The Sonnet Form and Its Meaning: Shakespeare's Sonnet 65

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The Sonnet Form and its Meaning: Shakespeare Sonnet 65

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,...
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