Discuss the Timeless Quality of Shakespeare's Sonnets

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Discuss the timeless quality of Shakespeare’s sonnets

Shakespeare’s sonnets are lively reflections on love and time, these two themes seem to be the principal themes of Shakespeare’s sonnets and he returns to them again and again each time exploring them in a lively and personal matter. The theme of love and time are two themes that are timeless and still today, appeal to the modern reader. Shakespeare reveals how nerve wracking a relationship can be, but he also shows how love is ultimately the answer to life’s troubles and woes. Chief among these woes is the passage of time. No other poet has so vividly described the passage of time and the horror that this can inspire. Shakespeare reflected on this throughout most of his sonnets, trying desperately to find a way to counter time’s destructive passage. Ultimately, love is pitted against time and in the sonnets there is always a lively battle and a question hanging over which will prevail. Throughout my study of Shakespeare’s sonnets I studied sonnet 18, 65, and 116 each of these sonnets had a timeless quality to them. In the opening line of Sonnet 18 (‘shall I compare thee’) Shakespeare asks a question ‘shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” the poet is considering writing a poem that compares his loved one to a fine day in the summer time. Immediately we recognise that this is a subjective poem as he addresses his loved one directly. The first quatrain is filled with sibilant s-sounds enhancing the notion of a beautiful summer’s day. However Shakespeare decides that this is not an appropriate comparison as “Thou art more lovely and more temperate” the repetition of “more” accentuates the depth of feeling. It is interesting to note that while positive images abound in the poem “summer’s day” “darling buds” Shakespeare juxtaposes these images with negative ideas “rough winds” “all to short a date”. Here Shakespeare focuses on the ageing process of the human being, an idea that obsessed him. In the second quatrain Shakespeare emphasises how time is a destroyer “And every fair from fair sometime declines”. This line means that everything fair or beautiful in the world must sometimes “decline” as beauty slips away. The brevity of life is a theme that pervades all of his sonnets and it is counteracted by his determination to preserve the memory of his loved one. Shakespeare’s obsession is what adds a timeless quality to his sonnets as in today’s society the majority of people are obsessed and are trying to counteract the decline of the human being with age. Throughout the second quatrain there is also a lot of assonance which is used to slow down the pace of the poem along with a series of pauses “too hot” “gold complexion”. Shakespeare now personifies the sun “the eye of heaven” “his complexion” this is a notable image as the image of the sun’s “eye” looking down on the world and its complexion “being dimmed” by cloud cover is memorable. Again, Shakespeare focuses on the aging process through words like “dimmed”. Throughout the first and second quatrain Shakespeare has been dismissing a conventional image of perfection as inadequate. In a confidently dismissive tone he clearly argued why he shall not compare his loved one to a summer’s day. The beginning of the third quatrain has a new and justified confidence. A summer’s day will come to an end and therefore is an inadequate image but Shakespeare has discovered a means of conferring immorality upon his loved one “But thy eternal summer shall not fade” “but” marks a new found tone, a tone of conviction, the poet seems absolutely convinced that his lines will be “eternal”. The word “eternal” is a crucial contrast with the rest of the poem up to this point as all previous mention of time has been concerned with its transient nature. Now the passing of time will make possible growth, but not decline. The “eternal lines” of the poem will live, as Shakespeare tells us in the final couplet “So long as men can breathe or...
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