Imagery in Skakespeare's Sonnets

Imagery in Skakespeare's Sonnets.

The theme of the Shakespearean sonnets is mainly love, masculine friendship as also sex-love. Some of them, 126 sonnets, are inspired with his deep devotion to a young friend. And some other 26 sonnets are addressed to an unidentified woman, better known as 'dark lady'. Love is the running passion all through his sonnets. Particularly in the sonnets, addressed to his young friend, the poet is found to celebrate the triumph of love and verse over the ravages of time.

Shakespeare's sonnets are not merely the idealistic appraisal of love but also the grand specimens of his art. They are designed and executed with masterly artistry and bear out his unique gifts as an imagist as well as versifier. As the instances of great poetry, they exhibit vivid, sensuous images as also captivating impulsive images.

Shakespeare's uniqueness, in the sphere of the poetry, is distinct well pronounced in his sonnets. They contain precise, graphic images of all that matters in the glorification of his love. These images are rightly drawn and employed to depict certain states in his life or the varying of his mind. This is clearly evident in his imagery, relating both to nature and to other elements.

As a painter of nature, Shakespeare's uniqueness lies in his power to use the just words for the delineation of a natural scene, whatever this may be. In this respect, he stands almost without parallel, and even the mighty poet Spenser is not his equal here. His imagery, regarding the decay in the natural world, under the severe impact of winter, in the first quatrain of the sonnet No.73, may be cited here as a specific instance-

''That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold...''

In the same way, Shakespeare's picture of nature is vividly presented in the Sonnet No. 64-

''When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the watery main.''

His sonnets also signify Shakespeare's supreme power to visualize natural elements through short and even cryptic sentences. Nature's beauty and and plenty are indicated in the expressions 'summer's lease' in sonnet No. 18 or 'summer's honey' in sonnet No. 65 and the scene of twilight and its end under the cover of the dark night is given out in a brief image in Sonnet No. 73-
..... the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by any by black night doth take away''

The continuous rolling of sea-waves is well drawn in a fine analogy in the first line of the sonnet No. 60.


''Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore.''


Shakespeare's imagery, as indicated already, does not belong exclusively to the world of nature only. His sonnets are found to contain other images to represent his personal condition, feeling, or idealism. Thus, in the third quatrain of the sonnet, 'That time of Year (Sonnet No. 73)' the poet's imagery of the expiring fire-place finely brings out his oun physical decaly and impending death. The entire imagery of the fire that is 'consumed with thar which it was nourished by' is really well conceived. It is precise but sufficiently suggestive.

Again, the poet's lofty idealism of loce and his assertion of the constancy of love are clearly expressed in the very brief images of the 'ever-fixed mark' and 'wandering bark'. These images may be taken as the symbols of constant, immutable love. The poet's profound faith in the power of love to defy the wrecks of time is categorically given out through the imagery of 'rosy lips and cheeks' and the 'bending sickle's  compass.'' Here, again, the poet's imagery is brief, but unusually alive and appropriately expressive of his idealism. But more pointed is his imagery to represent the dreadful effect of time on youth and beauty-

''Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth,
And delves the parallels in beauty's brow.''    (Sonnet No.60)

The personification of 'Time' as also the use of the synechdoche in 'beauty's brow' are quite aptly conceived and strengthened the effect.

The sonneteer in Shakespeare is a great master. One aspect of his uniqueness as a sonneteer is marked in his well drawn aptly conceived and perfectly suggestive imagery. Here he really stands unique, and has hardly a peer.

John Donne as a Metaphysical love poet



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