Pupil Analysis – Sonnet 31

So far all of the pupil work I’ve put up on the site has been my own darlings, but this could be the start of something beautiful. This piece of analysis was written by Kudzai Mhangwa who is studying in Zimbabwe and decided he wanted to contribute. Some good ideas and expression, I’m sure you’ll agree. It differs from my ideas slightly and there is one point which I don’t find very convincing, but overall an excellent piece of work that I think should be helpful to others.

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In Sonnet 31 the reader comes across a persona who is heavily curious about the topic of love from the ‘Moon and seems deeply compelled and baffled by this mystery that is love and seeking an answer to his question.

In the phrase, ‘With, how sad steps, O Moon thou climb’st the skies!’ the persona personifies the ‘Moon’ as something that is in a position to climb showing the severity of the issue at hand, love. The moon is a symbol of fertility and the female nature and suggests that the ‘Moon’ is actually a woman. From the phrase, ‘How silently, and with how wan a face!’ the use of the exclamation mark shows how shocked and startled at the expression that is on the ‘Moon’ or person’s face which is ‘wane’. The verb ‘wane’ means to grow weaker this may show how the persona is mocking the expression that is on the ‘Moon’s’ face.

From the phrase:

‘What, may it be that even in heavenly place/
That busy archer his sharp arrows tries?’

:the persona makes an allusion to Roman mythology by speaking of ‘that busy archer’ the Roman love-god, Cupid to authenticate his idea upon love and again amplifying his desperation to learn of love. The persona uses enjambment (run on lines) again to show his eagerness to learn of love. The rhyming scheme used by the persona:

…………..skies! (a)
……………..face! (b)
……………..place (b)
……………tries (a)

  • Appears at the beginning of the first quatrain and appears again at the end of the first quatrain showing the reader, that though his thoughts of love may escape him, they return to haunt him still.

However, the question ‘What, may it be that even in heavenly place That busy archer his sharp arrows tries?’ proves to be a rhetoric question as the persona shows absolute certainty beginning the second quatrain with the word ‘Sure…….’. The persona uses alliteration with the letter “L” in lines 5-6 of the poem showing us how the thoughts of love continue to return to him. The oxymoron ‘languished grace’ may be interpreted as a way of showing the persona’s disturbed state of mind. This may be also used to help the reader question the expression that lies on the ‘moon’s’ face which might be of deep sadness. Again the persona uses alliteration of “th….” in lines 7-8. The persona uses a similar rhyme scheme as used in the first quatrain in the second quatrain:

…….eyes (a)
………case (b)
………..grace (b)
……..descries (a)

:the choice to repeat the rhyme scheme implies that the person continuously wishes to know of the mystery of love.

A volta is introduced in the third and final quatrain as the persona now deeply questions the ‘Moon’ upon issues to do with love. The phrase “O, Moon tell me” suggests again his desperation to know of love.

In the third stanza the persona uses a different rhyme scheme and rhyme scheme:

……….me (c)
……….wit (d)
……..be (c)
……….yet(d)

:the choice of eye rhyme of ‘wit’ and ‘yet’ my suggest that love is an illusion and truly does not exist where he lives.

The persona then goes on to ask a series of questions to the ‘Moon’ as to the position of love. The phrase, ‘Do they call virtue there ungratefulness?’ we see how the ‘Moon’ and the persona are in two completely different places and the persona is eager to know of the position the ‘Moon’ is in and he wants to understand his plight on earth, whether it is the same as the ‘Moon’. We discover that ‘beauties’ which might be women, are proud where he is and he wishes to know if the scenario is similar ‘there’ where the moon is.

The poem is made up of very uneven lines showing the persona’s turbulent state of mind as he questions the ‘Moon’. The use of caesura gives Sonnet 31 a slow meter which gives the persona ample time to revel in his thoughts and question the topic of love extensively.

Author: Mr Sir

Although I've only been teaching Literature since 2011 and did my degree in History, I think that makes me better placed than many Lit teachers to provide notes that make sense and aren't garbled and wrapped up with inaccessible terminology and effluent nonsense. After adventures in Uganda and Uzbekistan, I am now settling down in the Netherlands. However, currently I am just about as unsettled as I have ever been, with a new job, a new baby, a new country and a hundred other things going on! Ask me a question, collaborate or abuse me.

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