This less commonly read Browning poem is short, to the point, and entirely easy to read. The poet’s central subject matter, a woman’s kiss, isn’t revealed till the end of the poem, though. So, readers do spend a few lines trying to figure out what is higher and better than the natural images the first lines focus on.
Summum Bonum Robert BrowningAll the breath and the bloom of the year in the bag of one bee:All the wonder and wealth of the mine in the heart of one gem:In the core of one pearl all the shade and the shine of the sea:Breath and bloom, shade and shine, wonder, wealth, and--how far above them--Truth, that's brighter than gem,Trust, that's purer than pearl,--Brightest truth, purest trust in the universe--all were for meIn the kiss of one girl.
Explore Summum Bonum
‘Summum Bonum’ by Robert Browning is an eight-line poem that describes how a single woman’s kiss is more important than all the world’s natural beauty.
The poem is quite simple, spending the first four lines outlining the beauty of gemstones, bees, and pearls while describing how each contains a multitude within it. The speaker spends the next few lines alluding to something (later revealed to be a girl’s kiss) more important and desirable than all of those.
Structure and Form
‘Summum Bonum’ by Robert Browning is a short, eight-line poem in block form. This means the lines are contained within a single stanza, with no line breaks. The poem follows a simple yet effective rhyme scheme of ABABBCAC. Readers will immediately note that some lines, like line four, are quite long. In some versions of the poem, this fourth line is cut off at the edge of the page, creating a fifth line.
In this poem, the poet makes use of a few literary devices. These include but are not limited to the following:
- Anaphora: the repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “All the” begins lines one and two of this poem.
- Consonance: the repetition of the same consonant sound in multiple lines, for example, “Truth” and “Trust,” which start lines five and six. This continues in line seven, where the two words are used again.
- Alliteration: another form of repetition that’s a large part of this poem. It’s seen with the words “breath,” “bloom,” “bag,” and “bee” in line one.
All the breath and the bloom of the year in the bag of one bee:
All the wonder and wealth of the mine in the heart of one gem:
In the core of one pearl all the shade and the shine of the sea:
Breath and bloom, shade and shine, wonder, wealth, and–how far above them—
In the first lines of this poem, the speaker begins by describing how the entire year is contained within a single “bee.” The bee is the poet’s chosen symbol to represent life and the progress of the seasons in the same way that the “gem” in line two is the representation of the whole “mine,” which is itself a symbol of value and beauty.
In the third stanza, the poet references a single pearl and how the entire sea is contained (read: represented) within it. Just by having this one pearl and adequately admiring it, one can feel as though they are appreciating the entire sea.
The fourth line is quite long, stretching several words longer than the lines around it. The poet uses a literary device known as accumulation to gather together all the adjectives he’s previously used. He speaks of the “shine,” “wonder,” “wealth” and more of the world. There is something else, he alludes, that’s “above” them. This “something” is revealed in the following lines.
Truth, that’s brighter than gem,
Trust, that’s purer than pearl,–
Brightest truth, purest trust in the universe–all were for me
In the kiss of one girl
There is a “Truth” the world knows that’s brighter than the gem and a “Trust” that’s “purer” than the pearl mentioned in the previous lines. It is the “Brightest” truth and the “purest” trust that the universe has ever seen. Within this one thing, which the speaker has yet to reveal, one can experience love and beauty that are unknown anywhere else. The “thing” the speaker has been alluding to is revealed to be “the kiss of one girl.”
This is a sweet, and simple ending to a poem that deals with broad images and topics. The speaker, who is likely meant to be the poet himself, finds more joy in the kiss he could receive from a specific girl than he does in all the naturally beautiful and valuable objects in the world.
The tone of this poem is celebratory and passionate. The speaker feels a great deal towards the subject matter that he’s discussing, especially in the final lines when the image of the girl comes into play.
The purpose of this poem is to elevate one girl, and her kisses, above all the beautiful and valuable things that the world has to offer. She is more important, impressive, and beautiful than a pearl, gem, or bee.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Robert Browning poems. For example:
- ‘The Confessional’ – is a dramatic monologue following a woman who is betrayed for her blind faith.
- ‘Life in a Love’ – is an obsessive love poem in which a speaker tells the person they’re in love with that no matter how many times they’re torn down; they’re always going to get back up.
- ‘A Face’ – explores the poet’s fascination with a lady’s portrait, particularly her facial features depicted in it.