Nature in Shakespeare's Sonnets

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  • Topic: Life, Sonnets by William Shakespeare, British poems
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  • Published : November 26, 2012
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Nature in Shakespeare’s Sonnets

In Shakespeare’s fair youth Sonnets, the speaker uses imagery and metaphors from nature to describe man’s life cycle. While reading the Sonnets, it may seem at first that the main point of the Sonnets is that life’s purpose is to reproduce. However, after reading the fair youth Sonnets, it becomes clear that imagery from nature is used to prove that death is inevitable and should be accepted.

The fair youth Sonnets are ordered in a specific way to resemble the life cycle of a man. As the Sonnets progress the overall themes of the sonnets seems to change. This cycle starts off with ‘Sonnet 1’ and ‘Sonnet 3’ and concludes with ‘Sonnet 73’ and ‘Sonnet 74’. Sonnets 1, 3, 7, 15, 60, 73, and 74 are all used to show this life cycle and its progression through life. In ‘Sonnet 1’ and ‘Sonnet 3’ it is clear that the speaker is attempting to get the point across that reproduction is life’s only purpose. However, in ‘Sonnet 16’ – ‘Sonnet 73’ it is obvious that the theme changes drastically. No longer is reproduction the main point, but it changes to death and its inevitability. Throughout the Sonnets, nature is used as a comparison to help the speaker explain life in a way that helps the reader understand the true life cycle of man.

It is understandable that death is inevitable for every living thing in nature. Reproduction is also required for every living thing to exist. In Sonnet 1 the speaker wants the reader to know that life is beautiful and reproduction is a result of that; “From fairest creatures we desire increase/That thereby beauty’s rose might never die/But as the riper should time decrease/His tender heir might bear his memory” (Sonnet 1 L. 1-3). The beauty of a rose is being compared to the beauty of man’s ability to reproduce and pass on the ‘fairest,’ or beautiful, genes. In nature a beautiful rose can stand out among the brush in a forest, or in a garden a rose can be the most beautiful flower, just the way that man’s beauty will stand out among a crowd. This metaphor is used to explain to the reader that reproduction is necessary to pass on those genes that allow one man to stand out among others in a crowd. According to the speaker, this personal beauty will live on past death through reproduction.

Personal beauty is a quality that everyone possesses; however, it is important for the reader to understand that in order for his/her specific beauty to be passed on reproduction is a necessity. The Speaker uses ‘Sonnet 3’ to help the reader understand this requirement; “Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest/Now is the time that face should form another” (Sonnet 3, L.1-2). The reader is now being told that, when looking in a mirror, it is important to notice the inner beauty that everyone is gifted with. This inner beauty must be passed on for these ‘beautiful’ genes to continue to exist. The tone of these few lines is a sense of urgency. ‘Now is the time’ that reproduction should happen, otherwise this chance might not appear again within this life cycle. If reproduction does not happen when life is in its prime, then nature will take its toll as man continues the journey through life. After ‘Sonnet 3’ it is clear that the transition from youthful to aged is starting to make its appearance.

The speaker’s attitude toward reproduction starts to change after ‘Sonnet 3’ and is quickly switched to life in its prime. It is in the following Sonnets that the main point is no longer reproduction but rather death, and maturing throughout life. Sonnet 7 uses nature imagery to show this maturation, “When from highmost pitch, with weary car/Like feeble age he reeleth from the day/The eyes, ‘fore duteous, now converted are/From his low tract and look another way/So thou thyself out-going in thy noon/unlooked on diest unless thou get a son” (Sonnet 7, L.9-14). A sunset is now being compared to the way a man’s life starts to fade away. Once the sun sets people stop admiring it...
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