Another First Undergraduate Essay: The Psychological Theme in Drayton's Sonnet 61
|Here's the first essay from my first English class in college. It's dated September 28th, and, as you'll see, it's not filled with discussions of Foucault, Saussure, Barthes, and Greenblatt. And Falstaff was not there to inspire me. Instead, I followed a random piece of advice that had been imparted to me by my English teacher during my senior year of high school: when writing about poetry, analyze both form and content. And so I did. In a five-paragraph essay, of course. And without any witty boasting of brilliance. But with lots of passive voice, repetitious sentences, and plodding nominalizations.|
One facet of a literary work's relative quality can be determined by how well its form and content are combined. Masterpieces usually have a blending of form and content which not only serves to heighten their own power, but also forges successful criteria for analyzing other works. Michael Drayton's sixty-first sonnet, "Since there's no help, come let us kiss and part;" can be judged based on this criteria. The striking characteristic of this poem is its psychological theme. It is about a man who ends his relationship with his lover and must endure the tragic reality that doing so virtually kills him; his fate is then left in the hands of his lover who can save him from death. The first eight lines of the sonnet create a vivid picture of the speaker's state of mind through his almost boastful indifference. The last six lines then confirm the reader's assumption that he was lying about his detachment and relate how he actually felt. In addition, the psychological focus of the poem is supported through Drayton's use of form. It increases the meaning of certain passages and, hence, the poem itself. The specific aspects of form and content which enhance the psychological them of "Since there's no help, come let us kiss and part;" are its meter, its diction, and the stylistic difference between its octet and sestet.And so the circle is complete. The essay begins by talking about masterpieces and it ends with more thoughts on masterpieces. In between, there are some airy speculations about breathing and then a final claim that "some critics" call this "the greatest sonnet ever written" (do they? anyone else heard this)?
It might be worth adding that, when I wrote this essay, I was dating a not very nice girl from high school, a mistake I kept up until the end of my freshman year (actually, until she broke up with me during final exams). The feeling of being tortured by "a lover" (yick) was one I could very much relate to--the poem spoke to me, as anything having to do with "love" did that year. The final essay I wrote for this course: "The Theme of Love in Shakespeare's and Donne's Poetry." Its opening sentences: "One goal of many poets is for their poems to make people remember emotions, thoughts, and experiences in their own lives. As a result, the genre of poetry is marked by the recurrence of certain [...wait for it...] universal themes and emotions which all, or most, people undergo." I love that "or most." When I added it, was I thinking of my eighteen-year-old girlfriend then cheating on me with a thirty-year-old guy with three kids? I'd like to think so, even though I almost surely wasn't; but if so, it's easily the funniest thing I wrote that year.