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Sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Sonnet 138 by William Shakespeare

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Both poems – Sonnet, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Sonnet 138, by William Shakespeare – share a number of common ideas and similarities, with one particularly important similarity: their theme is love. The two writers are very passionate and understanding about this topic, and this is really effective in convincing the reader of their points of view. Although the poems are supposed to be about relating their love, they are also persuasive, emotional, and real. However, they are also both very unique and thus have many differences. In the following paragraphs, their similarities and differences will be looked into.

Both Sonnet, written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Sonnet 138, written by William Shakespeare, have the common theme of love. They both love the person written about endlessly, “to the depth and breadth and height (their) soul(s) can reach…” (Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnet). However, the nature of their love is very different. In Sonnet, the subject person is admired, idolised and appreciated (“I love thee with the breath, smiles, tears, of all my life!”). Browning writes as someone who is so in love that she is even blinded by it. This is shown as she doesn’t mention any faults, perhaps because she doesn’t see any. The writer just loves this person with anything and everything she is. In Sonnet 138, the writer claims that he loves this person even though he knows she is lying (“When my love swears that she is made of truth, I do believe her, though I know she lies”).

This woman is so important to him, that he even “credits her false-speaking tongue”. The main difference between the natures of love from the two poems is that Sonnet 138 seems to be conveying a message. This message is that love, and their relationship, can work because of their “seeming trust”. She lies to protect their relationship and his ego (“vainly thinking that she thinks me young, although she knows my days are past the best”). In return, he convinces himself to believe her lies. He doesn’t tell her that “she is unjust” and she tells him that “(he is) not old”. The writer of Sonnet 138 and his “love” survive because “age in love loves not to have years told … and in (their) faults by lies (they) flatter’d be”. This leads on to another important difference between the two poems: the relationship they have with their loved ones. In Sonnet 138, as previously stated, their relationship works because they believe each other’s lies.

In Sonnet, there is no mention of a relationship. The writer is much more passionate and intense, but the fact that the subject person is not referred to as hers, or in a relationship together, suggests that the reason it is so passionate and intense is that the love she feels is perhaps unrequited. This is clearly not so in Sonnet 138. Another truly important difference between the two poems is who they were written for. Sonnet is written to the person she loves, and we can tell this because of the use of “thee”. Sonnet 138 is written about the person he loves, and this is obvious through the use of “she” and “my love”, and there being no use of words such as ‘you’ or ‘thee’. This is especially useful for telling why the writers wrote the way they did about their loved ones.

One particular similarity becomes obvious when reading the two poems: their structure. They are both sonnets. This is shown with the fourteen lines and an iambic pentameter. Shakespeare and Browning are both known to be very skilled sonneteers. As well as their style of poem, they also write with very similar language. Both write with passionate and sophisticated words and sentiment. This is interesting considering the two poems were written a few hundred years apart. There is one main difference between the two poems’ languages, however. Sonnet is much more descriptive, adoring and even fanatical than Sonnet 138. It is romantic and sincere (“I love the freely … I love thee purely … I love thee with a love I seemed to lose with my lost saints …”). This may stem from the previously stated idea that this love is unrequited, making all the more powerful and painful.

At first glance, the poems are very similar. They share the same structure, and form; they have similar language, and even they even have a common topic. It seems as though they are so similar that one of the only differences between them is the time period in which they were written. However, looking deeper into the poems draws out many differences. The poems are both about love, but their ideas on love a very different. Sonnet’s idea of love is fantastical, whereas Sonnet 138’s idea of love is genuine and realistic. They also differ in their relationship with the object of the affection, and this is truly important in finding why they wrote the way they did. The final difference, and possibly the most important one, is who they were writing to. Sonnet is directed to the person she loves, where as Sonnet 138 is directed to the reader about the person he loves.

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