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Sonnet 147

Sonnet 147

Analysis: Form and Meter

Shakespearean Sonnet

Will Shakes wasn't the first person to write a sonnet in English but he was most definitely the best, which is why this particular sonnet form is named after our guy. Pretty impressive, right? We can't remember the last time a form of poetry was named after us.

So what is it exactly that makes a poem a Shakespearean/Elizabethan sonnet? Well, they all have the same form and meter, which we're more than happy to break down for you.

The first thing you need to know is, they're all 14 lines long. That is, except for Sonnet 99, which has one extra line, and Sonnet 126, which is only 12 lines long. Hey, even Shakey liked to shake it up a bit.

Each sonnet consists of 3 quatrains followed by a rhymed couplet. Here's how the quatrains and the couplet are divided in Sonnet 147:

Quatrain 1
My love is as a fever, longing still
For that which longer nurseth the disease,
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
The uncertain sickly appetite to please.


Quatrain 2

My reason, the physician to my love,
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
Hath left me, and I desp'rate now approve
Desire is death, which physic did except.


Quatrain 3

Past cure I am, now reason is past care,
And frantic mad with evermore unrest,
My thoughts and my discourse as madmen's are,
At random from the truth vainly expressed;


Rhymed Couplet

For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.

Okay. Great. Why does the sonnet's structure matter? Because it allows us to follow the speaker's thought process in a logical way as he tries to work out a problem, that's why. Here's how it unfolds in 147:

  • The 1st quatrain introduces the subject. The speaker's desire is like an illness that's not getting any better. 
  • The 2nd quatrain develops the subject further and even introduces more conflict. The speaker says that he's lost his ability to reason because his sexual appetite is so out of control. Also, he feels like he's on the verge of death. 
  • The 3rd quatrain of a sonnet is usually where the speaker offers a solution to the problems he's just introduced. But in Sonnet 147, the speaker just gives up hope and says there's no cure for him because he's gone completely mad. 
  • Finally, the rhymed couplet offers up a strong conclusion. In this case, the speaker offers proof that he has in fact lost his mind. He has been completely fooled by his mistress. He once thought she was a good person but, it turns out she's not.

Shakespearean sonnets almost always include a feature called a turn or volta. This is a moment in the poem where the theme or the tone changes in a sudden and surprising way. Sonnet 147's turn comes at line 13, where the speaker suddenly stops describing all of the symptoms of his lovesickness and accuses his lover of being dishonest, unfaithful, and immoral. Check it out:

For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.
(13-14)

Whoa. Until now, we didn't even know he was addressing anyone in particular because he was so caught up in his own emotional drama. At this point, we're totally stunned by this sudden and violent accusation.

Getting His Iambic On

Just like Shakespeare's plays, the sonnets are mostly written in a meter called iambic pentameter, which is a pretty formal but also very natural sounding meter. It sounds like a series of 5 heart beats: dadum dadum dadum dadum dadum

For example, you could scan line 13 as follows:for I have sworn thee fair and thought thee bright.

That leaves us with one more thing: the rhyme scheme. In a typical Shakespearean sonnet, the rhyme scheme usually goes a little something like this: ABABCDCDEFEFGG.

So, here's how it breaks down in Sonnet 147:

My love is as a fever, longing still A
For that which longer nurseth the disease, B
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill, A
The uncertain sickly appetite to please. B
My reason, the physician to my love, C
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept, D
Hath left me, and I desp'rate now approve C
Desire is death, which physic did except. D
Past cure I am, now reason is past care, E
And frantic mad with evermore unrest, F
My thoughts and my discourse as madmen's are, E
At random from the truth vainly expressed; F
For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright, G
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night. G

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