Commentary Poems-poetic Elements
Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘Sestina’ and William Shakespeare’s ‘My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun’ are two poems whose external form is used to deliver the tone and theme of the poem. ‘Sestina’ accomplishes this using stanzas and repetition of words while ‘My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun’ follows a typical format, which makes the poem short but effective in relaying its meaning. External forms in these two poems include stanzas, verses, alliteration and rhyme and they give the poem structure, form and make it more entertaining.
Sestina by Elizabeth Bishop is divided into seven stanzas. The whole story revolves around the grandmother and the child. The six end words that are repeated throughout the poem are house, grandmother, child, store, almanac and tears. They are repeated in each line of the seven stanzas of the poem but in the last stanza, two words are used in each line. In the first line, the words used are almanac and tears, in the second line the words used are grandmother and stove while in the third stanza the words used are child and house. The use of stanzas in the poem creates a pause between one stanza and the next that gives the reader a chance to create mental picture of the poem’s scenes in his mind.
Sestina has six lines in each of its stanzas except for the last one, which has three stanzas. Through repetition, the reader gains more understanding of the subjects in the poem, it also enhances the reader’s imagination on the subjects discussed in the poem. This repetition also sets the tone of the poem and gives it structure. If the last words are given a letter each, then the six words will have the following order; first stanza: a-b-c-d-e-f, second stanza: f-a-e-b-d-c, third stanza: c-f-d-a-b-e; fourth stanza; r-c-b-f-a-d, fifth stanza: d-e-a-c-f-b, sixth stanza; b-d-f-e-c-a and the last stanza: f-e, b-d, c-a. Thus despite the repetition, the sestina method is strictly structured such that there are no two lines in any of the six stanzas that end with the same word.
The sonnet by William Shakespeare’s ‘My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun’ has fourteen lines with each line having ten syllables. The rhyme structure of the poem is a-b-a-b-c-d-c-d-e-f-e-f-g-g. This structure creates the tone that the poem starts-off slowly, then accelerates towards the end and ends abruptly. This enables the poet to deliver the message and meaning of the poem in only fourteen lines. The poem also uses the 4-4-4-2 pattern. This enables him to create two different tones in the poem in the first twelve lines of the poem where he describes all the negative aspects of his mistress such as the reeking of her breath and her lack of spectacular beauty. Then, make a contrast in the last two rhyming lines, where he says that despite her imperfections, his love for her is incomparable and rare.
The poem is written in iambi pentameter. This means that in every line, there are ten syllables, and stress is placed on the second syllable. This gives the poem structure and a repetitive tone, thus making the poem more interesting. In the first part of the poem, verses 1-4, Shakespeare describes the features he considers as being essential to a woman’s beauty, which are her eyes, lips, breasts and hair. The a-b-a-b pattern also creates a tone of contrast in these first four lines; between the sun and dun, which is a dark lackluster color and between red lips and a head with wires growing on it.
The next four lines have a c-d-c-d rhyme structure, where the first line, c, describes something pleasant, in this case roses and perfumes while the second line, d, describes something unpleasant, which here is the lack of color on her cheeks and the smell of her breath. Therefore, the structure used also creates a change in tone, which makes the poem more interesting and enhances the theme of the poem of unconditional love. The last two lines of the poem rhyme, in order to create a different tone from the rest of the poem. Whereas before he seemed discontented with the mistress’ lack of beauty and grace, here, the rhyme creates a calmer tone, as he concedes that his love for her is rare.
The external structure of the poem is therefore important in enhancing the structure of the poem and bringing out the tone and theme of the poem. External form may also be used to make the poem more interesting and memorable. Rhyme helps to unify a poem and create structure, while stanzas create breaks in the poem, thus may be used to indicate a change in tone. Alliteration lays emphasis on certain syllables, thus may be used to make the poem more striking and thus memorable.
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