Thesis: Shakespeare sees the beauty in eternal love in life, while Donne sees the beauty in eternal death.
William Shakespeare was born in 1564 in Stratford-on-Avon, England and died in 1616. He was famous for his playwrights, poetry, and acting. He was also known as one of the greatest English writers ever. John Donne was born in 1572 in London and died in 1631. He was famous for his love and religious poetry. Both poets were famous for their sonnets and metaphysical poetry. In the poems from William Shakespeare and John Donne, they develop sonnets in different ways. According to literyterms.net, a sonnet is defined as a fourteen line poem written with a fixed rhyme scheme, usually in iambic pentameter. Both Shakespeare and Donne touch on different arguments in their sonnets. We see in their sonnets their optimism in the topics that are shared. This paper will discuss the arguments, poetic techniques, and the themes each poet talks about.
In William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 his overlying argument is defining love of what it is and what it isn’t. He also is talking in the sonnets about how it is eternal and how it is long lasting in time. We see this in the first line of the sonnet where it says, “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments” (Shakespeare, 2005, p. 176). When Shakespeare is saying this he is saying that a ‘marriage of the minds’ is commitment and sharing common beliefs between one another. He is defining what a good relationship looks like and what you vow to when you are in one and that there is no obstructions to getting married if they share common beliefs. Also, by using the word ‘impediments’ he is relating this to a wedding where they ask if anyone does not want the bride and groom to proceed with the wedding then speak up. The next line says, “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds’ (Shakespeare, 2005, p. 176), Shakespeare is saying that love is not love if infatuation disappears when the relationship or dynamic changes. We then see in the fourth line where he writes, “Or bends with the remover to remove—” (Shakespeare, 2005, p. 176), that he means that love does not depart when someone in the relationship does something wrong, love remains. Line five explains, “O no! It is an ever-fixed mark—” (Shakespeare, 2005, p. 176), as he is comparing love and the relationship in general to a lighthouse. Shakespeare is also using imagery in this sentence as we can picture a lighthouse and how bright it is and how he is comparing it to love. “That looks on tempests and is never shaken—” (Shakespeare, 2005, p. 176) is expressing that a lighthouse sees storms but it is never moved or shaken. He is metaphorically comparing this to love as it is never broken down and is strong in a bad time. The next line of the poem conveys love is the shining star that is bright to every ship in a storm. “It is the star to every wandering bark—” (Shakespeare, 2005, p. 176) by him writing this we see that he believes love conquers all in a bad time. He is metaphorically comparing the two, which is love being like a star even in hard times. The next line, “Whose worth’s unknown, although the height be taken—” (Shakespeare, 2005, p. 176) is declaring that the value of love cannot be measured but rather the amount of love. In the next lines, “Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks—Within his bending sickle’s compass come; Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks—But bears it out even to the edge of doom” (Shakespeare, 2005, p. 176), Shakespeare is stating that love is long lasting and eternal. He is expressing how even as we age and become wrinkled that love does not die out, it is forever. He is personifying time in growing old and love never dying in these lines. The next lines that end the poem talk about how if Shakespeare is wrong about his beliefs in love then no man has truly loved someone.
In John Donne’s Holy Sonnets 10 his overlying argument is not fearing death and seeing the beauty in eternal death. We see this in the first line of the sonnet where Donne states, “Death, be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful— for thou are not so;” (Donne, 2005, p. 207), he is personifying death as a person or a thing and is painting a picture in our mind of how that it is not as bad and daunting as people think it is. The next line says, “For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow—Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me” (Donne, 2005, p. 207), Donne in this sentence is expressing that death even though death thinks he is strong and has the power to kill, he cannot. By using the term ‘poor’ he is paradoxically mocking it. In lines five and six Donne states, “From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be—Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow—” (Donne, 2005, p. 207), he is basically comparing death and sleep. He is metaphorically saying that sleep is enjoyable and so is death. He is voicing that death is a leisurely activity and is like a restful night of sleep, so no one should fear or be scared of it. “And soonest our best men with thee do go—Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery—” is translating to the saying ‘the good ones go first’ (Donne, 2005, p. 207). Donne is conveying that since the good ones go first they get to experience the peacefulness first. Again, he is using repetition and he is painting a picture of imagery that death is a good thing and sees the beauty in death. Line nine is again breaking death down as a person or thing and insulting it as he has no power and death is only controlled by fate or chance. He is also stating how death is associated with poison, war, and sickness. Line nine states “Thou’art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men—And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell—” (Donne, 2005, p. 207). Then, in the next line he expresses, “And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well—and better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?—” (Donne, 2005, p. 207), he is again taunting death saying other things can kill and that ‘he’ is not as powerful as he thinks. The final lines state, “One short sleep past—we wake eternally, And Death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die” (Donne, 2005, p. 207), he is expressing that we will wake up after the ‘short sleep’ and have an eternal afterlife. He is also using irony in this as death is something that kills you. Donne ends it with death shall be no more, as he is stating that people should not be afraid of death because he is powerless and it is inevitable for an eternal afterlife.
Both poets have different views of the subjects of the poems. Shakespeare sees the beauty in eternal love in life, while Donne sees the beauty in eternal death. Both Shakespeare and Donne uses metaphors, imagery, and personification to get their overall points across. Shakespeare uses metaphors to compare love to a lighthouse while Donne is using it to compare death to sleep. They both use imagery to describe their arguments. Shakespeare is using imagery describing the ‘ever fixed mark’ describing the lighthouse in the storm. Donne uses imagery to describe how death is a good thing and is not as bad believe it to be. Shakespeare uses the personification of time to love being eternal even when time passes. Donne uses personification of the word ‘death’. He is treating it like a person or thing and mocking it. On the contrary, Donne also uses irony to describe death. He is saying it is a good thing while paradoxically people believe it is a bad thing.
Shakespeare sees the beauty in eternal love in life, while Donne sees the beauty in eternal death. Both authors use different types of literary devices and techniques. The different viewpoints and unwavering optimism in convincing the audience of what they believed in their arguments, which Shakespeare believed was love never losing its spark as time moves and Donne believed death is perceived as a bad thing when people should not be afraid or intimated by it.
- Donne, J. “Sonnet 10.” The Norton Anthology of Poetry, edited by Margaret Ferguson, Mary Jo Salter, & Job Stallworthy, 5th ed, 2005, pp. 207.
- Ferguson, M. W., Kendall, T., & Salter, M. J. (2018). The Norton anthology of poetry (5th ed.). New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.
- Shakespeare, W. “Sonnet 116.” The Norton Anthology of Poetry, edited by Margaret Ferguson, Mary Jo Salter, & Job Stallworthy, 5th ed, 2005, pp. 176.
- Sonnet: Definition and Examples. (2017, October 1). Retrieved from https://literaryterms.net/sonnet/