Comparison of Shakespeare's Sonnet 73 and Sonnet 116

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Comparison of Shakespeare's Sonnet 73 and Sonnet 116

 
   William Shakespeare, in his Sonnet 73 and Sonnet 116, sets forth his

vision of the unchanging, persistent and immovable nature of true love.

According to Shakespeare, love is truly   "till death do us part," and possibly

beyond.  Physical infirmity, the ravages of age, or even  one's partner's

inconstancy have no effect upon the affections of one who sincerely loves.  His

notion of love is not a romantic one in which an idealized vision of a lover is

embraced.  Instead he recognizes the weaknesses to which we, as humans, are

subject, but still asserts that love conquers all.

 

      Shakespeare uses an array of figurative language to convey his message,

including metaphor and personification.  Thus, in sonnet 73, he compares himself

to a grove of trees in early winter, "When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do

hang Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,..."  These lines seem to

refer to an aged, balding man, bundled unsuccessfully against the weather.

Perhaps, in a larger sense, they refer to that time in our lives when our

faculties are diminished and we can no longer easily withstand the normal blows

of life.  He regards his body as a temple- a "Bare ruined choir[s]"- where sweet

birds used to sing, but it is a body now going to ruin.

 

      In Sonnet 116, love is seen as the North Star, the fixed point of

guidance to ships lost upon the endless sea of the world.  It is the point of

reference and repose in this stormy, troubled world, "an ever-fixed mark That

looks on tempests and is never shaken;..."

 

      He personifies the coming of the end of his life as night, which is

described as "Death's second self" in sonnet 73.  However, in Sonnet 116 death

appears in the guise of the grim reaper, Father Time, who mows down all of our

youth, but still cannot conquer love- "Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips

and cheeks within his bending sickle's compass come;..."

 

      While both poems make use of figurative language, sonnet 73 uses far

more imagery than sonnet 116.  Sonnet 73 uses the image of the close of man's

life as a wintry grove with the few remaining leaves shivering in the cold.

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  A

person's later years are the twilight of life, to which the night of death

inevitably follows.  Further, the end of life is compared to the embers of a

dying fire, "In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire That on the ashes of his

youth doth lie,...."  All of these images express the fading light of a life in

decline.  The short, dark days of winter, the last rays at sunset and the

glowing remnants beneath the ashes all evoke the beauty of a once vibrant life

which is coming to a close.

 

      In contrast, sonnet 116 presents two images.  The first is that of the

exploring seafarer, out on stormy, uncertain seas with the North star of love as

his only guide through them.  Even though the seafarer attempts to

scientifically measure the worth of this love to him, it is immeasurable- "It is

the star to every wandering bark, Whose worth's unknown, although his height be

taken."

 

      The second image in sonnet 116 is that of Time mowing down our rosy-

cheeked youth.  Even so, however, love is not ended by our brief time on this

earth, but lasts until Judgment Day- "Love alters not with his [Time's] brief

hours and weeks, But bears it out even to the edge of doom."

 

      Finally, the tone of the two poems offers the greatest contrast between

them.  Sonnet 73 has a narrator who is somewhat detached and accepting of his

infirmities.  The entire main body of the sonnet, lines one through twelve, is a

physical description of the narrator's decline, which is related in a soft and

melancholy voice.  It is only the concluding couplet which brings home the

message that the strength of true love is shown when it exists in the face of

the narrator's inevitable decline.

 

      On the other hand, sonnet 116 has a passionate, didactic narrator.  He

orders and exhorts the reader.  He does not address the object of his affections,

as does the narrator of sonnet 73, but directly addresses his audience.- "Let no

man to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments." This narrator uses his

concluding couplet almost as an ironic aside.  You can almost see him speaking

to his audience from behind the back of his hand- "If this be error and upon me

proved, I never writ , nor no man ever loved."  There seems little likelihood

that Shakespeare thought that he had to worry about losing that bet.

 

      In conclusion, while the two sonnets differ greatly in tone, differ

somewhat in imagery, and have some similarity and some difference in their use

of figurative language, both express the universal desire for unconditional,

never ending love.  Sonnet 73 seems to say that even such a love ends at the

grave, though.- "To love that well which thou must leave ere long."  Sonnet 116

bears it out even to the end of the world.  Either poem offers a vision of love

to which we can aspire.

 

 

Works Cited and Consulted

Abrams et al. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, sixth edition, vol. 1. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1993.

Bender, Robert M., and Charles L. Squier, eds. The Sonnet: An Anthology. New York: Washington Square P, 1987.

Bloom, Harold. Modern Critical Interpretations: William Shakespeare's Sonnets. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987. pg. 12-13

 

Ingram, W. G. and Theodore Redpath, Ed. "Sonnet 73," Shakespeare's Sonnets.New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1968. pg. 168-169.

 

Vendler, Helen. The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1997. pg. 333-336

 


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