Explain the use of imagery in Petrarch's "Sonnet II"?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Imagery is a broad term used to encompass all the images of imagination that a work of literature conjures up. These mental images may be evoked by literal descriptions of characters, settings or events (e.g., the white pique curtains blew in deep billows in the wind coming in the open window); by sensory descriptions (e.g., the cinnamon smell and the warm apple pie mixed with the jingling sound of the fluffy kitten's new bells made the room feel like Christmas despite the 112 degrees blasting heat through the window); by allusion (e.g., he was a regular Prince Arthur); by simile (e.g., the vanilla ice cream with fresh fruit was like a summer snow angel); or by metaphor (e.g., love is a rose, anger is a storm).

Since the metaphor Petrarch uses for the poem to make a comparison for Cupid is a military one (e.g., Cupid is ambushing and attacking the defenseless speaker), the imagery is of war and combat. There is sensory imagery like the tactile image in line 1, "make me smart" (hurt), and the ironic taste (gustatory) imagery in line 2, "And a delicious vengeance." Line 6 has the visual image of "bright eyes," while 7 and 13 have motion imagery with "pour'd" and "speed." There is also the imagery of allusion. Line 3 has "Love," which is an allusion to Cupid, the god of love, which is itself an allusion to the mystery of falling in love, or being ambushed and struck unawares with love. The military allusions include words like bow, coward, courage, defend, dread archery, dart, brisk attack, repel, and foe.

There is an example of simile imagery in lines 3 and 4 where Petrarch writes: "Love secretly took up his bow again, / As one who acts the cunning coward's part." Here, Cupid is compared to someone who is behaving like a "cunning" (i.e., deceiving) coward. In similes, like and as are used interchangeably. Petrarch also incorporates the imagery from literal description, like is lines 5 and 9. In line 5, the speaker's personified courage goes (or retires) to stand guard in his heart, while in line 9, the speaker describes being scared "at the sudden brisk attack."

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