Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

There are two important things to notice about the structure of this sonnet. One is that, except for the closing couplet, it consists of a single run-on sentence. The other is that it is built around a single simile, which takes up the seventh and eighth lines. The effect of crowding most of the poem into a single outburst is to leave the reader with a feeling of agitation mirroring the conflicting emotions that accompany sexual lust. Run-on sentences are often the targets of English teachers’ red pencils, but at times such sentences can be extremely effective.

Shakespeare often filled his sonnets with metaphors and similes, as he did in his famous Sonnet 73, in which he compares his time of life to winter, to sunset, and to a dying fire. In other sonnets, however, he deliberately avoids metaphors and similes in order to obtain the maximum effect from a single striking image. This is the case in another of Shakespeare’s most famous sonnets, Sonnet 29, which begins, “When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes.” After complaining at length about his miserable condition, the speaker changes his tone entirely and says that, should he happen to remember the friendship of the person he is addressing, his state, “Like to the lark at break of day arising/ From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate.” These are two of the most beautiful lines in English poetry, and they are more effective because they are not competing with any other imagery...

(The entire section is 458 words.)