William Shakespeare, in his Sonnet 73 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 one’s partner’s 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 73, 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 irds 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 “Death’s second self” in sonnet 73.
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- “Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips nd cheeks within his bending sickle’s compass come;… ” While both poems make use of figurative language, sonnet 73 uses far more imagery than sonnet 116. Sonnet 73 uses the image of the close of man’s life as a wintry grove with the few remaining leaves shivering in the cold. A person’s 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 see’st 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 worth’s unknown, although his height be taken. ” The second image in sonnet 116 is that of Time mowing down our rosy- heeked 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 [Time’s] 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 73 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 narrator’s decline, which is related in a soft and melancholy voice. It is only the concluding couplet which brings home the essage that the strength of true love is shown when it exists in the face of the narrator’s 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 73, 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 73 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.