In “Sonnet 74” Shakespeare uses two metaphors to represent death. At the beginning of the poem, Death is portrayed as a powerful authority. The persona uses personification to describe death as an official who takes him away: “when that fell arrest/ Without all bail shall carry me away”. Here the use of the adjective “fell” gives readers a cruel and notorious impression on Death. “Without all bail” again reveals the cold-heartedness and the powerfulness of Death that it would not free anyone once it takes them away. Shakespeare aims to present the sensory image of sight that the persona is behind bar with the arrest of the Death.
In addition to the bossy official, Death has another incarnation: “wretch’s knife”. Both time and Death are cruel while the former kills people with “coward conquest” and the latter kills people with violence. The adjective “coward” suggests that time uses a not-aggressive, unintentional way to attack people. Shakespeare wants to reveal the cunning side of the death by saying time would not kill people directly but it would make them old and then those people would visit Death automatically. Since Death is so cunning and powerful, it is hard to resist and being dead is inevitable. Thus, Shakespeare suggests that “The earth can have but earth, which is his due” which means everything, including our bodies, belongs to the world and it is ephemeral and has its due date.
The perplexity of being dead makes Shakespeare think of his love towards his beloved. Will their love be terminated with his death? How can he show his eternal love towards his beloved?
In the poem, Shakespeare incessantly gives promise and confidence to his beloved that his love towards her would not be terminated even with the attack of Death. Shakespeare mentions the phrases “with thee”, “to thee”, and “of thee”. Shakespeare deliberately uses the same pattern (preposition plus thee) to emphasize and show his promise to her. What Shakespeare tries to promise is that although his body will be gone one day, his spirit which is laid in the poem would accompany her beloved forever: “My life hath in this line some interest/ which for memorial still with thee shall stay”. In line 4 Shakespeare aims to stress the value of spirit with the idea that spirit is more worthwhile to memorize than physical bodies. As long as the beloved read the poem, she can sense the spirit or love of the poet: “When thou reviewest this, thou dost review/ The very part was consecrate to thee”. In line 6, the word “was” is past tense, which may suggest the idea that the persona’s love and spirit have already been given to the beloved, but one thing she has to do is to read and review the poem so that she can notice his love. In these two lines, the persona not only offer a promise to his beloved, but he also asks for a request that his beloved should read the poem. The request for the beloved to read the line simply asserts the value or importance of her by suggesting that his spirit or his real life become meaningful only when his beloved read the poem. If she does not read the poem, there is no point for him to write it. The line itself has no intrinsic value, only when she reads the poem, she gives the poem its value and thus gives the persona his value (his spirit is connected with the poem).
Shakespeare is so thoughtful that after giving her his promise and build up her confidence towards their love, he also tries to comfort his beloved by saying that “My spirit is thine, the better part of me. /So then thou hast but lost the dregs of life”. What he means is his body is nothing, it is only a body and is perishable, so it is not worthwhile for her to remember: “too base of thee to be remembered”.
In this poem, what Shakespeare tries to do is to show us how powerful love is by portraying the authoritative Death and how he and his beloved’s love can conquer Death finally.
Sharon White is a senior writer and writers consultant at Custom Term Paper Writing. She has over 5 years experience in Research Papers writing and Dissertation Writingservices.
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