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shakespeare sonnets

Explain and extract the use of imagery in the sonnet 130.


The use of imagery in this poem is a subversion of the way in which nature imagery is generally used in romantic and courtly poetry from the Elizabethan era. The natural images Shakespeare uses are presented in opposition to the reality of what his mistress really looks, sounds, and smells like: the speaker alludes to "the sun" only to state that her eyes are "nothing like" it, and observes that "if snow be white," his mistress has breasts that are closer to "dun," or earth, in color. The effect of this is to criticize the tendency of poets to draw hyperbolic comparisons which, ultimately, tell us nothing about the people they describe.

The speaker has "seen roses damask'd, red and white," and it is exactly because he knows what roses look like that he does not compare "her cheeks" to them. His mistress's hair is like "black wires," and "coral is far more red than her lips' red." However, notably, what the speaker is expressing is that his love for his mistress is more earnest precisely because he "love[s] to hear her speak," while knowing all the time "that music hath a far more pleasing sound." Rather than idolizing his mistress and imagining her as a "goddess," the speaker is fully aware that his beloved "treads on the ground." He knows that she is human, and it is because he acknowledges these human qualities that their love is "rare," rather than being viewed through a lens of "false compare." Those who imagine their mistresses to be goddesses, the poem seems to suggest, do not love them for the people they truly are.

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