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Greed Imagery

Symbol Analysis

After the first two lines using imagery based on nutrition, the poem switches gears in line 3 and starts using imagery based on greed. The basic idea here is that the speaker can never be satisfied in his relationship. Like a miser, he can't enjoy what he has, because he is constantly changing his mind about whether he should keep it to himself in secret, or whether he should flaunt it to the world. Even when the speaker stops explicitly describing himself as a miser in lines 7 and 8, this idea still sticks around as an undercurrent. We see it in the idea that the speaker makes decisions based on "counting" up the pluses and minuses on each side, just like a miser would make decisions based on the bottom line in his accounting ledger.

  • Line 3: In the third line of the poem, Shakespeare confuses us by throwing in a paradox, also known as the literary device based on a statement that contradicts itself, but still seems true. How can the speaker experience "strife" while trying to get "peace of you"? Once you think about it, of course, it really isn't that hard to understand. For example, if you have a really annoying itch in a place that's hard to reach, you might feel like you are full of strife before you manage to get your jacket off and reach for the scratch that will give you "peace of" it. Also, some might argue that even the ideas of "peace" and "war" aren't necessarily as opposed as you might think. Just look at President Obama's Nobel acceptance speech, when he argued that "all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace." Clearly, there are some ways of thinking about this line that make it not so paradoxical after all. But that's only after thinking about it. On the surface, the apparent contradiction of "peace" and "strife" is the first thing that hits you, and we're betting that's what Shakespeare was going for.
  • Lines 5-8: In these lines of the poem, Shakespeare busts out an extended metaphor, which is pretty much what it sounds like: a lengthy passage describing one thing in terms of another thing. In this case, Shakespeare is making the speaker describe himself and his relationship in the same terms that would be applicable to a "miser and his wealth" (as we learned back in line 4). The main reason the speaker thinks he and the miser are similar is because neither one can be satisfied. Neither one can decide whether he should enjoy what he has in secrecy, or rather share it with the world at large.
  • Lines 7-8: In this line, Shakespeare uses alliteration of the letter "b" to emphasize the miser's thought process. When he decides it's "best" to "be" all alone with "you," that has a definitive ring to it. These emphatic "b" sounds in line 7 make it all the more surprising when the speaker changes his mind, with another "b" word ("bettered"), in line 8. (For more on alliteration, go check out the "Sound Check" section).

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