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Explain and extract the use of imagery in the sonnet 130.

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snowflakes | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted March 10, 2010 at 5:32 AM via web

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Explain and extract the use of imagery in the sonnet 130.

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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 10, 2010 at 6:03 AM (Answer #1)

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It was typical to compare a mistress's physical/personal characteristics with elements in nature. In sonnet 130, the speaker does the opposite, saying these elements in nature are far greater than is mistress's qualities. Her eyes do not compare to the splendor of the sun, her lips are not as red as coral, her hair is black wires, her breath reeks, and her voice certainly doesn't sound as good as music. This natural imagery is meant to show how only a goddess is comparable to these things: sun, coral, music, perfume, roses, and so on. The poem ends with the speaker underscoring the idea that his mistress, like every other mortal/poet's mistress is mortal and flawed. And that this mistress, from the speaker's perspective, is as rare as anyone else's mistress is to them. So, the imagery is meant to show how no one's mistress is a goddess comparable to the beauty of nature. But each is beautiful relative to the beholder because of her individuality (rarity).

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Doug Stuva | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted March 10, 2010 at 8:22 AM (Answer #2)

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Sonnet 130 by Shakespeare is a parody of traditional love poetry.  The speaker is making fun of love poems that use hyperbole or excessive exaggeration by comparing the objects of their desires to natural wonders like the sun and moon and roses.  The poem uses imagery to express what his lover is not.  He does not mean this as a negative comment about his lover. The poem suggests that no one compares to natural wonders.  That's the point: it's silly to compare a woman to all of the wonders that he mentions in the poem, like so many poets do.

Nature, as well as his lover, are revealed in the poem by the use of imagery.  Some of the images follow:

  • her eyes are nothing like the sun
  • coral is far more red than her lips' red
  • snow is white/breasts are dun
  • hairs=wires/black wires grow out of her head
  • roses mingling red and white/no roses in her cheeks
  • delightful perfumes/her breath reeks
  • her speaking/music more pleasing
  • goddess walking/she treads on the ground

 The speaker uses imagery to bring love poetry back to reality, so to speak.  A lover doesn't have to be like the sun and coral and snow and roses, etc., to be loved. 

By showing what his lover is not with imagery, but also stating that he loves her as any poet has ever loved, the speaker brings realism to love poetry.

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