Shakespeare's Sonnets Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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Sonnet 19, what uses of imagery does the poet intend, in which style: impressionistic, realistic, naturalistic? Why? For symbols, I found that 'glad' and 'sorry' seasons symbolizes spring and summer, autumn and winter respectively. Are there anymore? And I really have no ideas about the imagery though I have read through the poetry many times. Since my only point for symbolism cannot cover 500 words, please give me some detailed examples, ideas from the lines. Thank you very much.

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blacksheepunite eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I'm not sure I understand the question you've been asked, so I'm trying this but...

My understanding of these terms is that with naturalism and realism the artists are attempting to accurately represent reality with all of its ugly truths revealed. Impressionism attempts to capture the quality of a moment. These terms are more frequently applied to visual art than literature, and I'm wondering if the symbol you mention refers to "symbolism" (which would mean it would be more concerned with subjective realities than with social justice).

The imagery seems to involve both an acknowledgement of and a rejection of realism, almost an assault. He says Time can destroy all of nature: blunt the lion's claws, make the earth eat her young (devour her sweet brood), and extract the tiger's teeth--all acknowledgement of the reality that everything dies. He even says that Time can destroy myths--the phoenix can be burned in her own blood. These all seem to be in a realistic vein. He seems to reject reality in the last sestet when he says that he forbids Time the crime of aging his lover. This is a cry against, but also an accurate rendition of what happens to us: Time writes his lines on us, we age, and we die. Most of the imagery accurately represents reality. The last two lines are symbolist in the artistic sense, because his subjective reality predominates: she may be destroyed on the outside, but she will remain immortal because he writes of her.

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sagetrieb eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The “long-liv’d phoenix” symbolize our desire to escape the ravages of time. Associated with Egyptian sun-worship, it had a life span of more than 500 years. When its first life was over, the bird would burn itself upon a pile of wood that was set ablaze by the sun, and then it would then rise from the ashes, once again young. Here Shakespeare is saying that, despite the phoenix's ability to resurrect itself, it cannot escape Time forever. Metaphors dominate the poem, and if you want to discriminate between symbol and metaphor, your discussion is more limited.  Metaphors include the personification of time, the paws of the lion (the lines time makes on the face), the personification of earth, and so on.  The speaker does not want his lover to show signs of aging, but argues that even if time does its “worst,” his (the poet’s) pen (poems) will continue to preserve his love/youth (many consider this poem written to a male lover). In so far as Shakespeare uses images from nature, they would best be described as naturalistic.

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