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William Shakespeare, in his Sonnet 7 and Sonnet 116, sets forth his


vision of the unchanging, persistent and immovable nature of true love.


According to Shakespeare, love is truly till death do us part, and possibly


beyond. Physical infirmity, the ravages of age, or even ones partners


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inconstancy have no effect upon the affections of one who sincerely loves. His


notion of love is not a romantic one in which an idealized vision of a lover is


embraced. Instead he recognizes the weaknesses to which we, as humans, are


subject, but still asserts that love conquers all.


Shakespeare uses an array of figurative language to convey his message,


including metaphor and personification. Thus, in sonnet 7, he compares himself


to a grove of trees in early winter, When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do


hang Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,... These lines seem to


refer to an aged, balding man, bundled unsuccessfully against the weather.


Perhaps, in a larger sense, they refer to that time in our lives when our


faculties are diminished and we can no longer easily withstand the normal blows


of life. He regards his body as a temple- a Bare ruined choir[s]- where sweet


birds used to sing, but it is a body now going to ruin.


In Sonnet 116, love is seen as the North Star, the fixed point of


guidance to ships lost upon the endless sea of the world. It is the point of


reference and repose in this stormy, troubled world, an ever-fixed mark That


looks on tempests and is never shaken;...


He personifies the coming of the end of his life as night, which is


described as Deaths second self in sonnet 7. However, in Sonnet 116 death


appears in the guise of the grim reaper, Father Time, who mows down all of our


youth, but still cannot conquer love- Loves not Times fool, though rosy lips


and cheeks within his bending sickles compass come;...


While both poems make use of figurative language, sonnet 7 uses far


more imagery than sonnet 116. Sonnet 7 uses the image of the close of mans


life as a wintry grove with the few remaining leaves shivering in the cold. A


persons later years are the twilight of life, to which the night of death


inevitably follows. Further, the end of life is compared to the embers of a


dying fire, In me thou seest the glowing of such fire That on the ashes of his


youth doth lie,.... All of these images express the fading light of a life in


decline. The short, dark days of winter, the last rays at sunset and the


glowing remnants beneath the ashes all evoke the beauty of a once vibrant life


which is coming to a close.


In contrast, sonnet 116 presents two images. The first is that of the


exploring seafarer, out on stormy, uncertain seas with the North star of love as


his only guide through them. Even though the seafarer attempts to


scientifically measure the worth of this love to him, it is immeasurable- It is


the star to every wandering bark, Whose worths unknown, although his height be


taken.


The second image in sonnet 116 is that of Time mowing down our rosy-


cheeked youth. Even so, however, love is not ended by our brief time on this


earth, but lasts until Judgment Day- Love alters not with his [Times] brief


hours and weeks, But bears it out even to the edge of doom.


Finally, the tone of the two poems offers the greatest contrast between


them. Sonnet 7 has a narrator who is somewhat detached and accepting of his


infirmities. The entire main body of the sonnet, lines one through twelve, is a


physical description of the narrators decline, which is related in a soft and


melancholy voice. It is only the concluding couplet which brings home the


message that the strength of true love is shown when it exists in the face of


the narrators inevitable decline.


On the other hand, sonnet 116 has a passionate, didactic narrator. He


orders and exhorts the reader. He does not address the object of his affections,


as does the narrator of sonnet 7, but directly addresses his audience.- Let no


man to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments. This narrator uses his


concluding couplet almost as an ironic aside. You can almost see him speaking


to his audience from behind the back of his hand- If this be error and upon me


proved, I never writ , nor no man ever loved. There seems little likelihood


that Shakespeare thought that he had to worry about losing that bet.


In conclusion, while the two sonnets differ greatly in tone, differ


somewhat in imagery, and have some similarity and some difference in their use


of figurative language, both express the universal desire for unconditional,


never ending love. Sonnet 7 seems to say that even such a love ends at the


grave, though.- To love that well which thou must leave ere long. Sonnet 116


bears it out even to the end of the world. Either poem offers a vision of love


to which we can aspire.





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