Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 500
The sonnet’s fourteen lines form three quatrains and a concluding couplet, rhyming abab, cdcd, efef, gg. Known as the Shakespearean (or English) sonnet, this arrangement differs from the Italian (or Petrarchan) sonnet in adopting a different rhyme scheme and dividing the sestet (the final six lines) into a quatrain and a couplet. The third quatrain addresses the poem’s subject somewhat differently from the first two quatrains (which correspond to the octave of the Italian sonnet), and the couplet offers a final comment on, or a summary of, the foregoing argument. A typical line consists of five stresses, or ten syllables, called iambic pentameter: “Since bráss, nor stóne, nor eárth, nor boúndless séa.” An extra syllable is occasionally added to the line, as in lines 2, 4, and 10. Within this highly patterned world, Sonnet 65 achieves myriad effects.
Wordplay creates much of the poem’s irony by combining multiple meanings into one word. The “sad” in line 2 characterizes the personified “mortality,” sad because it is his duty to destroy things; at the same time, “sad” expresses the poet’s own feelings regarding this destructive force. In the third line, “this rage” ironically plays on the idea that mortality, usually thought of as a dormant state, is a violent passion, even a madness. Shakespeare twists the traditional conventions by assigning such a passion, not to the lover, but to the force that destroys beauty. Irony is implicit, too, in the reference to “boundless sea,” which is nevertheless “bound” by “mortality.” Though the tone of the sonnet may not be entirely serious—Shakespeare seems close to mocking the tradition of the forlorn lover in the line “O fearful meditation! where, alack”—any playful spirit the poem may have is sobered by the ominous nature of the subject.
The poem’s principal imagery focuses on the various forms given the chief antagonists, “Time” and beauty, though beauty is depicted in images that suggest insubstantial form (a mere “plea” and “summer’s honey breath”), a passive hardness (“jewel”), and a helpless victim (Time’s “spoil”). Time is personified variously, too, as a force that “decays,” keeps jewelry in a chest, has a swift foot, and plunders his victims. When the poem wants to suggest the delicate, impermanent nature of beauty, imagery is deft—“flowersummer’s honey breath.” When it wants images of strength, it is prolific—“wreckful siegebattering daysrocks impregnablegates of steel.”
Numerous sound effects underscore the poem’s doleful tone. Repetition of words (such as “nor” and “O” and structures—the five questions, for example—suggests the relentless assault of “this rage” as well as the urgency of the speaker’s mingled hope and fear. Apt alliteration—“steel so strong” and “none, unless”—and vowel sounds reinforce the meaning. The sound of “brass” and “stone” suggests more durable qualities than those of a flower and honey breath, and the phrases “rocks impregnable” and “gates of steel” sound “harder” than the more mellifluous sounds of “miracle have might” and “my love.”