Study Guide

Sonnet 116 Sound Check

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Sound Check

This poem manages to sound both consistently rhythmic and conversational, formal and casual, planned and spontaneous. Faithful watchers of Law and Order or any other courtroom drama might recognize this mash-up of different tones from the masterful and persuasive arguments often featured on such programs; we usually see them delivered by attractive and brilliant lawyers (or rather, attractive actors portraying brilliant lawyers). Here, we might imagine the poet in this role, delivering a well-crafted, carefully paced, yet still accessible argument to a jury of readers.

The poem’s meter, iambic pentameter, becomes very apparent from line 3 onwards (take a look at "Form and Meter" for more on this), creating a certain feeling of consistent pacing, but certain elements of drama, like the "O no!" in line 5, break it up and remind us that this is a real person talking, not a machine. Just like any good appeal to a jury, the poem uses clear and simple language to get its point across, and to illustrate its claims. Finally, the concluding couplet (which even engages legal language in the phrase "upon me proved" [13]) is an ideal closing statement – bold, challenging, and memorable. Case closed.

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