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Sonnet on the Death of Mr. Richard West

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The poem “Sonnet on the Death of Mr. Richard West” which was written by Thomas Gray deals with a loss and the aftereffect it has on those left behind. The communicative situation such as the deictics of the poem can be detected by looking at the first person pronouns being ‘me’ (l.1), ‘my’ and ‘mine’ (l.7) as well as ‘I’ (l.13;14) suggesting that there is a speaker at hand. However there is no indication on a second person pronoun since the speaker does not address anyone directly. Which means there is no specific audience given. The whereabouts and the time period of the poem are not known either. The speaker on the other hand uses the simple present by expressing verbs such as ‘melts’ (l.7), ‘smiles’ (l.9) and ‘brings’ (l.10).

The overall theme of the poem is grief, loss and loneliness. As one can see from the title a death has occurred whereas now the speaker has to deal with that loss. Dividing the poem into different sections, three quatrains and one couplet, will provide a better understanding about the speaker’s feelings as well as the development.

In the first part (l.1-4) the speaker gives a first glance of his/her emotions and surroundings. Even though it is a new day ‘smiling mornings shine’ (l.1) the speaker does not seem like he/she is enjoying it ‘In vain to me’ (l.1). Continuing the speaker talks about joyous things such as ‘cheerful fields’ (l.4) which are everything but cheerful for him/her. The second part of the poem (l.5-8) marks how the speaker’s loss and sadness has effected his/her body ‘these ears, alas!’ (l.5) and ‘these eyes’ (l.6) are missing their ‘object’ (l.6) of desire. The speaker feels like he/she is the only one that is experiencing this heartbreak as one can see in line 7 where it is indicated that no one but the speaker’s heart is ‘melting’ and hurting. Same as in the section before the speaker does not feel any happiness ‘my breast the imperfect joy expires’ (l.8).

In the third section (l.9-12) just like in the first one the speaker is talking about his surroundings ‘morning smiles’ (l.9) which smiles at him and brings ‘new-born pleasure’ ‘to happier men’ (l.10). The speaker believes he/she can not feel the pleasures others feel. The word ‘new-born’ (l.10) contrasts with the word ‘death’ (title) and matches our theme on loss and grief.
At the end of the poem (l.13-14) the speaker changes his/her perspective and refers for the first time to ‘him’ (l.13) where one can assume the speaker is talking about Mr. Richard West. In the last line of the poem the speaker uses once again the term ‘in vain’ still feeling unhappy and unjoyful as one can also identify by the verb ‘weep’ (l.14) which is used twice as well.

As we take a closer look at the poem we can see several figures of speech such as the metaphor. One of them we can see in the second line ‘redd’ning Phoebus lifts his golden fire’ and another one in line seven ‘my lonely anguish melts no heart but mine’. I would like to take a closer look at this metaphor. Literal: ‘my lonely anguish  no heart but mine’ Figurative: Tenor: ‘my lonely anguish hurts no heart but mine’ Vehicle: ‘my lone sorrow melts no soul other than mine’ Ground: No one can feel the pain the speaker is feeling. The speaker uses other forms of figurative speech such as the anaphora to point out his suffering ‘in vain’ (l. 1;3;14).

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