As a literary device, paradox is the juxtaposition of two or more different ideas, images, or words that might otherwise seem incongruous to each other. Shakespeare employed paradox often throughout his whole canon, and there are examples of it in “Sonnet 30.” The very first line: “When to the sessions of sweet silent thought,” along with being beautiful alliteration, contains the minor paradox of sweetness and silence, two things that do not often go together.
A more pronounced paradox occurs on line 3: “I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought.” To sigh the lack of something is an engaging idea. Anyone can relate to the narrator’s sentiment, but to have a physical response to the idea of nothingness is a paradox within itself.
Paradoxes based in verbiage occur later in the poem. The ends of lines 6 and 8 for example, “dateless night” and “vanished sight,” are both paradoxes. The word “dateless” here means without a fixed duration, and since “nights” generally start at dusk and finish at morning, it is an incongruous phrase. “Vanished sight” as well is almost an oxymoron, as something that is vanished should not usually be able to see nor be seen. Lastly, the entire thrust and idea behind the poem is a bit of a paradox. The narrator spends twelve lines bemoaning past losses and injuries, only to say in the final couplet:
“But if the while I think of thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored, and sorrows end.”
Thereby undercutting the drama and tragedy of the rest of the poem. All in all, it is one of Shakespeare’s very best sonnets, using paradox—and many other poetic devices—to brilliant effect.