Metaphysical Comparison between Sonnet 18 and Friends Departed

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Henry Vaughan’s “Friends Departed” and Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18” both make use of scintillating visual imagery and continual conceit in their delivery. Each investigates human existence; Sonnet 18 emphasizes its impermanence, while Friends Departed focuses on its divine nature. Both use conceits and their metaphysical construction in order to instill upon the reader’s mind the imagery of feeling that they wish to express for their subjects.

“Sonnet 18” is an elaboration on a conceit formed in the opening sentence of the poem. The speaker claims the subject is comparable to a summer’s day. In some ways this is used as a very positive metaphor, as summer days are quite lovely and scenic. Summer, like most things, is imperfect; it consists of short days that tend to be “shaken by rough winds.” Therefore comparing the subject to it is also actually a strategy to improve the standing of the subject. It may be interpreted that comparing someone to a summer’s day has a negative connotation to it; summer could also represent shallow beauty that changes on a cyclical whim.

The metaphor continues throughout the duration of the poem, going into detail about why the subject’s characteristics are optimal to those of summer. By the end of the poem, the speaker begins to take the metaphor so seriously that he accidentally/on purpose beings to refer to the subject of the poem as a summer’s day; he calls her “temperate” and refers to her “eternal summer.” Vast amounts of imagery are used throughout the poem. It discusses the “darling buds of May,” the “gold complexion,” Death’s “shade.” Vivid details help dramatize the points the speaker makes. The structure is a question followed by answers and comparisons, all having a masculine rhyme scheme. The central theme of this poem is inpermanence. Summer days are short, seasons end, and people die. Despite all the flattery, the speaker realizes that if nothing be done, the subject’s “eternal summer” would indeed end. Therefore, despite all the time he’s spent talking about her seemingly divine features, he tells her that her beauty will be kept immortal not through their love but through this poem. Perhaps he thought that like the summer day that he referred to so much, their relationship was not destined to last. Perhaps the reason why the speaker needed to write this poem was because he wanted to ensure that their love survives on paper even if it doesn’t survive in reality.

In “Friends Departed,” Vaughan makes a conceit out of death and vision. The mystique of this poem comes from the personal connection we make with the speaker. It permits us to truly empathize with him. We have all felt loneliness at some point, and this speaker’s sense of emptiness touches something in each of us. We can only imagine the feeling of having all of your friends dead. The conceit plays a central part in the makeup of this poem. The speaker equates life and happiness with light and clear vision, while he identifies darkness with death and obstructed vision. Throughout the poem, he suffers through the darkness as his loved ones triumph in the “world of light.” The speaker finds himself in a sort of unfortunate limbo; human nature makes him fear death, or at least struggle to survive, but his loneliness gnaws at him, makes him wish he were in the other world with those he cares about. Again, this is all described through the lens of light as a metaphor. When talking about the presumed joyous diseased friends, words are used such as “bright” and “glows.” When talking about his loneliness, words are used such as “faint” and “mists.” The degree of positive connotation that an object or thought has varies directly with the level of visual clarity it is assigned. For example, when the speaker gets excited about the prospects and mysteries of death, he refers to it as “shining.” Also, when he speaks about his current lonely life, he refers to it as “mere glimmering and decays.” The imagery used here describes not physical aspects but the speaker’s state of emotional being. The chief reason why we are able to sympathize with him so is because he is particularly apt at expressing his feelings. “And I alone sit ling’ring here” sends a powerful message because we have all been made to “sit ling’ring.” The most powerful part of this poem is the last stanza because it contains the final desperation of the speaker. He pleads God to change something for him, for he surely cannot continue in the state he’s in. He realizes that he needs to either stop reminiscing about his departed friends, or else die and join them. To top it all off he uses the two extremes of the conceit to describe it; he says that needs to either have his glasses cleaned off or else to be cured of his poor vision and not need glasses altogether. The glasses symbolize distractions from thoughts about his friends - he needs to either have them be improved or else be transfered to heaven, where he will no longer need those distractions because he will be exposed to the real deal.

“Sonnet 19” and “Friends Departed” are two different yet very similar works. While the speaker of Sonnet 18 attempts to win a girl’s heart, the speaker of Friends Departed wants to stop thinking about his friends. Nevertheless both are metaphysical works and use strong conceits to express their intents. They are similar through the style of metaphor used to project their main points and through the comprehensive imagery that’s seen throughout each works. Through the use of metaphysical makeup and literary techniques, both Henry Vaughan’s “Friends Departed” and Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18” really do “seize the day.”Bibliography:Mabillard, Amanda. "Analysis of Sonnet XVIII." Shakespeare Online. 12 Jan 2007. Web. .

"Friends Departed." Bartleby. 2009. Web. .