Sonnet 18 Poem Analysis

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Separated by three hundred years, Millay and Shakespeare bring to light opposing ideas on love’s effect on the human condition. “What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why” by Edna St. Vincent Millay and “Sonnet 18” by William Shakespeare investigate erotic and platonic love in a similar yet contrasting manner. Millay’s poem explores personal grief when passionate love wanes with age. Shakespeare’s poem, on the other hand, depicts platonic love for a friend who, to the narrator, is the epitome of perfection. The poems have similar form: both are Petrarchan sonnets and both possess iambic pentameter. However, differences in rhyme scheme, meter, and punctuation set the poems apart. Literary devices such as metaphors and imagery of seasons …show more content…
Predominantly, a sonnet is written in iambic pentameter. Shakespeare’s poem exemplifies iambic pentameter in every line: short, unstressed and long, stressed syllables (Figure 1). Fig. 1. Sonnet 18, Wells and Taylor’s William Shakespeare, The Complete Works (Oxford: Clarendon,1986); rpt. in Paterson Morton, What is Pentameter?: The Five in Shakespeare 's (98).
This perfection resonates with the narrator’s friend’s impeccable physical beauty. However, the meter is less conventional in Millay’s poem. Although the majority of the poem exhibits iambic pentameter, several lines do not. “I have” (Millay 2), “Under” (3) and “Thus in” (9) are trochees, while “and” (2) in the second line is unstressed. These deviations from convention not just show chaos in the poet’s emotions, but also stress the lines’ importance. An emphasis of “I have forgotten” (2), highlights the insignificance of past lovers in the “first two lines” (Laird 32). The third line continues “body part synecdoches” (Schurer 95). Millay forgets “what arms have lain under [her] head” (Millay 647); the intimacy of her body parts contrast with her current “distance from the experience” (Schurer 95). Difference in meter separates each poem’s message about love; one explores perfection in a man, the other the insignificance of multiple
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A tree metaphor instead of a resolution prevails in the sestet, which later transitions to the season “summer [that] sang in [her]” (Millay 13). Schurer states: “the last two [lines may be] a mock allusion to the Shakespearean sonnet” (Schurer 96), agreeing with the sestets’ similarity. Millay is “the lonely tree” (Millay 9) in winter that has empty branches with no birds. The birds refer to her lovers who have “vanished one by one” (10) as her youth is over, and will “in [her sing] no more” (14). Here, summer represents youth, and winter, old age. Millay uses imagery for rainy weather: “the rain/ Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh upon the glass” (3-4). The rain emphasizes her gloom without her lovers. It “is not so much… the identity of her lovers as… the memory of the emotions they allowed her to experience” (Schurer 95). Millay experiences heartache as she misses emotions that result from love, but disregards the people who provide them. Shakespeare describes preservation of youth while Millay brings the reader back to reality; people become old and lose their

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