Sonnet 86

Sonnet 86

By William Shakespeare

Was it the proud full sail of his great verse,
Bound for the prize of all too precious you,
That did my ripe thoughts in my brain inhearse,
Making their tomb the womb wherein they grew?
Was it his spirit, by spirits taught to write
Above a mortal pitch, that struck me dead?
No, neither he, nor his compeers by night
Giving him aid, my verse astonished.
He, nor that affable familiar ghost
Which nightly gulls him with intelligence,
As victors of my silence cannot boast;
I was not sick of any fear from thence:
But when your countenance filled up his line,
Then lacked I matter; that enfeebled mine.

Summary of Sonnet 86

  • Popularity of “Sonnet 86”: Written by the English canonical poet William Shakespeare, the poem “Sonnet 86” is one of those sonnets which have made a rival poet the subject of its verses. It first appeared in 1609 and proved to be one of the best among the total 154 sonnets. It is also counted among the Rival Poet group sonnets. The sonnet presents questions about the speaker’s impotence in demonstrating his writing ability due to the existence of a rival.
  • “Sonnet 86” As a Representative of Rivalry in Creativity: The speaker asks some rhetorical questions in this sonnet, saying that it could be the power of the creativity of the rival poet that has won his fair youth or that the dead writers have impacted his new rival poet to write better than him that now the speaker is becoming silent. Then the speaker himself answers that it is not the case of the dead writers that have impacted his rival or that no friendly ghost has tricked him into this silence. Even fear has not made him impotent, nor is it the case otherwise. In fact, it happens that when the fair youth pays more attention to the poetry of the rival poet, he wins, and in case less, he loses. Therefore, the argument of Shakespeare is that it is the fair youth that matters, even in the case of poetry.
  • Major Themes in “Sonnet 86”: Love, rivalry, and attention of the lover or the beloved are three major thematic strands of this poem. The poet states that love breeds the best poetry, but he adds he is getting sterile in the case of his poetic talent, which could be due to the presence of some rival poet. However, this rivalry wins boosting when the fair youth does not pay attention to the poetry of the speaker. In fact, this love has made the poet claim that it is the attention of the fair youth that matters the most and not the poetic talent or creativity.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in Sonnet 86

William Shakespeare used various literary devices to enhance the intended impact of his poem. Some of the major literary devices in this poem are as follows.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /i/ in “Was it his spirit, by spirits taught to write” and the sound of /o/ in “Bound for the prize of all too precious you.”
  2. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick succession, such as the sound of /t/ in “taught to” and /n/ in “no, neither” and /f/ in “fear from.”
  3. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /t/ /m/ in “Making their tomb the womb wherein they grew?” and the sound of /s/ in “As victors of my silence cannot boast.”
  4. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. William Shakespeare used imagery in this sonnet, such as “Bound for the prize of all too precious you”, “Giving him aid, my verse astonished” and “As victors of my silence cannot boast.”
  5. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between objects that are different in nature. The poet has used the metaphor of poetry as a creative being lying in the “tomb of womb.”
  6. Personification: It is a figure of speech in which human emotions are attributed to abstract ideas. Shakespeare has personified verses that cause astonishment.
  7. Rhetorical Question: It means to use questions to emphasize a point and not to get or give answers. Shakespeare has used rhetorical questions such as “Making their tomb the womb wherein they grew?” or “Above a mortal pitch, that struck me dead.?”
  8. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from the literal meanings. The poem shows symbols such as verse, prize, brain, tomb, and womb to show the creativity of poetic talent.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in Sonnet 86

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is an analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Diction: It means the type of language. The poem shows formal as well as quizzical diction.
  2. End Rhyme: End rhyme is used to make the stanza melodious. William Shakespeare uses end rhyme in this sonnet such as verse/inhearse, you/grew, and write/night.
  3. Quatrain: A quatrain is a four-lined stanza borrowed from Persian poetry. Here two stanzas are quatrain.
  4. Rhyme Scheme: This sonnet follows the ABABCDECD rhyme scheme in octave and EFEFGG in its sestet.
  5. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. This sonnet has two stanzas; an octave and a sestet.
  6. Sonnet: It is a fourteen-lined poem. This poem is a sonnet having fourteen verses.
  7. Tone: It means the voice of the text. The poem shows a loving, romantic, and dedicated tone.

Quotes to be Used

The following lines are useful to quote when talking about the best poetic output of some person.

Above a mortal pitch, that struck me dead?
No, neither he, nor his compeers by night
Giving him aid, my verse astonished.

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