Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The sonnet is a highly concentrated work of art in which the poet must develop and resolve his theme within the strict confines of the sonnet form. Sonnet 19, like all Shakespeare’s sonnets, follows a standard pattern. It consists of three quatrains and a concluding couplet, and it follows the rhyme scheme abab, cdcd, efef, gg.

The meaning of the sonnet is reinforced by the variations Shakespeare makes in the meter. This takes the form of a subtle counterpoint between the regular metrical base, which is iambic pentameter, and the spoken rhythm—what one actually hears when the sonnet is read. For example, in the first quatrain, the theme of the destructiveness of time is brought out more forcefully by a series of metrical inversions.

In the third foot in the first line (“blunt thou”), a trochee is substituted for an iamb, resulting in a strong stress falling on the first syllable. This gives “blunt” a much stronger impact than it would otherwise have, especially as the rest of the line follows a regular iambic rhythm. In line two, the last foot is a spondee rather than an iamb, resulting in two heavy stresses on “sweet brood.” The emphasis on the “sweetness of what time destroys” makes the work of time seem even more harsh. Line 3 is a very irregular line, echoing the turbulence of the sense. There is a metrical inversion in the first foot (it is trochaic, not iambic) that serves to highlight the word “Pluck.”...

(The entire section is 491 words.)