In the 16 th and 17 th centuary a sonnet would consider certain subject matter. The Elizabethen sonnets would consider certain subject matter. These sonnets had three main concerns,the brevity of life,The transience of beauty and the inevitability of mortality Many Elizabethens were acutely aware of the beauty of life. Shakespeare knew all about the tragedy of death as all his brothers and sisters died early. In Elizabethen times death was everywhere. Sonnets were very fashionable in the Elizabethen era.
In this essay I will look at four Elizabethen sonnets and try to consider what inspired to poet to write it. The first sonnet is ‘A blast of wind,A momentary breath,It was written by Barnabe Barnes in 1595. It is about life and death and that how life is transient and inexorable. It uses phrases that shows the breivity of life such as ”A morning dew pearling the grass beneath” This creates the image of grass in the early morning covered with dew. When the sun rises the dew will evaporate and be gone forever. Barnabe is saying that we humans are very much like dew.
One day we will also die away helplessly and ber gone forever. To emphasise the poems meaning he uses a powerful juxtaposition and the end . ‘We are soon born to die,soon florishing to fade” This means as soon as you are born ,your countdown before your death begins. The next sonnet is written by Amonetti in the same year as Barnabe,1595. It is called ‘One day i wrote her nane upon the strand’. This sonnet also shows the transience of life. Unlike the previous sonnet however,this one is like a little story in miniature and creates a powerful visual image.
It also offers a solution to overcome death. The first quatrain describes the scene. ‘One day I wrote her name upon the strand. But along came the wave and washed it away’ This shows the character is at a beach and is walking along a seashore and decides to write his lovers name in the sand. Of course the sea just washes it away. So he tries again but the same thing happens. The next quatrain shows the womans response. She says that you are wasteing your time and one day I will rot away too. ”But I myself shall like this decay.
And eke my name be wiped out likewise” In this couplet there are two powerful words. ‘Decay’ and ‘rot’. These create a strong visual image of death and it’s power. The third quatraint is his reply which is that she is wrong ”Not so” qoud I” let baser things device”He then uses another powerful word ‘dust’ which shows what we all will be one day,just mere dust. He then tells her his plan to make her eternal which is ”My verse your virtues rare shall eternise” This means through the sonnet she will live forerver.
In the penultimate line it says that the whole world will one day be overcome by death and that in the last line this shall be a testomony to our love. It’s the first sonnet to offer a solution to beat death which is through a onnet. The next sonnet,written in 1609 is called ‘Shall I compare thee to a summers day ? ‘ The sonnets asks that question in the first line and says no. It then goes on to give reasons why such as sight ”Thou art more lovely”and touch ” Sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines”.
It picks up on all the faults of summer like”Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May”, ”Natures changing course untrimmed”and ”Every fair from fair sometimes declined”. He then uses the pivot point in the ninth line and says that his lover will never do any of those things ”But thy ternal summer shall not lack,Nor lose possesion of that fair thou oust” and Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade. In the last rhyming couplet he states his solution to overcoming death which is through the poem.
He writes ”So long as men can breathe and eyes can see. So long lives this and gives life to thee. This means that as long as there is one person in this world who can breathe and see then they will never really die as they are in the sonnet. The solution is exactly the same as the one stated in ”I wrote her name upon the strand” and may well have inspired the annomous writter to wrtie his fourteen years later. The last sonnet also rote in 1609 is titled ”That time of year ithou mayst in me behold”and like all of the other sonnets,it too is about love and death.
The poet uses the sonnet to tell his lover that he is going to die soon. In the first quatrain he describes himself as an aging tree losing his leaves. ”When yellow leaves or none or few do hang”He portrays himself as a tree in late autumn with a few leaves left. When the leaves fall he will pass away. In the second quatrain he describes himself as day and night with himself as the sun setting slowly ‘As after sunset fade in the West ,When the sun sets like before he shall pass away”.
In the third quatraint the man portrays himself as a fire”In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire”When he was a youth his fire was healthy and bright but now ”on the ashes of his youth doth lie”. Tjis is a strong paradox. In the penultimate line he shows why he has been usung alologies to describe his age. His lover is much more younger then him and despite his ultimate death she loves him which makes their love even stronger. Although their is now solution to eath in ths sonnet their is something positive taken out of it,love which is shown in the last line ” To love that well which thou must leave ere long”.
All of the sonnets have things in common. They share the same topic which is Love and death. The way all four respective poets deal with it is quite diffent. Barnabe uses different senses to show how short life is . It is a depressing poem and uses a clever juxtaposition at the end ”Birth and death and flourishing and fade”In ”One day I wrote her name upon the strand”Amorreti speaks about his lover and how he plans to preserve her through all eternity hrough the sonnet.
In ”Shall I compare thee to a summers day” the poet looks at summer and compares it to his metaphorical summer,his lover and in ”That time of year in mayst behold’it uses everyday objects such as trees and fires and conotations with death. All of these subjects deal with two major subjects in four different ways. There is no right or wrong way to tackle these sensitive issues but with the imagination of these four poets,I can look at them now in a positive and new way just like the people of the Elizabethen times would have done four hundred years ago.