The Sonnet


by José Goris, M.A.


A sonnet is a lyrical poem: it is about expressing feelings, often love. Its form and structure follow strict rules, but its contents are emotional: harmony between form = intellect and contents = feelings. A sonnet has 14 lines; the Italian - Petrarchan - sonnet is divided into 8 and 6. Usually the first 8 lines , the octave, are subdivided into 2 quatrains and the last 6 lines, the sextet, in two terze rime. Between the octave and the sextet there is a turning point: the volta. This can be an opposition, details of the overall subject, comments on what preceded, in short: there are many possibilities, as long as the turn creates a tension between octave and sextet: thesis / antithesis.

The original rhyme scheme is: abab abab cdc dcd - alternating rhyme. The classical sonnet has a maximum of five - or even better: four - different rhyming sounds. The earliest English writers - Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard - admired the Italian sonnet and copied its rhyme scheme. During the Renaissance other types of sonnets were developed: there were many experiments with rhyme schemes and forms. Embracing rhyme was often seen: abba abba cde cde. The sonnet is written in iambic pentameters; a pentameter is ten syllables, an iambic is a metrical foot with alternate stressed and unstressed sounds in a pattern of five.

The English sonnet has a different division, invented by Surrey and developed further by Spenser: a sonnet with three quatraines and a distich, a double verse = two lines, so no terze rime. Shakespeare's rhyme scheme is: abab cdcd efef gg; this offers the possibility of more rhyming words. The turning point is in between the third quatraine and the distich. Spenserian sonnets have the rhyme scheme abab bcbc cdcd ee. Sometimes there are lines of twelve syllables: alexandrines, as in "The Faerie Queene". At the end of his career Wyatt, too, wrote English sonnets: two rhyming lines at the end.

Iambic pentameter virtually had to be rediscovered in Tudor times. Chaucer used them and he was greatly admired, but his iambic pentameter was often misread as a rough, accentual four-beat 'riding rhyme'. The traditional standard in English Literature was 4 beats to a line, inherited from Old English works. Here the lines were divided into two, as in the Anglo-saxon Chronicles and the battle of Maldon, which was easier with an even number of beats:

He bade a warrior abandon his horse
And hurry forward to join the fighters

Sonnets mostly deal with Elizabethan themes, such as : vanity of life, the pangs of rejected love, sleep, sleeplessness and dreams, absence and parting, etc. Common metaphors are: Life and love are visualised in pastoral, seasonal, and natural terms; as a journey by sea, as a disease, a legal process, eternal verse can defeat time and death, as can children. Human beauty is compared to: flowers, treasure, jewels. Eyes are compared to: the sun, stars. Time - with his ally Death - mows down the flowers with his scythe, or erodes the most solid monuments or, like the sea, washes all away.

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Sir Thomas Wyatt: 1503-1542

Wyatt's inaugurating role in the establishment of Elizabethan poetic conventions is a strange one. Like many originators who forge the stylistic models from which others will work, there is a kind of awkwardness about even his best works. He was a courtier and diplomat, who travelled to Italy and France, where he was acquainted with the High Renaissance. Among his works are poems of 'courtly makers': metrically regular in accentual - syllabic tradition, and Petrarchan sonnets: 'adaptations and translations of Petrarch'. From the Italian eleven-syllable line he sought to work out a viable English equivalent. Wyatt's sonnets are written in a peculiar mixture of syllabic and accentual lines, but the majority of those lines move toward the normative verse pattern which he was able to bequeath to his follower, the Earl of Surrey, Henry Howard.

Rhyme scheme: ABBA ABBA CDD CEE

I find no peace and all my war is done;
Sir Thomas Wyatt I fear and hope, I burn and freeze like ice;
I fly above the wind, yet can I not arise,
And naught I have and all the world I seize on;

That looseth nor locketh holdeth me in prison;
And holdeth me not yet can I scape nowise;
Nor letteth me live nor die at my devise,
And yet of death it giveth none occasion.

Without eyen I see, and without tongue I plain;
I desire to perish, and yet I ask health;
I love another, and thus I hate myself;

I feed me in sorrow, and laugh in all my pain.
Likewise displeaseth me both death and life,
And my delight is causer of this strife.

Monosyllabic syllables do not make for pleasant rhythm. Irregular numbers of syllables sound unpleasant; not mellifluous. 'I find no peace', from Petrarch, helping to establish the subsequently popular vogue for talking in paradoxes, particularly about love - in a tradition going back before Petrarch to Sappho and Catullus - and represented in its cliched form by poems like 'Tichborne's Elegy'.

Elizabethan themes: the delight and melancholy of love; the pangs of rejected love: the lover's agonies, his sighs and tears, his wounds and impending death.
Metaphors: love is a prison, a war; a series of contradictions- war and peace, burn and freeze like ice, live nor die, sorrow and laugh, delight as a causer of strife.

My galley charged with forgetfulness
ship Through sharp seas, in winter night doth pass
Tween rock and rock; and eke mine enemy, alas,
That is my lord steereth with cruelness.

And every oar a thought in readiness,
As though that death were light in such a case.
An endless wind doth tear the sail apace
Of forced sighs and trusty fearfulness.

A rain of tears, a cloud of dark disdain,
Hath done the wearied cords great hinderance,
Wreathed with error and eke with ignorance.
The stars be hid that led me to this pain.

Drowned is reason that should me consort,
And I remain despairing of the port.

In line 9 there is a break, but here there is a continuing argument. The rhythm is pleasanter than in the previous poem. There is maritime imagery. Tween rock and rock: a reminiscence of Homeric navigational dangers; the whole poem transforms Horace's 'Ship of the state' into a ship of self.
Elizabethan themes: the vanity of life, the fickleness of fortune, absence and parting.
Metaphors: Life and love as a journey by sea; life and love visualised in natural terms: reason is drowned; stars leading to pain; a cloud of dark disdain shows alliteration.

Farewell, Love, and all thy laws forever,-
Thy baited hooks shall tangle me no more;
Senec and Plato call me from thy lore,
To perfect wealth my wit for to endeveaour.

In blind error when I did persever,
Thy sharp repulse, that pricketh aye so sore,
Hath taught me to set in trifles no store
And scape forth since liberty is lever.

Therefore farewell - go trouble younger hearts,
Cupid And in me claim no more authority;
With idle youth go use thy property,
And thereon spend thy many brittle darts.

For hitherto though I have lost all my time,
Me lusteth no longer rotten boughs to climb.

lever: preferable; me lusteth: I desire
Theme: the cruel misstress who rules with such tiranny over him; baited hooks that tangle him, sharp repulse that pricketh aye so sore. Love is visualised as a legal process: thy laws; in terms of imprisonment: liberty is lever.

Whoso list to hunt:I know where there is a hind;
But, as for me, alas! I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
Deer I am of them that farthest come behind,

Yet may I, by no means, my wearied mind
Draw from the Deer; but, as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow. I leave off, therefore,
Since in a net I seek to hold the wind.

Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I, may spend his time in vain;
And graven with diamonds, in letters plain,

There is written, her fair neck round about,
'Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.

'Noli me tangere': Don't touch me; using Latin of John, 20:17.
Out of context - presumably this applies to the situation of Anne Boleyn, admired by Wyatt, but already marked for Henry Vlll. An example of a mixing of a Petrarch conceit and what was thought to be an actual court intrigue: a court poet in love with the king's wife-to-be. Seen as a prototypical English Petrarchan fashion.

Elizabethan themes: delight and melancholy of love; fickleness of fortune; the pangs of rejected love: the lover's agonies, his sighs and tears.
Metaphors: love visualised in pastoral terms: the search for love compared to a hunt, chasing deer; the vanity of love compared to holding wind in a net; a series of contradictions: ain travail, wild so she seems tame.


My Lute, awake!

They flee from me, that sometime did me seek,
With naked foot stalking in my chamber.
I have seen them, gentle, tame, and meek,
That now are wild, and do not remember

That sometime they put themselves in danger
To take bread at my hand, and now they range,
At court Busily seeking with a continual change.
Thanked be Fortune it hath been otherwise,

Twenty times better; but once in special,
In thin array, after a pleasant guise,
When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,
And she me caught in her arms long and small,

And therewith all sweetly did me kiss
And softly said, 'Dear heart, how like you this?'
It was no dream, I lay broad waking.

But all is turned, thorough my gentleness,
Into a strange fashion of forsaking;
And I have leave to go, of her goodness,
And she also to use her newfangleness.

But since that I so kindely am served,
I fain would know what she hath deserved.

Form and rhyme scheme are unusual. They were experimented with. The last lines are meant sarcastically. The poem tells about the hazards of living at a court. They did need him at some time, but now they flee. 'Who was being favoured by the King?' was a major question. Artists: actors, writers, poets, musicians, needed the protection of a nobleman to give them housing, an income, a pension etc. As long as a poet was in favour with the nobleman, he was allright. But there was a lot of competition. In return, they wrote poems and immortalized the patron, wrote about his good deeds, his kind personality etc. WHEN THE POET DIES, HIS ART LIVES ON: Ars Longa, Vita Brevis; an essential Renaissance notion. To immortalize what is mortal. Man is mortal: Renaissance idea, in the Middle Ages good people had eternal life in Heaven.

Metaphors of life visualised in natural terms: Fortune as a seductive woman, people as animals.
Imagery in this poem: animal/ bird imagery: To take bread at my hand. Dependent on the person who gives you bread. These people are now wild: animal imagery.
Later, at the end of his career, he followed the rhyme scheme of the English sonnet: two rhyming lines at the end.The difference with Shakespeare's sonnets is, that the latter had a greater choice of rhyming words. Sonnets had no title, but were named by their first line.

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Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517-1547)

Soldier, courtier from the time of his youth. In and out of favour with King Henry Vlll. He was an admirer of Wyatt. The sonnet form is being experimented with: mix up things and experiment with rhythm and rhyme. Howard is learning to develop the English sonnet with a rhyming couplet at the end. The first English blank verse is his: no rhyme and no iambic pentameter. Perhaps he derived it from Italian poetry in the same meter, used for his translations of Virgil's Aeneid. The first part of it is a sort of sonnet. Howard's sonnets are marked by:

  1. the smoothness and sophistication in handling the form used later by Shakespeare
  2. the balance and measure of syntax and verse unit
  3. the absorption of classical styles and their lessons for English
  4. a direct precursor of Sir Philip Sidney
Rhyme scheme: ABAB ABAB ABAB CC

Alas, So All Things Now Do Hold Their Peace;
Henry Howard Heaven and earth disturbed in no-thing;
The beasts, the air, the birds their song do cease,
The nightes chair the stars about do bring.

Calm is the sea: the waves work less and less;
So am not I, whom love, alas, doth wring,
Bringing before my face the great increase
Of my desires, whereat I weep and sing.

In joy and woe as in doubtful ease;
For my sweet thoughts sometime do pleasure bring,
But by and by the cause of my disease
Gives me a pang that inwardly doth sting.

When that I think what grief it is again
To live and lack the thing should rid my pain.

This Petrarchan sonnet is worked up from the well-known set piece by Virgil, contrasting the quiet of the night with Dido's anxiety when she knows Aeneas will desert her.
nightes chair: car of the night, i.e. the Great Bear.
disease: uneasiness.
Is there a natural break after line 8? Is there an 8/6 division? The rhyme is not as we see in abba, etc. The contents are building up towards the last two lines, which summon up the contents: you need the 12 lines going towards them.

Rhyme scheme: ABAB ABAB ABA BAA

The soote season that bud and bloom forth brings
With green hath clad the hill and eke the vale,
The nightingale with feathers new she sings,
Spring flower The turtle to her make hath told her tale.

Summer is come, for every spray now sorings
The hart hath hung his old head on the pale,
The buck in brake his winter coat he flings,
The fishes float with new repaired scale,

The adder all her slough away she slings,
The swift swallow pursueth the flies smale,
The busy bee her honey now she mings, -

Winter is worn, that was the flowers' bale:
And thus I see among these pleasant things
Each care decays - and yet my sorrow springs.

eke: also; pale:fence; buck in brake: male deer; the deer kept in enclosures.
mings: mingles, possibly also: remembers, calls to mind.
bale: evil, misery.

When raging love with extreme pain
Most cruelly distrains my heart,
When that my tears, as floods of rain,
Bear witness of my woeful smart

When sighs have wasted so my breath
That I lie at the point of death,
I call to mind the navy great
That the Greeks brought to Troye town

And how the boysteous winds did beat
Coat of Arms Their ships, and rent their sails adown;
Till Agamemnon's daughter's blood
Appeased the gods that them withstood.

And how that in those ten years' war
Full many a bloody deed was done,
And many a lord that came full far
There caught his bane, alas, too soon;

And many a good knight overrun
Before the Greeks had Helen won.
Then think I thus: sith such repair,
So long time war of valiant men,

Was all to win a lady fair,
Shall I not learn to suffer then,
And think my life well spent to be,
Serving a worthier wight than she?

Therefore I never will repent,
But pains contented still endure;
For like as when, rough winter spent,
The pleasant spring straight draweth in ure,

So, after raging storms of care,
Joyful at length may be my fare.

distrains: takes control of
bane: destruction, curse
repair: journey
wight: person, here: existence

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Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586)

A wisely and gracefully educated aristocrat. He possessed many cultivated skills as well as aristocratic carelessness. The perfect courtier; he understood the needs of the court and the art of government, for which formal intellectual training was necessary. The arts of literature in courtly poetry was more serious than in other fields. He wrote 'Arcadia' for the Queen as entertainment. It had alternating passages of prose and verse and five acts, such as the classical plays had. Sidney united the concerns of court and university by giving his originally recreational writing a range of purposes and concerns. His sonnet sequence, 'Astrophel and Stella', created a model for what would become a national literary fashion in the last decade of the century. Also for an association of form, mythological and narrative elements, and a tone of personal voice that would continue to influence English lyric poetry after his death.Sidney had a concern for the establishment of an English national literature, which is apparent in his Defence of Poesie. It was deeply rooted into more than merely contemporary arguments about style and form- poetic meter was an important issue in critical writing about literature.

The sonnets Astrophel and Stella were started in 1581; the first full Petrarchan sequence in English. In Petrarchan love poetry an idealised but unattainable lady is worshipped. Therefore, love is felt as paradoxical and a source of both happiness and grief. The physical beauty of the loved one is described conventionally: skin white as snow, teeth as pearls, etc. There is a discrepancy between love as seen through the senses and spiritual love. This ambiguity and disquiet of the poet are expressed in metaphors, paradoxes and imagery of opposites, e.g. 'sweet bitterness'. It adopts both Petrarchan fiction - examples from the ancients, Astrophil means starlover in Greek, Stella is Latin for star- and the meta-fiction, namely that literature exists merely to veil a literal autobiographical situation.

In fact, Petrarchan mythology exists to provide a muse, a psychology, and a set of relations and images. The use of biography supports that myth. Sidney was engaged to Penelope Devereux, and she is identified with Stella. Threads of the story reveal possible meetings and confrontations in the lives of Sidney and Penelope. The Stella in the sonnet is a mythical muse of lyric poetry, and of English poetry struggling to justify itself in the light of antiquity and the continental mastery of classical tradition. Sidney uses Petrarchan imagery and also patterns of linguistic surface and depth he had learned from the renaissance study of rhetoric. This is reinforced by a constant sense of personal presence of the speaker. This will lay the groundwork for the new kind of lyric of speech that first appears so dramatically in the poetry of John Donne.

From: Astrophel and Stella

Rhyme scheme: ABAB ABAB CDCD EE

Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show,
That she, dear she, might take some pleasure of my pain,
Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her know,
Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain,

I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe:
Studying inventions fine, her wits to entertain,
Oft turning others' leaves, to see if thence would flow
Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sunburned brain.

But words came halting forth, wanting Invention's stay;
Invention, Nature's child, fled stepdame Study's blows;
And others' feet still seemed but strangers in my way.
Thus, great with child to speak and helpless in my throes,

Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite:
'Fool,' said my Muse to me, 'look in thy heart, and write!'

This is the opening sonnet of the sequence. It is an original text about the notion of originality in English poetry. It is one of six sonnets in alexandrines, twelve-syllabled lines adapted from the standard French meter.
'Invention': inventions fine; here not the personification as in line 8, but its results. "Inventio" is the first of the three phases of composition as recognised in the Renaissance: with dispositio, the structure, and elocutio, the style. These fine inventions will not do for Stella's poet.

'Sunburned brain:' Astrophel's study of courtly verse -'oft turning others' leaves' - accounts for his 'sunburned brain', for this striking phrase refers to an accepted Elizabethan figure for poetic imitation. Sidney draws out what is implied in the metaphor: the parched sense of a man who has walked too long in the sun of the ancients.
'feet': metrical feet as well.
'Fool, ....write:' that is, look in your heart and find Stella's image there and write from that image, that source and origin of true poetry. That poetry, in fact, will be Petrarchan.

Rhyme scheme: ABBA ABBA CDC DEE

With how sad steps, o moon, thou climb'st the skies!
How silently, and with how wan a face!
What! may it be that even in heav'nly place
Moon That busy archer his sharp arrows tries?

Sure, if that long with love acquainted eyes
Can judge of love, thou feel'st a lover's case;
I read it in thy looks: thy languished grace
To me, that feel the like, thy state descries.

Then, ev'n of fellowship, o moon, tell me,
Is constant love deemed there but want of wit?
Are beauties there as proud as here they be?

Do they above love to be loved, and yet
Those lovers scorn whom that love doth possess?
Do they call virtue there ungratefulness?

The speaker is rejected, he is lovesick. Looking at the moon, which is pale, he sees a fellowship. The long vowels express his sadness. He has all the qualities of a good lover, and what the lady seems to want is love, so why does she reject him? He sees her as proud, ungrateful. Do they call ungratefulness a good quality there?

Nightingale The nightingale, as soon as April bringeth
Unto her rested sense a perfect waking,
While late bare earth, proud of new clothing, springeth,
Sings out her woes, a thorn her song-book making,

And mournfully bewailing,
Her throat in tunes expresses
What grief her breast oppresseth
For Tereus' force on her chaste will prevailing.

O Philomela fair, O take some gladness,
That here is juster cause of plaintful sadness:
Thine earth now springs, mine fadeth;
Thy thorn without, my thorn my heart invadeth.

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Edmund Spenser (1552-1599): The Poets' Poet

Spenser introduced a new rhyme form with a 'rhyming couplet' at the end. Spenserian sonnets served as an example for later sonneteers. Because of his innovations Spenser was seen as the Poets'Poet.

Rhyme scheme: ABAB BCBC CDCD EE.

One day I wrote her name upon the strand
But came the waves, and washed it away
Again I wrote it with a second hand,
But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.

Edmund Spenser

'Vain man,' said she, 'that doest in vain assay
A mortal thing so to immortalize;
For I myself shall like to this decay,
And eke my name be wiped out likewise.'

'Not so,' quod I; 'let baser things devise
To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:
My verse your virtues rare shall eternize,
And in the heavens write your glorious name.

Where, whenas Death shall all the world subdue
Our love shall live, and later life renew.

Eternize: Poetry's ability to perpetuate beautiful lives in myth even longer than can statues or inscriptions in stone. This is an ols theme: Shakespeare uses it in his Sonnet 'Not marble, nor the gilded monuments'. This was suited especially to the delight sonnets took in referring to themselves: 'Shall I compare thee....' etc.: 'thee' is the sonnet itself.

The poet is even better known for an allegorical narrative poem, 'The Faerie Queene,' which has as its subject King Arthur's Court and in which the knights represent the virtues in their dangerous struggles with vice. The poem is written in a stanza form of eight lines, Ottava Rima, and has an iambic closing line of twelve syllables or six feet, called 'Alexandrine', invented by Spenser and imitated by many poets of the 18th and 19th centuries. Here is the first stanza:

The Faerie Queene

A gentle knight was pricking on the plain,
Yclad in mighty arms and silver shield,
Faerie Queene Wherein old dints of deep wounds did remain
The cruel marks of many a bloody field
Yet arms till that time did he never wield.
His angry steed did chide his foaming bit
As much disdaining to the curb to yield
Full jolly knight he seemed, and fair did sit,
As one for knightly jousts and fierce encounters fit.

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Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618)

Served as a soldier in France, returned to England, became a favorite of the Queen, who elevated him and made him rich. His careers were many: courtier, dandy, sailor, entrepreneur. As an intellectual his association with Chapman, Marlowe and Hariot in a group: The School of Night. This earned him a reputation for atheism. The queen dropped him because he tried to seduce one of her attendants, Elizabeth Throckmorton. James 1 imprisoned him in the Tower and had him beheaded.

Farewell to the Court

Sir Walter Raleigh

Like truthless dreams, so are my joys expired,
And past return are all my dandled days,
My love misled, and fancy quite retired;
Of all which past, the sorrow only stays.
My lost delights, now cleaned from sight of land,
Have left me all alone in unknown ways,
My mind to woe, my life in Fortune's hand;
Of all which past, the sorrow only stays:
Whom care forewarns, ere age and winter cold,
To haste me hence, to find my fortune's fold.

My dandled days: when I was indulged
Fancy: inclination to love

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Christopher Marlowe

Christopher Marlowe

The Passionate Shepherd to his Love

Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the rocks,
Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle.

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold.

A belt of straw and ivy buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs;
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.

The shepherd swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May morning
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love.

The poem is an invitation to the pastoral realm where nature outdoes art; the natural harmony of the pastoral world.

Sir Walter Raleigh: Answer to Marlowe (The Nymph's reply to the Shepherd)

If all the world and love were young
And truth in every shepherd's tongue
These pretty pleasures might me move
To live with thee and be thy love.

Time drives the flocks from field to fold,
Nymph When rivers rage and rocks grow cold,
And Philomel becometh dumb;
The rest complain of cares to come.

The flowers do fade, and wanton fields
To wayward winter reckoning yields;
A honey tongue, a heart of gall,
Is fancy's spring, but sorrow's fall.

Thy gowns, thy shoes, thy beds of roses,
thy cap, thy kirtle and thy posies
Soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten,
Nature In folly ripe, in reason rotten.

Thy belt of straw and ivy buds,
Thy coral clasps and amber studs,
All these in me no means can move
To come to thee and be thy love.

But could you last and love still breed,
Had joys no date nor age no need,
Then these delights my mind might move
To live with thee and be thy love.

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Michael Drayton (1563- 1631)

An Elizabethan in the line of Spenser. Brought up as a page in a noble house, he composed sonnets, pastorals, historical narrative. He never achieved favour or influence at a Jacobean Court, and depended upon patronage of e.g. the Countess of Bedford, Donne's admirer.

Since there is no help, come let us kiss and part;
Michael Drayton Nay, I have done, you get no more of me,
And I am glad, yea, glad with all my heart
That thus so cleanly I myself can free;

Shake hands forever, cancel all our vows,
And when we meet at any time again,
Be it not seen in either of our brows
That we one jot of former love retain.

Now at the last gasp of love's latest breath,
When, his pulse failing, Passion speechless lies,
When Faith is kneeling by his bed of death,
And Innocence is closing up his eyes,

Now if thou wouldst, when all have given him over,
From death to life thou mightst him yet recover.

The personifications make up a kind of allegorical picture or sculptured group, almost the parody of a Pietà.

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Shakespeare's Sonnets

Shakespeare made additions to the rhyme scheme; a greater choice of rhyme words: ABAB CDCD EFEF GG

Sonnet 30

William Shakespeare

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste.

Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death's dateless night,
And weep afresh love's long since cancelled woe,
And moan th'expense of many a vanished sight.

Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.

But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored, and sorrows end.

When I think of the past I am sad about all that is lost; but thinking of you makes it all up
Law Court imagery: session, summon.
Long list of sad events and old woes: waste, squander, drown, weep, grieve, grievances.
Sessions of a law court. The legal conceit turns on words like 'dateless', cancelled', 'expense', 'account', etc., and suggests the poet being called to account, as a steward, for the estate of his life.
dateless: endless
expense: loss
foregone: gone by
heavily: sadly
tell: reckon
dear friend: the first use of this term in the sonnets.It is about his patron.

Sonnet 73

That time of year thou mayst in me behold,
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

In me thou seest the twilight of such day,
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.

In me thou seest the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.

This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

See how my beauty is past its prime and in the midst of autumn, of dawn; so, cherish what you still have: your youth and beauty.
Choirs: a seat in a choir stall. Rows of benches where monks used to sit and sing, but which are now derelict and occupied by 'sweet birds'; they were ravaged and plundered, like Tintern Abbey in Wales.
Death's second self: night, when we sleep; sleep is a second death.
Bed: bed of fire; deathbed.
His youth: its youth. At the time a male word.
Bare.....sang: the trees are likened to arching ruins, half-opened to the sky, of the choirs of gothic monastery churches; the sweet birds literally sang in the summer trees, and, figuratively, sang as choir boys, in the choir stalls of the church in the image; notice the sequence in the quatrains of autumn-sundown-dying fire. 'consumed with life', as with passion; also perhaps consumed by the nourishing fire; the image is one of embers hotter than they look.
Last line 'that': life, youth or: Shakespeare himself.

Sonnet 94

They that have power to hurt and will do none,
That do not do the thing they most do show,
Who moving others are themselves as stone,
Unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow;


They rightly do inherit heaven's graces,
And husband nature's riches from expense;
They are the lords and owners of their faces,
Others but stewards of their excellence.

The summer's flower is to the summer sweet,
Though to itself it only live and die;
But if that flower with base infection meet,
The basest weed outbraves his dignity:

For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds.
Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.

A person that can cause harm but refrains from it is truly noble. Beauty exists to honour itself. If beauty is infected by evil it becomes less than ugly.
show: look as if they could do
heaven's graces: the favours of heaven
husband .... expense: protect from wastefulness
stewards: officials who manage estates for the owners; 'their' refers to 'they' in line 1.
outbraves: make a finer show than
The last line: from an old play.

Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.

O no, it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.

Love's not time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come.
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out ev'n to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Let me not: the beginning of a psalm
impediments: obstacles to marriage
Shipping imagery: the stars to measure the position at sea.

Sonnet 129

Th'expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action, and till action lust
Is perjured, murd'rous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,

Enjoyed no sooner but despised straight,
Past reason hunted, and no sooner had,
Past reason hated as a swallowed bait,
On purpose laid to make the taker mad;

Mad in pursuit, and in possession so,
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe,
Before, a joy proposed, behind, a dream.

All this the world well knows, yet none knows well
To shun the heav'n that leads men to this hell.

Lust is an urge that one seeks and casts off. But nobody avoids the heavenly path leading to a burning fire.
The expense.....shame: abstractly characterizing lust; concretely, sexual 'spending' (orgasm) to no purpose in a shameful waste: the theme of post coitum triste, sorrow after sex.

Elizabethan themes: the place of reason and passion and of lust in a love affair.
Metaphors: a series of contradictions; the heaven that leads to hell, lust is enjoyed and despised, past reason hunted and hated, a bliss and a woe.
The poem has strong lines, like Donne's poems. The tone is very emotional, even angry: nothing is left of the pentameter in lines 3 and 4. It is the opposite of poem 116, about courtly love. Birds of prey as in Marvell are at work here, too.

Poetry forms had two developments:
  1. Spenser's way, which is about form, and is very strict in form and rhythm.
  2. Donne's way, his strength is his strong lines.

Sonnet 146

Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth,
.....these rebel powers that thee array,
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?

Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? Is this thy body's end?

Then, soul, live thou upon thy servant's loss,
And let that pine to aggravate thy store:
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more.

So shalt thou feed on death, that feeds on men,
And death once dead, there's no more dying then.

O soul, surrounded as in prison by that obstinate body
Leave that body which will be harmful to your eternity
Devour death, for if it dies all that is left is eternity.

Sonnet 147

My love is as a fever, longing still
For that which longer nurseth the disease,
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
Th'uncertain sickly appetite to please.

My reason, the physician to my love,
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
Hath left me, and I desp'rate now approve
Desire is death, which physic did except.

Past cure I am, now reason is past care,
And frantic mad with evermore unrest,
My thoughts and my discourse as madmen's are,
At random from the truth vainly expressed;

For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.

Love made me lose my mind, and now I am mistaken in everything: I see you sparkle, but dark as night.
Medical imagery: a fever, nursing a disease, preserve the ill, reason as a physician, prescriptions that are not kept, the speaker is past cure.
Personification: Reason as having human qualities: it has left the speaker, it does not care anymore: 'past care and frantic mad.'
Opposites:love is a fever, but it longs to prolongue itself.It feeds the ill, even though this appetite is sickly.
Elizabethan theme: the place of reason and passion in love.

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