Shakespeare's Sonnets Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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What are some similarities and differences between William Shakespeare's sonnets and Wilfried Owen's poems?

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Could there be two more different poets than were Shakespeare and Wilfred Owen?

The two poets wrote in very different styles: Shakespeare wrote in the Elizabethan sonnet form—14 lines that rhymed using a specified pattern of sound, generally with ten syllables per line—only five of which are stressed. The structure of the poem presents ideas using three four-line stanzas called quatrains, and summarized with two lines called a rhyming couplet. The Bard's poems are often associated with love.

Shakespeare's poetry is known for its themes, precise word choice and imagery. Sonnet 29 is a love poem, but the speaker starts by complaining about how terrible his existence is: his luck, his talents, his appearance, his friends, and his sense of isolation. But then he begins to consider the woman he loves at the start of the third quatrain, and the movement of the poem shifts dramatically. Thinking about his beloved, his mood rises like a lark soaring upward to sing "hymns at Heaven's gate."

In summary, the speaker notes that this woman means everything to him, and he wants nothing more in life—not even the wealth and power of kings:

For thy sweet love rememb'red such wealth brings

That then I scorn to change my state with Kings.

Wilfred Owen's poetry is much different, although he, too, is a very talented poet. Whereas Shakespeare wrote in the late 15th into the early 16th centuries, Wilfred Owen wrote at the turn of the century, in the early 1900s during World War One. Owen saw a great deal of battle, suffering and death, which he recorded in his poetry. He wrote only for a short time—until he returned to the war after recuperating from an injury, and he was also killed. The theme of his poetry was not about love, but the sacrifices of countless men, and the casualties of war—a war often idealized at home. He brought the realities of war to the world through his writing:

Owen is remembered for realistic poems depicting the horrors of war, which were inspired by his experiences at the Western Front in 1916 and 1917.

Consider "Dulce Et Decorum Est." This is a poem presented in one single paragraph. His rhyme scheme in this poem is ABAB—every other line rhymes. It is not organized into sections, but the imagery is perhaps even more impactful than Shakespeare's because of the poem's content—it devastates the reader.

Owen describes the battlefield, as shells rain down around men dragging their weary bodies through the mud:

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge...

He portrays images from an attack using poisonous gas, as men around him frantically fumble to put on their masks. One that is not successful suffers the agony of lungs that burn within his chest. Wilfred notes it is "as obscene as cancer." He asks if only the reader could follow the wagon they placed the man in...

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,

His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin…

The poem's title comes from a longer phrase; its Latin words were well-known at the time, and meant: is sweet and right to die for your country.

Owen's lament was that the young were fed the lie of the glory of battle—no one spoke the ugly truth of that war.

Shakespeare and Owen both made brilliant use of words in creating vivid imagery. Here the similarity ends. Shakespeare's poetry speaks of beauty and love. Wilfred Owen's work speaks of the bitter realities of war.

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