Sonnets, Shakespeare And John Donne Essay, Research Paper
The word sonnet comes from the Italian word sonneto, meaning little song and respectively originated in Italy around the thirtieth century. It is one of the most formal poetic devices and usually has an intricate rhyming scheme. Sonnets typically state a problem, explore implications and then resolve the dilemma. Shakespeare and Donne were both highly respected sonnet writers of their time, and their works truly portrayed society’s ideals of the time. When comparing Shakespeare s sonnets to that of John Donne, one can truly see that both have a particular style, share similar themes and reflect societies’ ideals in each piece of poetic verse. John Donne used a peculiar rhyming scheme when writing most of his sonnets. It was in sharp opposition to that of most Elizabethan sonnets. He had a very sharp, unconventional style and used striking images to point out an unusual parallel between objects seemingly dissimilar. He often used paradoxes or rather an oxymoron to show the contradiction between situations or objects. A general Italian sonnets are divided into two parts; an octave and a sestet, often taking the form abba, abba, cdcdcd. These sonnets also stated and developed a conflict in the first and second quatrains and then solved it using the sestet. Donne however concocted his own form, not using the fourteen line, iambic pentameter model as the root of all sonnets. He did however use it when he wrote his nineteen Holy Sonnets. For example Holy Sonnet 10 uses the regular Italian sonnet pattern with iambic pentameter. Batter my heart, three-personed God; for you… (Donne, 10, i) This is unlike the Shakespearean sonnet that typically took on a different rhyming scheme. Shakespeare s sonnets were usually three quatrains and a couplet, typical of the Elizabethan structure. Each quatrain would complicate the situation and advance the plot, then it was resolved using the couplet. The form for such sonnets was abab, cdcd, efef, gg. Shakespeare also strayed from the norm and satirized the Petrarchan blazon. These were hyperbolic praises about an ideal woman, which were often stated by listing her qualities. Sonnet 130 is the exact opposite and rather than putting his mistress up on a pedestal, Shakespeare lowers her to human standards. He loves her because she is not fake or stretching to fit society’s ideals. And in some perfume is there more delight / Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks. (Shakespeare 130, vii-viii) It is widely known that Shakespeare s sonnets were biographical in nature, but John Donne also wrote about his life through his works. John Donne s sonnets can be divided into two distinct categories; the first phase of witty love poems, and the second phase having religious merit. He had secretly married a sixteen year old to whom the first sonnets are directed toward. After this scandal passed he became a preacher and became very concerned with the Roman Catholic religion. This is where the Holy Sonnets were derived from. The direct link between the two is in the vivid immediacy (Adventures, 236) he shows towards the girl and God. Shakespeare on the other hand, has three groups of sonnets directed at three different people. The first one hundred and twenty-six sonnets are address to a young man, who is particularly noted for his feminine qualities. These poems express his admiration and love for the young fellow, and also warn him of the destructive power of time and moral weakness. Sonnets seventy-eight to eighty-six are for a rival poet with the initials W.H., who also had written poems for the young man mentioned in the above sentences. The last sonnets were directed toward a mistress with dark features, whom the speaker and young man seemed to be involved with. Sonnets were often about women or love and Donne s first phase of poetry reflected this definitive theme. Song (go and catch a falling star) is showing how beautiful women are fickle. The speaker makes statements of impossible actions and fantastic ideas Teach me to hear mermaids singing… (Donne, Song, v) He also states that women can be true and fair, which is satirical because women were idealized for their beauty but really were not as good looking in reality. This is helping the reader to prepare for the falsity of fair women. Donne is trying to say that there are women who are true but they cannot live up to this picturesque ideal of the beauty shown in blazons. Shakespeare also portrayed women as being human and real, which was rare for this time period. Sonnet 130 was written for his dark haired mistress but instead of saying she is a goddess, he says she is human and that is why he loves her. She is simply human and yet she is special to him regardless of her physical attributes. Shakespeare pokes fun at all these improbable comparisons… (Rowse, 271) The speaker of this sonnet has been called anti-petrarchan because it celebrates the fact that the dark haired lady is opposite of the ladies idealized in most Renaissance love poetry. Love is shown as an internal force that can win over external forces such as society s ideals. According to Shakespeare, love is more profound than the materialistic, romantic poems his era seems to imply. The theme of separation from a loved one by death or mere adventure is another similar aspect in Donne and Shakespeare s sonnets. Donne s Song (sweetest love, I do not go) gives reasons why his beloved should not grieve his absence. In the first and second stanzas he says he did not leave out of boredom or interest in another woman and says he will return quickly to her. The third stanza says that it is natural for good fortune to make time pass quickly while the opposite is true of bad fortune. That if good fortune fall/ Cannot add another hour/ Nor a lost hour recall! (Donne, Song, xviii-xx) The fourth and final stanzas are reassuring her that they can never really be completely apart since they love each other, and when she grieves it hurts him because they are joined with that bond of love.
Shakespeare s No longer mourn for me when I m dead is similar in theme. The poet expresses his wish that his loved one should forget him after death rather than grieving. In the first stanza he says do not mourn for me for soon I will be with the worms. The second says that the reader should not even remember than hand that wrote the line and that if thinking of him makes the reader grieve he would rather be forgotten. From this vile world with vilest worms to dwell / Nay, if you read this line, remember not / The hand that writ it… (Shakespeare, 71, iv-vi) The third and fourth show how he wants the reader s love to decay like his body. The final couplet expresses the idea of the world mocking the reader with the deceased s name if he should mourn. Both Donne and Shakespeare express the idea of moving on with life after the dead are gone because they both knew that the afterlife would be joyous and eternal. Both of the aforementioned poets were truly aware of their surroundings and their work reflected that of society s values and beliefs of each respective time period. Donne portrayed women as they really were and not how society saw them. In Song (go and catch a falling star) one can see that he wants to show women for what they really are. He does not want to use hyperbolic statements to enhance his love’s beauty he would rather cherish her real inner beauty. The entire sonnet is a satirical reference to society s falseness. Or to keep off envy s stinging / And find / What wind / Serves to advance an honest mind. (Donne, Song, vi-ix) He, like Shakespeare believed that poetry women should not be praised using blazons. They really did not reflect how women were but rather portrayed them as society would like them to be. In Shakespeare s sonnet 130, the poet rejects the false descriptions of women. Instead he describes his mistress beauty as much less than these exaggerations. The speaker in this poem insists on the rarity and genuine nature of his love. The force of this love overpowers the era s cultural ideals of physical beauty. Shakespeare however, also says that this is an internal force that denies external factors, which justifies his adoring relationship with the woman. His work reflects how love can overcome social pressures. This particular sonnet resists the conventions of Elizabethan romantic poetry by describing his lover as an exception to all the traditional metaphors for beauty. If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun. (Shakespeare,130, iii) He undeniably refutes one of his cultures basic ideas, which in turn shows what society was really like. John Donne also portrayed society’s values in his sonnets by allowing us to read about relationships between two people. His sonnet entitled Air and Angels shows the relationship between a man and a woman and how his love is unrequited, much like most of the relationships of the Jacobean age. He analyzes his feelings towards her and says angels whisper her name to him. He says loved her even when he did not know her name or her face which means they were destined to be together. Twice or thrice had I lov d thee / Before I knew thy face or name. (Donne, Air and Angels, 1-2) This shows how the people of the era believed in predestination. This was a typical sonnet of the Jacobean age, it uses metaphysical conceit and ponders life and love through deep complex thought. He also shows how women of that period had a different view of love than of men. As is twixt air and angel s purity / Twixt women s love, and men s, will ever be. (Donne, Air and Angels, xxvii-xxviii) Donne s poetry is typical of the era as he writes about love and religious matter using irregular meter and elaborate images to portray what people thought about life and relationships. Shakespeare uses the typical nature of Elizabethan sonnets when he wrote number eighteen. This is comparing his love to summer s day, and he warns the reader that everything fair loses it s beauty, either by chance or by nature s will. Every fair from fair sometimes declines… (Shakespeare 18, vii) This is a straightforward poem directed to show the nature of society and warning the young man to whom it is addressed to, of the complications of the world. Beauty and time and moral weakness can destroy a person s character and outer appearance, which was most valued by the Elizabethans. Through convention with Renaissance poets, it was in this case prophetically justified. (Rowse, 39) Shakespeare was one of the most understandable people of all times, when it comes to relationships. He could also grasp women s feelings and understand the relationship they wanted which was very odd for an Elizabethan man. It was hard to believe Shakespeare loved his mistress for all her human qualities not including her physical beauty. Sonnet 130 is the perfect example of how he portrayed his relationship with her; she was an equal who did not walk on air but rather the ground. This is why he remains one of the most critically acclaimed writers of all time. For him to understand relationships and to be able to write about them during his era was an unbelievable feat. Most Elizabethan men thought women were just created to be beautiful and to be admired for this quality. The situations and relationships suggested in the sonnets are best understood as the fictional means through which Shakespeare explores universal questions about time and death, about beauty and moral integrity, about love, and about poetry itself. (Adventures, 136) One can see through comparing works of these two magnificent poets that Shakespeare s work stands out from others because he truly knew how society worked and thought. His sonnets are easily portrayals of the mannerisms and ideals of the Elizabethan age.