Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The most striking device in the opening five lines of Sonnet 94 is the repeated use of the word “do” in the sense of “perform” (“do none,” line 1); as an intensifier (“do show,” line 2); in both senses (“do not do,” line 2); and finally, again, as an intensifier to emphasize the verb (“do inherit,” line 5). Although the poem is about persons who restrain their actions, this repetition of the most basic word for performing an action, “do,” suggests that actions are being performed. In fact, though, if one looks at the grammar of this first sentence, one sees that all but one of these instances of the word are contained within restrictive clauses, and the main verb of the subject “they” is restrained, as it were, until the second quatrain: “do inherit” in line 5. The sentence thus echoes the sense that the “thing they most do show,” like the appearance of grammatical action in “do,” is restrained. When one does get to that main verb, moreover, it is a verb not of doing but of receiving, of inheriting.

The poem introduces its most significant metaphor in the second quatrain. The speaker compares this stoicism to legal inheritance and ownership of land, land that is then cultivated and made productive. Ownership of land was, in the sixteenth century, a traditional privilege of the nobility, although this rapidly was changing as members of the mercantile middle class accumulated more and more wealth. In lines 7 and...

(The entire section is 495 words.)