John Frederick Nims’ “Love Poem” and William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130” are two different poems that are separated by four centuries, but the poets have successfully presented the “ideal” poems to represent the “ideal woman” in a grounded world with all her flaws. The poems reflect that love on the surface is superficial when compared to the inner beauty of a loved one. Honesty and integrity are more effective when dealing with true love.
William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130”, was probably written to ridicule the traditional love poem that showed women as divine angelic creatures with no flaws. Shakespeare recognizes that a perfect woman does not exist. He is not interested in the perfection of a woman, which seems to bore him. He is clear that the person who holds his affection does not have to be the typical beautiful woman, but that it should connect on a deeper personal level. Shakespeare uses a variety of opposing similes, imagery, theme, and structure to make his point. It is Shakespeare’s way of creating contrast that liberates women from the stereotypical superficial beauty and this draws attention instead to mind and inner beauty.
Shakespeare is honest as he speaks of the woman he loves. He does not flatter her with untruths. Lines one through four of the sonnet presents Shakespeare’s mistress’ eyes not like the sun, her lips not red, her breasts, not snow white, and her hairs being black wires. In lines, six through twelve, the reader learns that her cheeks are not like roses; her breath does not smell like perfume; her voice does not sound like music, and she does not float goddess like when she walks, yet she is perfect in the persona’s eyes. Although the poet is honest, a woman may feel insulted by this honesty. In the final two lines, there is a turn or a shift in the tone of the poem. The poet is no longer critical of her flaws but seems to accept that he loves her deeply. The persona says that even though his love is not what other people dream of in their poems and sonnets, his love is rare and therefore, just as important. He refuses to adore or idolize her, but he loves the woman just the same.
He uses similes and metaphors to create imagery as he points out a flaw in her beauty – “her eyes are nothing like the sun”.The lover’s lips were compared to coral, her breasts to snow, her cheeks to roses, her breath to perfumes, her voices is compared to music, and her bodily movements to the uncanny grace of goddesses. In the last line, “As any, she belied with false compare,” the poet suggests that poets who use such hyperbole or exaggeration are in fact lying and therefore, this suggests that such lovers are not to be trusted by women; suggesting that he is the only honest person in her life. Shakespeare also makes use of hyperbole as he exaggerates her lack of beauty and style, yet we realize that the speaker's love for this woman is not unattractive. She is simply not the ideal, inaccessible vision of beauty that is present in other sonnets.
“Sonnet 130” has a sarcastic tone. The poet believes in his love for his beloved and realizes that he does not have to show too much admiration towards a woman in order to have a healthy or satisfying relationship with an ordinary woman. He but instead he can embrace the inner beauty. Furthermore, he believes that his “love is rare” because of his honesty.
Shakespeare makes use of iambic pentameter. “Sonnet 130” includes the unique element called a "turn." He starts by criticizing his mistress, and then, he switches to his love for her. Here the theme or the tone changes in a surprising way. The reader had begun to accept that the speaker is critical of his lover. As such, the reader begins to wonder at the intent of the writer in the poem. However, the final rhyming couplet leaves no doubt as to his love for her – “And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare/As any she belied with false compare”.
Humor is presented through the detailed description of the mistress’ average looks. One can clearly see why the demeaning manner in which he speaks of her is not insulting or important, but it is the honesty and truth of her physical being that is important. There is idealistic conflict in the poem, and then there is a resolute solving of any uneasy feelings.
Undoubtedly, “Sonnet 130” presents the theme of reality, and what love should be. Shakespeare draws attention away from the physical beauty of a woman as these are unimportant. He speaks of this theme by giving the images of ideal beauty that society pictures when they think of a woman but instead, he “thinks his love as rare/As any she belied with false compare.”
Nim’s “Love Poem” is similar to Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130”. Both poems deal with the lack of desire for the ideal woman and draw readers to the love or inner virtue over outer beauty. The poem shows the love that the poet has for his beloved even though she is clumsy and unlucky. He is fascinated with the gentle way that she deals with people, her love and warmth towards others. The poet is sincere in his words towards his beloved and admires her despite her flaws.
The poet presents an image of his beloved by using metaphors to create a visual image of a clumsy and destructive woman “whose hands shipwreck vases” and seems to say that her hands are as destructive as storms are to ships. He continues by pointing out that her destructive nature is also out of place when he states “whose palms are bulls in China”.
The writer makes use of hyperbole in lines two - four “ At whose quick No cunning with any soft thing”. The woman’s hands appear to move at their own freewill as they are compared to the “bulls in China”. The image continues as with the "shipwreck vases" and suggests a force that is out of control, as if her hands were uncontrollably destructive, as storms are to ships. Furthermore, the image highlights the suggestion of “wild bulls breaking glass in China shops”. The opening stanza suggests that the poem is not a typical love story although the poet remains affectionate towards her.
Stanza two begins with the use of contrast. The poet provides the reader with a look at a woman’s special qualities. The use of enjambment allows the persona slide smoothly into a change of direction in his thought, yet it is a continuation of the poets story of his beloved having flaws but still had the desired qualities to make him loved her. Stanza one focuses on her physical clumsiness, suggesting she is at odds with the world around her while stanza 2 reiterates some of her special qualities. Although the poets beloved lack physical graces, but she still possessed those that allowed her to mend hearts and mind, rather than break them, - “The refugee uncertain at the door / You make at home”.
The poem ends with a sobering image of death. Nim uses metonym to bring to mind an image of his beloved dying as his lover’s “hands drops white” representing her death poignantly shifting the tone to a more serious one. This change in the tone clearly shows the full extent of his love for her and is in keeping with the traditional love sonnet, the couplet at the end reveals the poet’s real feelings of love for a beloved one.
The comparison of his beloved to “the solar system” suggests that while the woman is clumsy, she is capable of some amount of order and that her positive qualities can also create order in some settings. She is also capable of being the center of activities through her warmth and caring nature. The rhyming pattern at the second and fourth lines adds to the rhythm of the poem and offers some structure and form to the chaotic ways of the beloved in the poem. However, the tone remains light-hearted throughout the poem and is almost teasing. Although, the person points out his beloved flaws, he does so in an affectionate and humorous way. The use of “shrinking, leaping and apoplectic” suggests she is out of place yet the tone is humorous. The use of hyperbole adds much comic effect.
The theme of holding on to the one love is spite of their flaws is common to both poems. Shakespeare and Nim suggest that there is no idealism to life and that no one is perfect, but inside one’s imperfections is the glimmer of beauty, warmth and care which can be loved. Ultimately, each poet loves unconditionally and treats love with respect.
In concluding, it is refreshing to read “Sonnet 130” and “Love Poem” because both poems avoid the unrealistic, syrupy sentiments that may be found in many other sonnets. They reflect a truer viewpoint of beauty beyond the surface with honesty and acceptance at the heart of true love.