, loved back, and then love again under different circumstances. This phrase encompasses all varieties of love as well, from the romantic to the familial and platonic.
In line eleven the speaker utilizes the opening question again as if reminding the reader what they were trying to figure out in the first place. The last line summarizes everything that she stated so far and explains what unites all the lines. They are all things that are “out” of the world. They are intangibles that are not normally considered as part of “the world,” especially as part one could value as their favorite part.