What is the imagery in Sonnet 116?

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liesljohnson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Although many of the lines from Sonnet 116 are simply abstract statements about love, we do find several examples of imagery:

1. "That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;"

Here, the speaker is saying that love is someone (or something) that, like a lighthouse, looks right at a terrible storm and doesn't move or show fear. The image of the storm contrasted with stillness is a powerful one that conveys the strong, steady power of love.

2. "It is the star to every wandering bark,"

In the line above, the speaker conjures for us the image of a guiding star helping a wandering ship find its way in the darkness. Aside from providing a lovely and concrete mental image, the notion of a ship guiding a star implies the stability, guidance, and certainty that love offers.

3. "...rosy lips and cheeks / Within [Time's] bending sickle's compass come:"

Rather than saying something vague like "youth and beauty," the speaker opts for the image of red "lips and cheeks," then immediately calls forth the image of a sickle (that sharp farming tool that often represents death) to express concretely the idea that although time will detract from physical beauty, love will remain until we die.