The sonnet, being one of the most traditional and recognized forms of poetry, has been used and altered in many time periods by writers to convey different messages to the audience. The strict constraints of the form have often been used to parallel the subject in the poem. Many times, the first three quatrains introduce the subject and build on one another, showing progression in the poem. The final couplet brings closure to the poem by bringing the main ideas together. On other occasions, the couplet makes a statement of irony or refutes the main idea with a counter statement.
It leaves the reader with a last impression of what the author is trying to say. Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 65″ is one example of Shakespearian sonnet form and it works with the constraints of this structure to question how one can escape the ravages of time on love and beauty. Shakespeare shows that even the objects in nature least vulnerable to time like brass, stone, and iron are mortal and eventually are destroyed. Of course the more fragile aspects of nature will die if these things do. The final couplet gives hope and provides a solution to the dilemma of time by having the author overcome mortality with his immortal writings.
Sonnet 65” follows the traditional sonnet form with the rhyme scheme, ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. The poem is divided into 3 parts. The first two quatrains pose a similar question to the audience and confirm each others’ argument that fragile beauty cannot survive time if sturdy, almost invulnerable objects cannot. The third quatrain is a little different and asks what can be done to stop time’s ravages on love and beauty. The final couplet gives the answer to the questions in the sonnet and provides a solution to the problem.
The anxiety and hopelessness of the speaker progresses through the quatrains, as can be seen in the diction change and meter irregularities from the accented “how” in quatrain one to the accented “O” in quatrain two and finally to the accented “O fearful meditation! ” in quatrain three. The couplet stops the anxiety and the tone changes to hopeful because the answer to the problem is provided. The diction used is “O, none,” with a stress over both words. The speaker is passionate and excited to have found the answer.
The first quatrain questions how beauty can withstand the “rage” of time when it is so fragile, “whose action is not stronger than a flower? ” “Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea / But sad mortality o’er-sways their power,” translated as if strong, sturdy objects like brass, stone, earth, and sea, seemingly invincible to the passage of time, are eventually destroyed and proved mortal, of course fragile beauty will be as well. The speaker makes a good argument here, and the tone of the poem is introduced as hopelessness in the survival of beauty.
True to sonnet form, the second quatrain confirms the previously presented argument, and poses a similar question as the anguish of the speaker and the dilemma of time’s progression are heightened. Line 5 starts with “O,” eliciting the speaker’s great anguish at the predicament of time and it is accented, breaking the traditional iambic pentameter meter in which Shakespeare writes: O, how shall summer’s honey breath hold out Against the wrackful siege of batt’ring days, When rocks impregnable are not so stout, Nor gates of steel so strong, but time decays? The imagery is powerful.
Summer is personified as battling against time. Summer, in reality, is a time when life begins to die out as the colder months come in, so nature and the plants are in fragile condition. “Summer’s honey breath” reflects the flowers and plants so beautiful and transient in summer, the nature that keeps “Summer” alive. But the “wrackful siege of batt’ring days” comes to kill this beauty. The progression of the “batt’ring days,” time moving forward, destroys “summer’s honey breath. ” Imagery of a battle is used throughout the quatrain with “wrackful siege,” “batt’ring days,” “impregnable,” and “gates of steel.
All of these words and phrases have a connotation of destruction, like in a battle. A siege surrounds and kills a city. To batter something is to hit and pound it heavily, just as time does this to the nature in summer when the bad weather, cold months come in. The progression of the days and time leading to summer’s end is what batters the beautiful “honey breath. ” Steel gates and rocks, again images associated as being immortal to time’s progression, are eventually “decayed” by time, so of course summer’s fragile beauty could not hold out.
In a battle, an “impregnable” force is one that cannot be penetrated or destroyed. As rocks are here presented as strong and impregnable, time is so strong that it even eventually destroys them. “Gates of steel” that usually keep the evil forces out of a place in battle also eventually decay in old age. The whole metaphor of summer versus time proves time to always be the victory. Nothing can defeat it. The third quatrain introduces a new object that is also vulnerable to time, love. It starts with “O fearful meditation! ” commenting on the scary and sad thoughts the speaker has had in the previous two quatrains.
The anguish of the speaker has reached its pinnacle and all three words have accents on the first syllable, showing that they are heavily stressed and important to show the speaker’s tone. The line, “where, alack, / Shall time’s best jewel from time’s chest lie hid” expresses an unconventional idea. “Time’s best jewel” is the lover of the speaker and the love they share. The speaker is trying to figure out where he can hide his lover so she can escape time and not decay. The speaker must keep the “jewel” from “time’s chest” because the lover will be subject to passing time in it.
This is unconventional because usually jewels go into chests for safe keeping, but the chest is now not even safe. “Time’s best jewel” and “time’s chest,” personified images of time, also all stressed, showing the speaker’s great fear of losing his love to time and the passion he has in keeping his love from it. It is very important to him to save his love, so the lines are emphasized.
The next two lines ask questions of whom or what can stop time from destroying love and spoiling beauty, “Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back? Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid? ” “Strong hand” is stressed because whatever really can stop time must be very strong and heavy. The final couplet provides the answer to these questions. The final couplet, as it often does in sonnet form, provides the answer or the solution to the destructiveness of time. The tone is a contrast to that of the whole sonnet; it is more hopeful because an actual answer to a seemingly unfixable problem is presented.
The lines state, “O, none, unless this miracle have might, / That in black ink my love may still shine bright. “O, none” is stressed, showing that the speaker really sees no other solution to beat time except one, the power of his poetry to immortalize love and beauty. To describe his love and write about the beauty of nature and loving someone in “black ink” on a page allows “my love” to “shine bright” to an audience eternally. They can experience love and beauty through his words and verse.
He can have hope in the “miracle” of his verse to convey the experiences of passion and splendor long after time takes his life, his love’s, or kills the beautiful flowers in the passing of the seasons. Black ink” is stressed because it is the solution, the most important point of the sonnet. The poet attempts and can hopefully overcome mortality with his immortal writings. His love survives in ink. This sonnet also clearly has a metapoetic level to be explored, as did many of Shakespeare’s sonnets. He writes about the power of writing. The immense destruction of time is eventually solved by the power of the poet’s verse because time cannot decay his ideas and experiences on the page.
The power of language overcomes his tangible experiences of day to day life, but the speaker can still re-live them through reading the verses. Even further, the audience can also vicariously feel love and understand beauty long after the poet is dead because they live in the black ink. On the literal level, the speaker is talking about his grief regarding the death of the flowers and summer’s beauty with the passing of the seasons as time goes on, but more importantly, he is sad that one day he will inevitably die and his memories and the love he shared with his partner will be gone and forgotten.
Several phrases within the sonnet also reveal the metapoetic nature of the poem. The line, “Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back? ” mentions the “strong hand” of the writer and the feet of a poem. No one can hold back the writer from writing feet and verses of poetry or belittling the meaning of his words. The power of writing is too strong. “Strong hand” is stressed and emphasizes the strength of the writer’s words and how immortalized they become.
The poet is also made strong and immortal through the words because his legacy lives on. The line “O fearful meditation” also reveals a metapoetic nature in the strength of the poet’s words. His words, thoughts, inspirations, and “meditations” are “fearful” because they are powerful and lasting. When considering this sonnet, the poet knew before writing that they way to defeat the ravages of time was through writing and the power of words, so the entire sonnet has slight puns that can be taken in several meanings.
While on the surface the speaker laments the loss of beauty and love in mortality, he also knows that his writings and what he writes in “black ink” will preserve these things for eternity. The “fearful meditations” and grand ideas and experiences of the poet are in tact through words. In reality, there really is truth in the immortality and lasting effect of words because today sonnets of love and beauty from the past are still studied. Many poets wrote on a metapoetic level because they knew their works could last, and there really is truth behind the power of writing.
Using a sonnet form brings much meaning and expectation to the words in a poem. With “Sonnet 65,” the structure shows progression of the emotions and ideas about beauty versus time through the quatrains and closes with a couplet announcing the dilemma to the problem. Many sonnets also contain a metapoetic level because the authors know the power of language and they choose to write about that power of writing. “Sonnet 65” is a perfect example of words that adhere to conventional sonnet form to produce meanings on multiple levels in poetry.
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