Read the following poems by William Shakespeare and write an essay about the poems in which you address the following questions.
How does the poem work? How would you explicate its meaning? What does the poem accomplish aesthetically, intellectually, and/or philosophically?
If the dull substance of my flesh were thought,
Injurious distance should not stop my way;
For then despite of space I would be brought,
From limits far remote, where thou dost stay.
No matter then although my foot did stand
Upon the farthest earth remov’d from thee;
For nimble thought can jump both sea and land,
As soon as think the place where he would be.
But, ah! thought kills me that I am not thought,
To leap large lengths of miles when thou art gone,
But that so much of earth and water wrought,
I must attend time’s leisure with my moan;
Receiving nought by elements so slow
But heavy tears, badges of either’s woe.
The other two, slight air, and purging fire
Are both with thee, wherever I abide;
The first my thought, the other my desire,
These present-absent with swift motion slide.
For when these quicker elements are gone
In tender embassy of love to thee,
My life, being made of four, with two alone
Sinks down to death, oppress’d with melancholy;
Until life’s composition be recured
By those swift messengers return’d from thee,
Who even but now come back again, assured
Of thy fair health, recounting it to me:
This told, I joy; but then no longer glad,
I send them back again, and straight grow sad.
The theme of the poem is the longing of a lover to be with his beloved who was separated from him. The feeling of sadness yet with a bit of hope is strongly felt when he wishes if only he were a “thought.” No measure of distance “should stop his way” and no matter how remote she can be he could reach her because he, being a thought, “can jump both sea and land” and can be wherever he wants to go. But the optimism was brief after realizing that he wasn’t a thought and soon returns to his previous lonely state.
In the next sonnet, the narrator in first person point of view continues to express his isolated feeling from the one he loves. By using the words such as “absent,” “gone,” “death, oppressed with melancholy,” the author powerfully delivers their intended meaning. The reader is soon taken to the feeling of sympathy towards the lover after her expresses that the absence of his beloved “sinks (his life) down to death, oppressed with melancholy.”
The rich imagery and diction gives the reader a clear understanding that the separation and isolation of the lover from his beloved brings so much depth of his love for his beloved. Though news of his beloved’s well-being in that far place comes to him gives him joy, the mere realization that they were far from each other, brings him back to his former gloomy state “and straight grow sad,”