Imageries in Shakespearean Sonnets

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      Themes, images and texture range from thin artifice to classical grandiloquence or metaphysical density in Shakespeare’s sonnets. Language is poignant and yet remains predominantly simple. The imagery in his sonnets is varied, realistic and striking. Indeed, vivid imageries are of the most conspicuous qualities of the sonnets. The imageries are drawn from wide range of experience, imageries related to stage and drama, human treachery and faithfulness, time and its ravages, love and its immortality. In between come the imagery of maritime activities and cultivations.

      Thus, in the field of imagery the sonnets comprise of a very wide range. The poet-lover has enemies without and within — disloyalty, jealousy, lust and hate — but the ever present enemy of youth and love, and hope and happiness is remorseless time. Time theme and time imageries constitute an important aspect in Shakespearean sonnets. Out of desperation against the irresistible time, sometimes there is defiance: “Love:s not time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks / Within his binding sickle’s compass come.” (116). Time imagery appears both directly and indirectly counting the clock that tells the time and brave day sunk in the hideous night. The violet blooms and then fades. The black hair of youth turns grey with old age. Thus, time has been envisaged as a ruthless force at work, as the swallowing Leviathan, as the weather has beaten strong pleasant reaping the harvest. Love imagery is a powerful force. It is this love, the good one, which is the ‘marriage of true minds’, that steadfast polestar. Love is depicted in more abstraction than time. It is good and bad — divine and evil.

      Shakespeare has used various other imageries, such as the imageries from the natural world - the beautiful sights of April, the sweet singing of the bird and pleasant scents of flowers (98). There are imageries from the world of music: “the lark at break of day arising from sullen earth”. Shakespeare is one of the great word-painters, which reaches him to the extent of dramatic quality and stage performance. The imagery in the sonnets is perfectly true to life as we know it such as bright days turning into dark night, dark hair into grey, and the lofty trees gradually losing their leaves and so on.

       The Shakespearean sonnet is often used to develop a sequence of metaphors or ideas, one in each quatrain, while the couplet offers either a summary or a new take on the preceding images or ideas. In Shakespeare’s Sonnet 147, for instance, the speaker’s love is compared to a disease. In the first quatrain, the speaker characterizes the disease; in the second, he describes the relationship of his love-disease to its ‘physician’, his reason; in the third, he describes the consequences of his abandonment of reason; and in the couplet, he explains the source of his mad, diseased love - his lover’s betrayal of his faith:

My love is as a fever, longing still
For that which longer nurseth the disease,
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
The uncertain sickly appetite to please.
My reason, the physician to my love,
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
Hath left me, and I desp’rate now approve
Desire is death, which physic did except.
Past cure am I, now reason is past care,
And frantic mad with evermore unrest,
My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are,
At random from the truth vainly expressed;
For I have sworn thee fair and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.

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