Study Judith Viorst's poem, "A Wedding Sonnet for the Next Generation." Explain how the title, form and alternate use of pronouns (he/she) support the theme of the "next generation."

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Judith Viorst's poem, "A Wedding Sonnet for the Next Generation," the author begins by alluding to famous sonnets of the past.

The first line, "compare you to a summer's day" comes from Shakespeare's famous Sonnet 18; the Bard's first line reads:

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?

In this poem, the poet attempts to immortalize his lover's beauty in the form of a sonnet which will not fade with time as her loveliness will, but live on as long as there is someone alive to read the poem.

In line four of Viorst's poem, she alludes yet again to another famous sonnet: Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnet 43. Viorst's line reads, "Count all the ways she loves you, way by way..." Browning's famous first line is:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Viorst's line, "He'll cherish still the pilgrim soul in you" alludes to William Butler Yeats' poem, "When You Are Old." His line is:

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you...
These lines draw the reader's attention to age-old love poems that praise, adore and promise. Judith Viorst seems to be saying that in this new age, it is time for a new "love sonnet" for a "new" generation. Viorst infers that adjustments should be made for modern lovers. She draws our attention to some of the most famous words of love we have known, paralleling her words to those of the master poets that came before her; it is, however, as if she is adding a post-script to what they wrote. She accepts that words of love today are important, but she notes that perhaps there should be...
....plainer words: Respect. Trust. Comfort. Home.
These words are not as romantic or "sublime" (as she puts it), but are more realistic. Like a valentine, a poem may be sought after, appreciated and cherished by the one who receives it; however, reality dictates that when the flowers and poetry may stop passing between the lovers, that more steadfast elements should take their place: respect, trust, comfort, and home. Note also that she lists each separately—capitalized, with a period after each word, showing in print the singular importance of each. I expect that the author alternates between the pronouns "he" and "she" to show an updated version of the love poem: the sonnets that came before were written primarily (but not entirely) by men to women. Here, Viorst is giving equal time to both genders—in a modern context. In the same manner, the poet uses "sonnet" in the title, but does not write in the form of a traditional sonnet. I would surmise that she does this on purpose as well—to show that the "love poem" of today is not the traditional one of Shakespeare's day, or Marvell's or Herrick's. It may have similarities, but like lovers of "old," today's sweethearts look to something new—perhaps in their poetry and their relationships.