Anaphora 19: Sonnet 66

sonnet 66

Taken at face value, sonnet 66 lists a grim litany of injustice that makes the narrator wish he were dead. Only concern for his true love makes him stay rather than choose death and desert her to fate.

In precís it sounds depressing:  life is unjust but if I die you will be alone.

But the sound and language play stop it from being a dirge: alliteration (needy nothing, beggar born); assonance (folly, doctor-like, controlling); the personification of abstracts with verb or noun (gilded honor, right perfection); the way the aforementioned nouns are made real with colourful verbs and adverbs (unhappily forsworn, rudely strumpeted, wrongfully disgraced, folly controlling skill); and of course, the play of opposites as each vice becomes a virtue, or vice versa. The effect is like being party to a scene from a painting by Bosch, or a carnival of human life.


Anaphora’s ‘and’ ,for example, makes the main body of the poem one long run-on line which adds on woe after woe frenetically.

Granted, in the final couplet there is a change in tone as the full end rhyme of the previous lines becomes half-rhyme (gone, alone), and the anaphora of the previous 10 lines with its assured iambic first foot returns to the modifying prepositional phrase and trochaic first foot of the first line.

But overall, I think it is not meant to be taken seriously, and that the hand-wringing at the end is a concession to the audience’s expectations of the closing couplet.


Chiasmus 11: Sonnet 20


What is a sonnet?

A poem of fourteen lines. The two main types are the English, or Shakespearean sonnet, and the Italian, or Petrarchan sonnet. The English version is written in iambic pentameter.

What is a Shakespearean sonnet?

The Shakespearean variant consists of three quatrains and a couplet: abab cdcd efef gg

(A) A woman’s face with Nature’s own hand painted
(B) Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion;
(A) A woman’s gentle heart, but not acquainted
(B) With shifting change, as is false women’s fashion;
(C) An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
(D) Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
(C) A man in hue, all hues in his controlling,
(D) Which steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth.
(E) And for a woman wert thou first created;
(F) Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
(E) And by addition me of thee defeated,
(F) By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
(G) But since she prick’d thee out for women’s pleasure,
(G) Mine be thy love and thy love’s use their treasure.

What does it do?

The first line usually introduces a question or statement to be explored in the lines that follow,e.g., ‘Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day’, ‘My love is as a fever, longing still’. The body of the poem will explore one conceit throughout, or develop into a string of metaphors. Either way, it will take a dramatic twist, or volta, in the ninth line, or later. Finally, it will conclude with a couplet which either summarises or offers a new perspective on the material. Sonnet 20 can be simplified (arguably) as:

  • lines 1-4: You have a woman’s face which I find attractive, and a woman’s gentle heart.
  • lines 5-8: But you are a man (as am I) who is attractive to both men and women.
  • lines 8-12: Mother nature made you a woman first, but she was so attracted to you she changed her mind and gave you a penis for her pleasure which thwarted my love (‘not acquainted’, or no cunt)/’pricked thee out’, or gave you a prick).
  • lines 12-14: No worries! I, brave narrator, can have your love, and the women can have your prick. (Yes, it’s a vast simplification, but I hope it serves to show how the argument develops.)

So what has this all got to do with chiasmus?

Well, if you look at the final line of the poem’s couplet, you will see it is an example of chiasmus:

Mine be thy love, and thy love’s use their treasure

or ABBA:

A —- Mine be
B —- thy love
B —- thy love’s use
A —- their treasure

Chiasmus accentuates the cross-purpose in the poem (narrator/man vs. mother nature/women in conflict for the feminine man), while allowing the last line to focus on one key word  – love.