Analysis of Sonnet 30 by William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 30, “When to the sessions of sweet silent thought” bears the tone of the previous sonnet (Sonnet 29). Animated with the same intensely personal note, it expresses the same mood of morbidity and melancholy. The enlivening effect comes, too, in the similar process by the friend’s sweet love. In fact, the two sonnets (Sonnet 29 and 30) seem to go parallel in tone and effect.
Yet, the line of approach in this sonnet deviates from what is perceived in the other sonnet. The tone of sadness and the sense of frustration follow here from the poet’s remembrance of his past failure and sorrow. But, in the other sonnet, the mood of despondency and distress is caused by his current failure and humiliation in the general esteem. Of course, the consolation is brought in both the sonnets by the poet’s love of his young friend.
The sonnet begins in a despondent mood. The poet is haunted with the memory of the past that reminds him of his failing and suffering in the days gone by. ‘He is sorrowfully conscious of his utter inability to possess and enjoy those very things which he sought so much. An acute agony aches him, as he remembers the loss of his dear friends and love. He seems to grieve anew for that which was already mourned and ‘to tell o’er the sad account of fore-bemoaned moan.’
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This expression of the poet’s sorrow and frustration is, however, extremely personal. A ring of utmost sincerity is echoed all through. The poet’s longing and mourning are all earnest and belong intimately to his heart. His heavy and depressed heart is revealed in his touching personal confession
“I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought.
And with old woes new wail my dear times waste”
or in his frank statement
“Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er,”
With the poet’s intimately personal mood goes his nobly inspired idealism of love.’ As in the sonnet (Sonnet 29) the despondent state of the poet’s mind in magically relieved by the very thought of his friend. In fact, the sonnet has a heartening end with the poet’s deeply sincere adoration of his friend’s love that restores all his losses and ends all his sorrows :
“But if the while I’think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restor’d and sorrows end.”
Truly, the sonnet remains, like a good many sonnets, including the previous one, a fine testimony to the poet’s warm devotion to his friend and idealistic view of the power of love.
The sonnet testifies, too, to the poet’s technical excellence as a word-painter and versifier. The poet’s moods-sad as well as joyous-are given out here through the analogy of a legal suit. The diction of the sonnet has the smack of the language of the court. This is clearly seen in the first two lines-
“When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past.”
and in such expressions as ‘The sad account’, ‘new pay’ and ‘losses are restored’ Again, some pregnant expressions like ‘drown an eye’, ‘death’s dateless night’, ‘many a vanished sight’ and ‘weep afresh imply precise yet meaningful images. In this connection Shakespeare’s happy use of compound words as illustrated in ‘dateless’, ‘long-since and fore-bemoaned’, may be mentioned in particular. Moreover, there is a lively alliterative effect in the first line-“When to the session of sweet silent thought.” This is followed by heavier beats in the subsequent lines. The concluding couplet, again, has a just change to a gliding movement.
The characteristic structural harmony of the Shakespearean sonnet is well retained here. The first quatrain shows the despondent effect of memory on the poet’s mind. The heavy and gloomy state of his mind is elaborated and illustrated in the next two quatrains. The concluding couplet sums up the peot’s sweeping consolation amid grief and despair. Four divisions, seven rhymes and the use of iambic pentameter are other characteristic marks of the sonnet. The rhyme-scheme, as normal with Shakespeare, is-
ab ab (1st quatrain), cd cd (2nd quatrain) ef ef (3rd quatrain), g g (concluding couplet)
The use of the iambic pentameter is clear in the very opening quatrain
Whe’n to| the se’s|sions o’f| sweet si’p | lent tho’ughts
I su’m|mon úp |re-mém| brance o’f |things pást
I si’gh | the la’ck | of many a thing |I so’ught
And wi’th | old wo’es | new wáil | my de’ar| time’s wa’ste.
There are, however, four variations :
(i) The first foot of the first line is trochee.
(ii) The fourth foot the third line is an anapaest.
(iii) The first foot and the second of the last line are pyrrhic and spondee respectively.
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