Comparing and Contrasting Sonnet 130 and Ars Poetica

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Emilia Nallen
Ms. Ritson
English/P.3
02-03-13

Sonnet 130 vs. Ars Poetica

“Change what you see by changing how you see” (Huie). This quote relates to “Sonnet

130,” by William Shakespeare and “Ars Poetica,” by Archibald Mac Leish. Sonnet 130 is

about the faults of his mistress, but realizes by the end of the poem, that his love is all that

matters. This man did not see his mistress as an ugly woman, but instead saw her as

someone whom he loves dearly. In a different way, Ars Poetica states that “a poem should

not mean, but be” (MacLeish 23). People who read a poem may try to interpret its real

meaning, but there is really nothing to interpret. A poem should just mean what it says.

Although both “Sonnet 130,” by William Shakespeare and “Ars Poetica,”by Archibald

MacLeish have similar themes such as simplicity, and similar devices such as using imagery

to describe beauty and nature, they have different meanings, since one poem seems to

expect a considerable amount from a mistress, and the other poem expects nothing of a

poem.

One similarity between “Sonnet 130” and “Ars Poetica” is their themes of

wanting nothing but simplicity in a poem and a mistress (stated in the last couplet),

and love and adoration. When reading “Sonnet 130” one might think that this man

spends his time complaining about his mistress, and clearly dosen’t love her,

however, by the end of the poem he realizes that his mistress may not be beautiful,

but their love is beautiful, and that is all that matters. “And yet, by heaven, I think

my love as rare” (Shakespeare 13). In “Ars Poetica,” MacLeish explains that “a poem

should be wordless” (7) and “a poem should be motionless in time” (9). One might

be confused by what the poem is actually trying to say, but he ended the poem by

saying, “a poem should not mean, but be” (23), which was a clearer statement. As

was said before, a poem is not something people should over analyze, it should just

make you feel the way it does. Almost ike a painting or sculpture, a poem is not a

puzzle, but a mood or a feeling.

Both poems seem to have different views on what to expect from a

mistress/poem. In “Sonnet 130,” Shakespeare expects a great deal of things from his

mistress. There are twelve lines discussing the disappointment of his mistress’ eyes,

lips, hair, cheeks, breath, voice, and how she walks. Lines such as her eyes “are

nothing like the sun” (Shakespeare 1), her lips are less red than coral, and her hairs

are like black wires growing on her head, show how displeased he is at these

unattractive qualities. “Ars Poetica” is completely different in this way. MacLeish

says, “A poem should be palpable and mute” (1), and “Dumb as old medallions to the

thumb” (3). These words demonstrate how he believes that poetry should be

different than what society expects them to be. He wants nothing of a poem, but just

believes that poems should be whatever they want to be.

Another similarity between “Sonnet 130” and “Ars Poetica” would be that they

both use imagery to compare beauty and nature. “Sonnet 130” used this device, to

demonstrate the nature of beauty through imagery. “I have seen roses damask’d,

red and white, but no such roses see I in her cheeks” (Shakespeare 5). This

compares his mistress’ cheeks to the beauty of a rose. “Ars Poetica” has many lines

that use imagery, one of which compares words to the flight of birds, “a poem

should be wordless as the flight of birds” (MacLeish 7). Both writers did an

impeccable job using imagery to enhance the readers understanding and

use descriptive words to make the poem more beautiful and interesting

sounding.

“Ars Poetica” and “Sonnet 130” are similar in the way that they both have a...
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