Critically evaluate the Imagery and Structure of Sonnet 65.

Answer: Shakespeare’s sonnets withhold connections that support different issues such as attainable love, procreation, and immortality. This connection is seen between Sonnet 55 and Sonnet 65. Although both sonnets reach for the same goal of making the male youth immortal, each sonnet accomplishes this through a different attitude; the speaker of Sonnet 55 seems to be determined and hopeful while Sonnet 65 invokes a desperate, earnest attitude.

Sonnet 65

The speaker of Sonnet 55 shows a hopeful attitude through imagery and structure. The imagery shows a positive belief in immortalizing the youth. He believes that physical structures such as “marble” built to last lifetimes “shall [not] outlive” his poem. Light imagery revolves around the descriptions of the youth, which makes him seem angelic especially compared to the “wasteful war” that destroys statues and the “quick fire” that burns down all humanity in the “ending doom”. The message displays an almost godlike image of the youth who “shine[s] more bright” than anything and will outlive war and destruction because he will be praised “in the eyes of all posterity”. The speaker also displays this determined attitude through enjambment which adds to the listing affect of how the youth will overcome the attempts of time and death to erase him from history. It is then contrasted with a caesura in the final line which emphasizes that the youth will “live in [the sonnet], and dwell in lovers’ eyes”. Shakespeare uses imagery and structure to raise the issue of the youth’s immortality similar to Sonnet 65.

Sonnet 65 exhibits a similar perspective on immortality by using similar imagery and structure but uses a more desperate tone. This sonnet begins very similarly to that of Sonnet 55 by comparing the power of time to the power of beauty. The speaker in this sonnet believes that the power of “stone… [and] earth” is stronger than the power of beauty which is “no stronger than a flower,” creating a vivid image of stone crushing a weak flower. This personifies the youth again as a gentle creature as in Sonnet 55 but does not include the confidence that he will live forever, thus creating an earnest attitude. Unlike the light imagery in Sonnet 55, the speaker of Sonnet 65 has a more morbid imagery while describing the “wreckful siege of battering days” and of where “time’s best jewel from time’s chest lie hid,” showing once again the youth as light imagery and time as the dark imagery. Shakespeare also personifies time and death towards the end through “his swift foot” and “his spoil of beauty,” which bolsters the speaker’s belief that time may outlast love and purity.

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To also show the desperation of the second speaker, Shakespeare uses a somewhat different structure in Sonnet 65. Each quatrain ends in a question, showing that the speaker worries his poem and the youth will not be immortalized. The rhyme scheme of this poem (ABAB CDCD EFEF GG) separates the fourteen-line sonnet into three quartets and one final couplet. By posing seven consecutive questions without any solution, the author creates a grave sense of despair. Not until the couplet is the reader exposed to a shimmer of hope. Each cluster of lines, utilizing different sentence structure, fits into the logical progression of the poem. In the first quartet, which is the first sentence as well, the speaker asks us to consider how well beauty will be able to fair against mortality.

If stone, earth, sea, and brass all fall victim to mortality, how then will beauty be able to last? He uses legal terms like “hold a plea,” which in modern English changes to the term “make a case.” When contemplating his second question, the speaker changes from metaphors based on legal images to metaphors of war and belligerence. Time is presented as a “wreckful siege of battering days.”

Once again, the despair is heightened because of the hopeless situation into which beauty is placed. The speaker asks if rocks and gates of steel cannot withstand time, will beauty be able to last? Adding to the despair of “Sonnet 65,” in these first two quartets, Shakespeare presents beauty as a delicate and meek object, and contrasts it with fiercer imagery. Beauty, represented as a flower and “summer’s honey-breath,” is positioned within the same sentence as a “boundless sea,” “gates of steel,” and “rocks impregnable,” among others.

When moving from the first to the second question, Shakespeare flips the sentence structure. In sentence one, the objects beauty is being compared with (earth, stone, etc.) are placed first, then the force that will destroy beauty (mortality) is noted, followed by the sentence kernel (“beauty hold a plea”), and finally the sentence kernel’s modifiers. In the second question, the kernel is placed first (“summer’s honey-breath hold out”), followed by a metaphor for time (“wreckful siege”), then the forces beauty is being compared with, and finally the ruinous force (time) is noted.

Up to now, the speaker has used the entire quartet to pose a single question. In the final quartet, three questions will be asked within the space of four lines. Shakespeare begins the final quartet with an interjection, “O fearful meditation!” (such scary thoughts), referring to the outrageous opposition beauty must face, as mentioned in the first two quartets. He has posed two questions thus far, and has offered no insight on answering them. Another three rhetorical questions, logically interlocked with the preceding eight lines, are asked in this final quartet. These questions are designed to deepen the tone of despair until we are given any definite solution in the final couplet.

Similar to Sonnet 55, Sonnet 65 ends with a caesura in the very last line to emphasize the hope “[t]hat in black ink, [his] love may still shine bright”. This change in attitude is only seen in the last couplet and helps connect the two sonnets even further. These two sonnets cover the same issue of immortality through comparable tone, imagery, and structure.

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