Sonnet Starvation

“I have been used to consider poetry as the food of love,” said Darcy.

“Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away.”

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

        Poetry has indeed acquired a reputation for being a conduit of romance and rhyme (moon, June, tune, spoon, loon), but it isn’t always pretty pictures and cajoling cadences. Sometimes it’s just plain nasty, and can be impressively so, as in this sonnet by William Shakespeare:

SONNET CXLVII

My love is as a fever, longing still
For that which longer nurseth the disease,
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
The uncertain sickly appetite to please.
My reason, the physician to my love,
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
Hath left me, and I desperate now approve
Desire is death, which physic did except.
Past cure I am, now reason is past care,
And frantic-mad with evermore unrest;
My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are,
At random from the truth vainly express’d;
    For I have sworn thee fair and thought thee bright,
    Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.*

      Shakespeare uses sick-room imagery similar to that Drayton employs, but where Drayton maintains a playful, lightly melodramatic tone, Shakespeare’s speaker is bitter and vitriolic. Both the body and mind of the lover have been poisoned and infected, though the poem gives no indication that the beloved has done anything worse than reject the speaker. For that, the object of the speaker’s desire is reviled. 

I suspect that if the person to whom this poem was addressed had any lingering affection for the speaker, this one sonnet would starve it entirely away.

 

* https://www.opensourceshakespeare.org/views/sonnets/sonnet_view.php?Sonnet=147