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Pre-20th Century Poetry, Comparative Analysis

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  • Pages: 7
  • Word count: 1606
  • Category: Poetry

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During the studying of these four sonnets, the poets use images of time, death and destruction habitually to create a sense of compulsion for the reader to grasp onto. Imagery of time, death and destruction is collaborated with the love-affairs which has a dramatic effect upon the sonnets because they create additional elements to the sonnets to make them more appealing.

In Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, he expresses how love is an eternal spiritual element and how it never changes despite the changes in appearance such as beauty of age thus describing the nature of love through what love is not. Shakespeare uses techniques such as alliteration and repetition to add a pleasant poetic effect to the sonnet. One example of alliteration is shown in the octet, line 1:

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments.”

Here, Shakespeare uses a combination of sounds to fulfil his alliteration technique; one sound consisting of a strong “t” sound and the combination of assonances and consonances of mellow “m” sounds accompanied with a number of short “i” sounds. Shakespeare refers love to the “marriage of true minds” which is in reference to the bible passage from Matthew 19:6 normally heard at wedding proceedings – “what thus God hath joined together, let not man separate”. Furthermore, the speaker is saying that love essentially is steadfast and cannot be destroyed by inconsistent time.

In addition, techniques of repetition appear frequently in the first quatrain:

“Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove:”

Here, the repeated words are trying to reinforce the points the speaker is trying to make which interprets that if a person is really in love then he or she would not have to make changes in order to make them happy, and that love cannot be detached.

In the following quatrain, a popular rhyming scheme of “cdcd” is applied following the “abab” format of the previous quatrain. Shakespeare cleverly and metaphorically compares love to the North Star which in the sonnet is the “ever-fixed mark” which is a navigational guide for vessels.

Lines 6-9 focus on the ship’s course which is undisturbed by the storms “tempests” trying to deviate the route but fails because the power of love overcomes other forms of nature. Elements of personification are contained since the stars have no tenure thus Shakespeare speaks of love as if it were human to express the importance of it.

In the sestet of the sonnet, Shakespeare speaks of love as neither a slave nor a “fool” to time for the reason that it is much bigger. The power of love is disheartened with the image of the sickle as time cutting down the primitive of young love.

“Within his bending sickle’s compass come:”

This essentially is a personification of death since he refers to the sickle, which would be the main weapon of the iniquitous Grim Reaper. Death can take away physical but not spiritual qualities, mainly love. The “rosy cheeks and lips” mentioned in the previous line are being ruined by the immoral sickle which causes time to encumber on love so effectively, Shakespeare explains that love can worsen the image of his lover but it does not matter since he still loves her.

The use of time and destruction are more noticeable in lines 11 and 12 with eternal love again being emphasised outlasting the “brief hours and weeks”. Moreover, love last till the end of time:

“But bears it out even to the edge of doom”

The words “But” and “bear” is another example of the alliteration included in this sonnet to express that love can survive anything on its own in spite of the pressures and influences of time.

The couplet finalising the sonnet ends with a confident conclusion that love is the most powerful spiritual element and suggests a contradictory term that if that no one has ever loved then anything he has ever written was never true. Shakespeare includes negative words which add further certainty to his opinion of love:

“I never writ, nor no man ever loved.”

In addition, these negative words are in juxtaposition before love thus Shakespeare makes it clear that the speaker has full faith in his own words.

Overall, the mood of this sonnet starts with a soft, mellow tone and then changes dramatically by introducing the inevitable nature of death. This sonnet is an excellent piece of literary subject of love using powerful descriptions literary tools such as metaphors and alliteration and further using strong images of time accompanied with subtle images of death and destruction.

In John Donne’s On Death, he personally reminds readers that death is nothing to be afraid of since it cannot overpower anything. This sonnet focuses more on John Donne’s personality and emotions towards death as opposed to Sonnet 116 which focuses more of the nature of love against time and destruction. Donne addresses death as an abstract figure to make the tone of the poem more humble instead of as if he were talking about death as an element which delivers a more worrisome tone.

In the first quatrain, Donne begins with a command to death telling it “be not proud”. This gives an instant impression that he is talking to death in the face as if it is laughing at its acts. Death is described further as being “Mighty and dreadful” which adds some destructive ingredient to the sonnet. Donne further disrespects death for how it has not overcome him:

“Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.”

Death has taken everyone around him but himself thus he sympathizes death which is a big shock since he is taking on a powerful adversary. Lots of negative words have also been included which adds a strong tone towards denying the existence of evil in death which is a similar technique used in the ending of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116.

In the next quatrain, Donne explains that death is nothing to be worried about because it is ideally the same as a long sleep:

“From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,

Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,”

Here, he explains that the rest and sleep brings restoration therefore death will resurrect us back to a better life thus this thought drives on his wavering mind even further. So this leads us thinking that death is enjoyable, Donne argues, so the real thing must be even more pleasant – and in any case:

“Soonest our best men with thee do go”

If the good ones die at young age, why should anyone want to avoid it?

Strong images of death and destruction are further mentioned in line 8 to emphasize the description of death and what it can do:

“Rest of their bones, and souls delivery.”

Already, we can see that there are denser images of death applied in this sonnet compared to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 because they are required for greater cause; to prove that death is just a passing of time, an instant linking one moment to the next. Shakespeare uses less imagery but repeats his sentiments over and over again to reinforce his points.

In the sestet, Donne emphasises how Death is limited in terms of its powers by saying that Death is a slave to:

“Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,

And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,”

Here, Donne explicates that death is a slave because these factors control death through bad luck, giving orders or murdering people. As for the suggestion of suicide to adjust his state of mind, he has addressed that when speaking of Death as being slave to desperate men.

In addition, negative images are associated with death to create a more tense description; death is something that we cannot avoid and since death dwells within “poison, war and sickness”, it is a realm in which no one would want to rule.

Donne has been famously known for this verbally aggressive language; he even goes so far as to patronise the Grim Reaper, calling it “poor death” and asked “why swell’st thou then?”

Towards the end of the sonnet, Donne exclaims that we “wake eternally” for Judgement Day at the end of the world to go into heaven. This reinforces the idea of enjoying death for a greater cause. The final line of the sonnet reads:

“And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.”

Clearly, the effects Donne has applied here relate to the final triumph over Death and its existence will be no more. He gives the impression that he believes in the second coming of Jesus Christ when the dead shall wake up eternally and there shall be no death. Throughout the whole poem, he disrespects death because in the end it shall be defeated and eradicated and the living will prevail.

Between the two sonnets, images of time and death in particular have been clearly mentioned and the two poets use them to great effect. However Donne uses less literary techniques in order to grab the reader’s attention but he replaces that with the constant mention of overwhelming death and summarises in the last line, combining the consolation of the Christian faith with the contradictory idea of Death vanishing instantly.

Shakespeare on the other hand has used his literary tools to the greatest effect using metaphors to stress how love is the ultimate beauty of nature but his images are much more subtle compared to Donne’s sonnets thus striking the reader with weaker ingredients. On Death is much stronger but Sonnet 116 delivers the message much more easily since the contents of On Death leave us with questions about the true meaning of death as it focuses more on Donne’s affairs which gives the reader the sense that he is patronising and being sarcastic towards death but secretly, he is besieged by death.

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