Ode to the Romantic Period

This is my fourth quarter essay for Honors British Literature with Doctor Nighan. I analyzed the Romantic Period.

Honors British Literature
Doctor Nighan
The search for the good, the true, and the beautiful in nominalism and realism is characterized through the Romantic period and its various authors who have produced seemingly impossible concepts in hopes of understanding the universe. The founding father of this process was William Wordsworth, who, through his poetry, embodied the ideas that are the cornerstone for Romanticism. He accepted contradiction, and found solace in fleeting moments of passionate feeling called “spots of time,” embracing the marriage of philosopher and poet. His blueprint for the Romantic period, applicable to all romantic authors, can be found in his poem Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, in stanzas two and eight which reflect the core beliefs of Romanticism through imagery that describes beauty, metaphors that reveal truth, and allusions to the Bible that portray the good. Thus, the three pillars of Romanticism: beauty, truth, and the good, became the foundation for a new English era.
Stanza two is full of these poetic devices that describe Wordsworth’s spots of time. They appear when something is experienced for the first time or infrequently, described by him through miracle-like acts of nature: “the rainbow comes and goes” (10). The rainbow, which is an allusion to a sign of goodness and beauty in the Bible through the story of Noah and the Ark, (Genesis 9:14), still fascinates society and is thought to be somewhat of a miracle. A questions arises, through wondering why such an advanced people still find wonder in light hitting water. The answer lies in the spots of time, because when someone looks at a rainbow, they see the beauty in nature and discover the joy in this understanding of God’s creation. He laments the only momentary emotions that one experiences after seeing something beautiful: “But yet I know, where’re I go/That there hath past away a glory from the earth,” (17-18) describing the pain of only feeling a certain way the first time it has been made known to man. That is what the Romantic authors constantly search for, the child-like innocence filled with wonder and a desire to find the good and the beautiful.
Stanza eight explores the desires of authors in Romanticism to find the truth in the world that surrounds them: “Thou best Philosopher, who yet dost keep/Thy heritage, thou Eye among the blind,/That, deaf and silent, read’st the eternal deep,/” (110-112). These verses are metaphors for the poet, who is above the philosopher. It is through the marriage of the historian and the philosopher that truth is found in poetry; it is the combining of fact and art, proof and passion; poetry becomes the reason why humans can discover good and beauty in a world that is ridden with disease and sin. It is at the heart of every author desiring to discover truth amongst the darkness Wordsworth warns against, a truth that when set to melody, raises man to match God in creation.
Again, to fully accept Romanticism, Wordsworth stresses the importance of carrying the demeanor of a child through an allusion to Jesus’s passage on children and the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:3): “Thou little Child, yet glorious in the might/Of heaven-born freedom on thy being’s height” (121-122). There must be a longing, a desire to learn and be fulfilled that every Romantic poet must have if they are to discover the true, the beautiful, and the good. There also has to be an acceptance of things unknown, because faith and trust are what humanity needs if they are ever to discover truth past what is already known.
The Romantic author Coleridge took Wordsworth’s approach and accepted the unknown in his personal search for truth, beauty, and the good. In Kubla Khan, he used imagery to portray the beauty seen in nature just as Wordsworth had: “With walls and towers were girdled round:/And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills/Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree” (7-9). Both authors stressed the importance of finding beauty in God’s creation which also leads to the good because everything God has created is good. This search for beauty contributes to desire to synthesize the nominalism and realism as the Wordsworth desired, further showing that he was the father of the Romantic period.
Yet another romantic author, Shelley, borrowed the ideas of Wordsworth to contribute to the romantic period. In his Defense of Poetry, he explained the importance of the marriage between philosopher and historian, a metaphor for the synthesis of nominalism and realism, the combination of fact and imagination. He argued that poetry was important for the imagination and vision of beauty in everything. He said “Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.” This correlates with Wordsworth’s concepts of beauty in nature, also seen in Coleridge. Shelley also said:
“The great instrument of moral good is the imagination and poetry enlarges the circumference of the imagination by replenishing it with thoughts of ever new delight which have the power of attracting and assimilating to their own nature all others thoughts and which form new intervals and interstices whose void forever craves fresh food.”
This is his proof that poetry is not just the birth of beauty, but of truth through thought and the good as well. It is at this point in the Romantic period that the desire for spots of time imposed by Wordsworth turn into a search by all romantic authors for some greater passionate purpose.
The final author influenced by Wordsworth was Keats. Keats took Wordsworth’s acceptance of contradiction and brought it to a new level through negative capability. His vision was a never ending search for the truth, through endless possibilities to interpret his works, such as Eve of St. Agnes. There are many opposites, one of the most popular being the Madonna Whore complex. The dilemma lies in a virgin wanting to have sex, thus agreeing to the sin but not completing the action. “Young virgins might have visions of delight,/And soft adorings from their loves receive/Upon the honey’d middle of the night,” was the plight of Madeline, who fit the Madonna Whore complex. The influence of Wordsworth here is obvious because negative capability allows for a continual search for truth, and an acceptance of contradiction.
Thus Romanticism is born through Wordsworth and his desire to discover the good, the truth, and the beauty in the world around him. It is expressed frequently in his poem Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, through various metaphors to poets, imagery of nature, and Biblical allusions. A new world of literature that seeks answers to realism in a nominalistic world produces poets that accept the world as it is, but dig deeper because they have a burning desire to satisfy their thirst for the truth. It gives them a purpose that becomes their religion, spurring them forward even though they lived in a society that rejected faith because of fear to embrace contradiction.

Music and the Mind

This is my third quarter essay for Honors British Literature with Doctor Nighan. I read and analyzed Kubla Khan.

Doctor Nighan
Honors British Literature

The desire to become one’s own creator spurs man to challenge God by mimicking His infinite creative potential. Coleridge attempts to solve this by discussing the concept of poetry and how it unites through the imagination, arguing that man can create something that brings harmony. “Kubla Khan” demonstrates that music parallels poetry in organic form, innately self-developing to fit into the perfect mechanical mold that humans create. However, it transcends poetry through a universality that rivals God’s own creation because music synthesizes as an organic form. The marriage of God and man thus takes place as the two appear to become equal. Through the various emanations of the mind, in which man’s imagination evolves to become increasingly potent, “Kubla Khan” illustrates the miracle humans can perform through creating music.
To fully appreciate the poem, one must first understand the primary and secondary imagination Coleridge uses in “Kubla Khan”. He explained the primary imagination as “the living power and prime agent of all human perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM,” (Coleridge) and the secondary imagination as “an echo of the former, co-existing with the conscious will; yet still as identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree and in the mode of its operation,” (Coleridge). The primary and secondary imaginations work in harmony, with the former transcending the material world and the latter destroying and recreating. It is rather paradoxical that these two imaginations would exist together, however the Romantic period itself welcomes paradox and the seemingly impossible to stimulate creativity and challenge humans to transcend the nominalistic world and match God’s creation.
Before analyzing the poem, the reader must understand the synthetic qualities that poetry and music bring to the world. Poetry, according to Sydney, unites two vastly different perspectives, the historian and the philosopher, or fact and philosophy. Coleridge believed that it brought the “whole soul of man into activity,” (Coleridge) because it has both a mechanical form and an organic form. The mechanical form of a poem is whatever the poet writes, or the text. It is each flowing stanza, with countless style devices and meaning. This form allows each reader to then analyze the poem differently as the individual brings his own thoughts, his own experiences, and his own hopes for humanity to the table, projecting them onto the poem in question. That becomes the organic form, which is the infinite meaning the poem holds as it affects each person differently.
Music thus is the higher form of poetry. It takes the text and gives it life, through sounds that engage the senses so that the listener is fully immersed. Music commands the listener to become one with the music as he/she sympathizes with the musician and understands the depth of the emotion the music invokes. Its qualities transcend time and connect humanity through the emotions it stimulates. The feeling of listening to a song and experiencing again what one felt and how one lived life the first time one heard that song is brought about by the music itself. In his letters on The Authenticity of the Imagination, John Keats discusses this:
“have you never by being surprised with an old Melody–in a delicious place–by a delicious voice, fe[l]t over again your very speculations and surmises at the time it first operated on your soul-do you not remember forming to yourself the singer’s face more beautiful that it was possible and yet with the elevation of the Moment you did not think so–even then you were mounted on the Wings of Imagination so high–that the Prototype must be here after–that delicious face you will see What a time!” (Keats).
Here, Keats praises the teleportation-like qualities music possesses and the Wings of Imagination it engages. The delicious face must be the face of God if the Wings of Imagination are the final emanation of the mind, thus both paralleling Kubla Khan and proving the idea that man rivals God in creation through music.
The first emanation of the mind is described as a beautiful place where the imagination is content to create simple and beautiful, tangible things. Through this, “A stately pleasure-dome decree/ Where Alph, the sacred river, ran,” (Coleridge, 1-2) the dome serves as a metaphor for the mind, and the sacred river Alph as a metaphor for the imagination, bringing to light the idea that it is indeed the mind which Coleridge will take the reader through. Music has not yet entered the scene; it is not even thought of in the first emanation. The reader is only introduced to what the mind can create that is beautiful, through imagery that alludes to the Garden of Eden: “With walls and towers were girdled round:/And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,” (Coleridge, 7-8).
The poet continues on to a rather bold description of one of man’s higher forms of creation: sex. He describes the act of sex through the sexual organs given to women and men respectively: “But oh! That deep romantic chasm which slanted/down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!,” (Coleridge, 12-13) and “A mighty fountain momentary was forced:/Amid whose swift half-intermittent burst/Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,” (Coleridge, 19-20). The total act of sex becomes the first emanation of the mind as two are united into one creator to produce a new life. The sacred river Alph becomes nature’s fertilization of the sperm and egg, creating yet another metaphor that the imagination combines with the mind to produce thought and creativity. The transition from what is beautiful and good to the unknown is found through the verses “Five miles meandering with a mazy motion/Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,/Then reached the caverns measureless to man,” (Coleridge, 25-27). Here, the imagination seems to run through the mind forever, boasting man’s infinite capacity to create. This further proves the idea that man can create something of organic form, because of the infinite form which music takes. The “m” alliteration found throughout the poem, especially in these verses, also supports this point because it emphasizes the unity that procreation gives. Lastly, “And ‘mid this tumult to a lifeless ocean:/Ancestral voices prophesying war!” (Coleridge, 29-39) reminds the reader again of the secondary imagination which destroys, as the metaphor of war states. This connects back to the poem because humans take the creation of life which is God’s gift to the world and re-images it as procreation through sex.
The second emanation of the mind is a transition from what is beautiful and tangible to what is seemingly untouchable by man. The dome is now described as something which should not exist: “It was a miracle of rare device,/A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice,” (Coleridge, 35-36). The author of the book talks about the beauty this emanation of the mind holds, and the unreachable state in which it resides:
“The word “miracle” above spells out for the reader the supernatural aspect of its creation. Only in the ideal world could such loveliness be realized. In these lines the accent is upon the beauty and internal reality of this pleasure-dome world of Imagination,” (Radley, 79).
The idea that the dome is in a state unreadable to humans is realized through paradoxes Coleridge puts into the second emanation of the mind. A sunny, yet icy material item should not exist, for the hot would overtake the cold in a conclusion of melting ice. If only the ideal world the author speaks of was a world that turned intangible into tangible ideas, then this emanation could be fully realized into existence. However, Lawrence Buell provides a solution that allows the second emanation of the mind exist. he describes the world as:
“…a Dancer; it is a Rosary; it is a Torrent; it is a Boat; a mist; a Spider’s snare; it is what you will; and the metaphor will hold, & it will give the imagination keen pleasure. Swifter than light the world converts itself into that thing you name.” (Bell)
Note the first description of the world: “a Dancer.” The world here welcomes art as a higher emanation and the reason the metaphors of sunny and icy domes will hold.
This art is realized through, “It was an Abyssinian maid,/And in her dulcimer she played,” (Coleridge, 39-40). Coleridge has just introduced music as an art, and the imagination is able to put a tangible object onto what was untouchable before, bringing the reader to the final emanation of the mind. Now that the dome can exist in the human world, the task becomes understanding what form the final emanation of the mind takes in the world. It was hinted before through the dulcimer, and now Coleridge declares that he can recreate the miracle of the dome through music: “That with music loud and long,/I would build that dome in the air,/That sunny dome! those caves of ice!” (Coleridge, 45-47). This is where music puts man on a pedestal that faces God, just as Keats mentioned previously. Music forms the bridge between the microcosm and the macrocosm; it is the link between nominalism and realism; the imagination has thought into existence something so powerful that it carries both a material and organic form that transcends all of the laws of man. The concept of time is known not by the composer when he painstakingly built the final chord to his song, and neither does the singer who remembers that exact moment she first heard this chord and how it struck her as the most astoundingly perfect thing man has created.
The next question that surfaces is why music makes man rival God. The final line of “Kubla Khan” weaves a metaphor through the poem that flings humans above the first emanation where the Garden of Eden was present to Heaven itself: “For he on honey-dew hath fed,/ And drunk the milk of paradise,” (Coleridge, 53-54). The metaphor screams the ideal final destination of humanity and the idea that humans have reached a state where they can create something which resides with God. The synthetic qualities music possesses-as previously stated-bring together all of humanity, and thus a community where God can be found is formed.
The various emanations of the mind continuously make tangible creations that compete against infinity and synthesis. The answer to what man rivals God in is indeed music, the only material idea that connects the world and God. “Singing once is praying twice” is, in fact, supported by this argument. Music takes the poetry and grasps the listener’s full attention. It is “the universal language”, creating a community that connects the entirety of humanity, dwelling in every person at all times. Music is part of the soul.

Works Cited
Buell, Lawrence. Literary transcendentalism. Ithaca (NY): Cornell U Press, 1973. Print. Style and Vision in the American Renaissance. Accessed from JSTOR.
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. ” Kubla Khan”. Greenblatt, Stephen. “The Norton anthology of English literature: the major authors.” New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2013. Print.
Keats, John. “The Authenticity of the Imagination.” Letter to Benjamin Bailey. 22 Nov. 1817. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. N.p.: n.p., 1979. N. pag. Print.
Radley, Virginia L. Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Boston: Twayne, 1966. Print





Sorrow In The Land

This is my second quarter essay for Honors British Literature with Doctor Nighan. I read and analyzed King Lear.

Doctor Nighan
Honors British Literature

Complete sanity and clarity resolves to insanity. Shakespeare proves this through King Lear, who continually grasps at what he cannot reach, and deteriorates to craziness when he realizes he cannot attain it. The medieval heritage of madness displays the hierarchal pattern seen in the Garden of Eden through man’s desire to imitate God. Shakespeare uses this thought process through King Lear by creating a metaphor for the fall of Adam depicted in the Bible. He tells the story of a king’s unrequited love for two of his evil daughters that drives him to insanity, and eventually leads to his death. The tragic irony of lost filial piety coupled with the metaphor for prideful greed makes King Lear the secular companion to the Book of Genesis.
Act one scene one of the play begins with a king who decides to divvy up his kingdom based on the extent of his daughters’ love. His two oldest, Goneril and Regan, claim to have a love that rings nicely in the ears of the prideful man. However, their intentions are a means to Lear’s kingdom and prove fair warning to Cordelia, his youngest daughter, who answers simply and factually. The lack of love that Lear perceives his favorite daughter to possess sends him into a rage that is seemingly satisfied with the banishment of Cordelia. However, Cordelia’s love is far from lacking, according to Lear’s trusted friend Kent: “Thy youngest daughter does not love thee least, / Nor are those empty-hearted whose low sound / Reverbs no hollowness” (I,II, 156-158). Already an illogical thought process results from Lear’s pride in which he thinks he is not being loved as he should. His first mistake towards this deterioration of his sanity is reaching for a love that cannot be obtained by humans alone. It can be argued that “Shakespeare’s description of the personified form of love as the perfect human proves it cannot exist unless it resides in the Christian world, where God is love and is portrayed through Jesus” (Trudeau). Therefore, it can be assumed that Lear’s forbidden fruit is true love since he desired it out of pride. The knowledge his forbidden fruit gives is the realization that he cannot obtain true love, and it slowly turns him to madness.
To further continue the idea that the play is a metaphor to the fall of Adam and Eve, one can analyze style devices that reside in the play such as allusion, which Shakespeare uses to reference Genesis. Scene I of act I finds King Lear addressing everyone during the choosing of husbands for Goneril and Regan. Lear says, “To shake all cares and business from our age, / Conferring them on younger strengths while we / Unburdened crawl toward death.” (I,I 38-40). Here, the obvious reference to the Bible appears through the phrase “crawl toward death”. The serpent who tempted Eve was condemned by God to crawl on its stomach and eat dust: “And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:” (Authorized King James Version, Genesis 3:14) The close correlation between the two passages could be open to interpretation, but one could be swayed to choose an allusion to Genesis because the argument King Lear presents is a paraphrase of what God told the serpent, and his paraphrasing shows the role of God he tried to play. By imitating Him, Lear’s downfall became inevitable, according to the medieval hierarchy of madness which portrays his higher nature reaching for the unfallen creation, yet sinking to lower nature, and eventually, insanity and madness. This also proves that because the choice was his own to fall down the hierarchy, King Lear is not a tragic figure.
The second act leaves a slowly maddening Lear with his rambling Fool and a broken heart. The Fool jests relentlessly, poking fun at all of the king’s folly. However, much of what the Fool says has meaning to it. He states “That sir which serves and seeks for gain, / And follows but for form, / Will pack when it begins to rain, / And leave thee in the storm” (II,IV, 69-72) The cleverness in the Fool’s earnest warning lies in his belief that those Lear believes to be closest to him are quite contrarily superficial and are ready to leave at any moment. The key hint in his rhyme lies in the word ‘storm’, which begs the wonderment of a literal or metaphorical storm. It must be a metaphorical storm that resides in King Lear’s mind and is disrupted, proving the point that a disturbance in the macrocosm is a disturbance in the microcosm. The king’s own mind led to his downfall and the medieval hierarchy increasingly turns to that of the fall of Adam.
Act three of the play continues the pattern of a disturbance in the macrocosm with a tempest Lear is caught in. This turning point in the story shows a moment of clarity for Lear as he comes to the realization that this situation is driving him crazy: “Poor Fool and knave, I have one part in my heart / That’s sorry yet for thee” (III, ii, 72-73) and “The body’s delicate. The tempest in my mind / Doth from my senses take all feeling else / Save what beats there- filial ingratitude” (III,IV, 12-14) Judd Arnold critiques Lear in a similar fashion that supports this argument, referring back to both scenes, saying: “His hovering on the brink of this knowledge, his tortured abortive struggle to achieve patience, makes his condition almost too painful to witness. His surfacing self-knowledge is articulated most fully two scenes later [scene four]” (Arnold, 217). His analysis that Lear is reaching a point of clarity and sanity during this scene is arguably only supported further if the reader concludes that the king will eventually go mad from the new knowledge he possesses. This is true because of the guilt that the old man accumulates throughout the story, which is a partial cause of the tempest in his mind.
To further prove the biblical allusions in King Lear, one must compare the good that comes out of the fall of Adam with the good that comes out of Lear’s folly. In act four, Lear replies to Edgar’s comment on how pitiful Lear’s life is: “Edgar: O thou side-piercing sight! / Lear: Nature’s above art in that respect.” (IV,VI, 87-88) Lear’s response is cynical as he essentially says all life is suffering. However, there can be good that comes out of this suffering. A. C. Bradley argues that “There is nothing more noble and beautiful in literature than Shakespeare’s exposition of the effect of suffering in reviving the greatness and eliciting the sweetness of Lear’s nature.” (Bradley, 285) Another viewpoint builds off of that, saying “Since we cannot avoid suffering in this life, we need to gain an eternal perspective on the function and purpose of our suffering. Joseph Smith tells us in his inspired translation that God “provided some better things for [the prophets] through their sufferings, for without sufferings they could not be made perfect” (Taylor, 48). After reading these analyses, one can conclude that the good that came out of Lear’s suffering was the true repentance he felt. In comparison to the fall of Adam and Eve, the good that came from their sin and disobedience was Jesus.
The play ends with the tragic scene of the king carrying Cordelia’s lifeless body into the room in act five. He is distraught and the emotion shows he is wracked with guilt and sorrow. However, right before his death he cries out that “Pray you, undo this button: thank you, sir. / Do you see this? Look on her, look, her lips. / Look there, look there!” (V,III, 325-327) The idea that Lear would see Cordelia come back to life is an obvious testament to his mind finally deteriorating to insanity. However, he only reached this insanity first through clarity. Lear knew that Cordelia died for him as a final act of love. His guilt-ridden conscience cannot handle true love because of his nominalistic outlook on life. It further proves the fact that true love cannot exist in a nominalistic state. By seeing the truth in Cordelia’s love, King Lear was finally driven to complete madness, after feeling true repentance.
King Lear provides a biblical lesson that can be paralleled with the fall of man. Through his nominalistic approach to obtaining love, the ultimate idea of realism, he disturbs the macrocosm and microcosm leading to insanity and eventually death. The realization of his sins brought out the only good of his actions, which was sorrow for his sins. The beauty that came out of this suffering was a pure repentance that holds agapic love. However, he could not live with his guilt and thus his moment of clarity drove him to madness and immediately, death. To further continue the allusions made to biblical passages, besides the fall of Adam and Eve, King Lear can be compared to Judas Iscariot. The correlation between them lies in the sin that drove both to madness. Like Judas, Lear despairs over the missed opportunity to be forgiven.
In both the Garden of Eden and the Garden of Gethsemane, the Bible clearly portrays that Jesus is needed to mediate man and God. On this, one can conclude that He is needed for true love to exist because he is without sin and connects the worlds of nominalism and realism. Without God, there is always sorrow in the land.

Works Cited
Arnold, Judd. “How Do We Judge King Lear?” Criticism, vol. 14, no. 3, 1972, pp. 207–226. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/23099018.
Bradley, A. C. Shakespearean Tragedy; Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth. 2nd ed. London: Macmillan, 1905. Print.
Taylor, Sally T. “The Fellowship of Christ’s Sufferings as Reflected in ‘Lear’ and Life.” Brigham Young University Studies, vol. 43, no. 2, 2004, pp. 47–62. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/43044376.
The Bible. Authorized King James Version, Oxford UP, 1998.

The True Form of Love, or How Can Love Exist?

This is my first quarter essay for Honors British Literature with Doctor Nighan. I read and analyzed Sonnet 116.

Honors British Literature

Doctor Nighan

One of the strongest emotions a human can feel is love, which has been categorized as a beautiful and pure abstract idea for ages. Although civilizations differ in their ideas of love, there are universal principles that are reiterated throughout different art forms and cultures. One such art form is a poem, which uses a variety of stylistic devices to articulate a certain point. In Sonnet 116, Shakespeare takes advantage of these devices with a mocking tone. He uses personification to make love human, but then ironically extrapolates on the principle that love is timeless. Another such principle can be found through the multiple metaphors that explain how love is steadfast, which also adds to the irony of humans not being able to realize these traits. Yet again, he repeats himself to get across the point that love does not change even if people do, all the while contradicting himself by continuing to personify love. Finally, he alludes to the Bible throughout the entire poem. Shakespeare’s description of the personified form of love as the perfect human proves it cannot exist unless it resides in the Christian world, where God is love and is portrayed through Jesus.

Shakespeare knew that true love cannot exist in a world without God. Firstly, Shakespeare emphasizes the idea that change and true love are not synonymous because he reports in his poem that, “Love is not love/Which alters when it alteration finds…” Humans cannot feel the same exact way about something that changes, because as beings who harbor sin, they analyze every change as either good or bad. True love would overlook changes that result in fault or failure. Therefore, humans are not capable of loving truly. However, Jesus is God and therefore can look through change and never waver in love, because God has done so for the many millennia that humans have changed while roaming the earth. Secondly, Shakespeare purposefully gives a human nature to love by personifying it, saying “O no! it is an ever-fixed mark/That looks on tempests and is never shaken.” This fits into the ironic frame his poem shapes because humans cannot transcend time, they must obey the laws of nature. Jesus is the only person that can transcend time because he is also God. Therefore God must be love if it is to be personified as timeless. Thirdly, Shakespeare states that love is steadfast, saying “Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,/But bears it out even to the edge of doom.” Humans are susceptible to change, which means they cannot express the same emotion infinitely. God is the only entity that can do so, because of the fact that He has always loved the same, even before man was created in his image. Finally, an overview of the poem leaves the reader quite confused, because of the last couplet: “If this be error and upon me prov’d,/ I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.” Here, Shakespeare claims that if this poem is not true then he did not write it, therefore mocking the idea of agapic love existing in a state in which God does not reside, even though he seems to say it can.

To understand why love is perfect and the human race cannot attain this perfection, one must understand what the perfect form of love is. Agape is defined as “the highest form of love” and a “universal, unconditional love that transcends, that serves regardless of circumstances.” St. Paul preaches about Agapic love in his letter to the Corinthians, saying: “Love is patient, love is kind…” In the first quatrain of Sonnet 116, Shakespeare reiterates what true love is. He describes love in terms similar to St. Paul, characterizing love’s endurance as not altering or bending: “Love is not love/Which alters when it alteration finds,/Or bends with the remover to remove.” Shakespeare knew the Bible well and he is conveying the same message St. Paul did. All the perfection in this emotion as described by St. Paul and Shakespeare cannot, however, be applied to the human race, because imperfection cannot achieve perfection.

On the contrary, God is perfection. God is love, and therefore love is not able to exist in a world without God. God is omnipresent, which is why He transcends time. He is in all places at once, in all ages. He is a trinitarian God, meaning He has three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Perfect love exists within this Trinitarian community. He is also fully God and fully man, and therefore love can reside physically in the Christian world through Jesus, the ultimate expression of God’s love for the human race. God cannot change, for He has always been and therefore has no basis to change from. Humans cannot fully understand any of these theological principles, which is why they need to live in a Christian world. It is evident that Shakespeare believes these truths because he says in the second quatrain, “It is the star to every wand’ring bark,/Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.” This verse references the early Christian Church’s self description as ‘the bark of St. Peter.’ God alone is the star that guides the Church, therefore if this star is love, it is also God.

The entire tone of his poem is mocking because of the irony found in the piece. In Shakespeare’s personal life, he encountered many situations in which love failed to be true. However, throughout the entire poem and particularly in the third quatrain he emphasizes love’s constancy and announces its presence in the physical world, saying “Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,/But bears it out even to the edge of doom.” The only way this can be true is if the final ‘doom’ is eternal life with God which can be achieved through agapic love. Alas, humans are fallible and cannot love truly. Therefore, Shakespeare mocks the imperfect humans who constantly struggle to obtain the perfect life.

One can deduce from biblical knowledge and Sonnet 116 that Shakespeare did believe love needs the Christian world to exist. Through his allusions to the bible, it is clear that Shakespeare’s point was a positive Christian tone. The last couplet of his poem speaks to this, stating: “If this be error and upon me prov’d,/I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.” He is paralleling his reasoning to a chapter in the New Testament, 1 John, which says: “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God’s love was revealed among us: God sent His one and only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him.…” Shakespeare speaks in the couplet as if he did not write the poem if what he says is not true. Yet, he knows he wrote this poem, thus giving the reader confidence that he believes everything he has said about love to be true. Since his knowledge and allusions to the Bible imply that Shakespeare knows God, according to 1 John, Shakespeare must know that God is love. This idea also parallels Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, which listed the guidelines for how humans should act. While “Blessed are the pure in heart,/for they will see God,” and “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,/for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” are indeed perfect ideals, they are in fact impossible expectations, because of human fallibility, which leaves no room for perfection. Thus, humans cannot achieve perfection, specifically true love.

Shakespeare was aware of this agapic love that cannot exist in a material world unless that world is Christian. He knew that God is the only form of true love, and he emphasized this point in Sonnet 116. Too often, modern society tries to take God out of everything and tries to separate what is good, true, and beautiful from the world. However, it is a bleak and meaningless world to live in if God is taken out of it, for if God was removed, so would true love cease to exist in mans’ material world.


Note: Sonnet 116 and the Bible approved by the Catholic Church were used in the making of this essay. A quote on love from Wikipedia was also used (paragraph 3). Anya and Doctor Nighan met a total of four times where they discussed this essay and some of the analysis used in it, such as the analysis of doom (paragraph 5).