Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The sonnet’s fourteen lines form three quatrains and a concluding couplet, rhyming abab, cdcd, efef, gg. Known as the Shakespearean (or English) sonnet, this arrangement differs from the Italian (or Petrarchan) sonnet in adopting a different rhyme scheme and dividing the sestet (the final six lines) into a quatrain and a couplet. The third quatrain addresses the poem’s subject somewhat differently from the first two quatrains (which correspond to the octave of the Italian sonnet), and the couplet offers a final comment on, or a summary of, the foregoing argument. A typical line consists of five stresses, or ten syllables, called iambic pentameter: “Since bráss, nor stóne, nor eárth, nor boúndless séa.” An extra syllable is occasionally added to the line, as in lines 2, 4, and 10. Within this highly patterned world, Sonnet 65 achieves myriad effects.

Wordplay creates much of the poem’s irony by combining multiple meanings into one word. The “sad” in line 2 characterizes the personified “mortality,” sad because it is his duty to destroy things; at the same time, “sad” expresses the poet’s own feelings regarding this destructive force. In the third line, “this rage” ironically plays on the idea that mortality, usually thought of as a dormant state, is a violent passion, even a madness. Shakespeare twists the traditional conventions by assigning such a passion, not to the lover, but to the force that destroys beauty....

(The entire section is 500 words.)