A Crown of Sonnets Dedicated to Love is a poem series by Lady Mary Wroth, but this essay will focus only on the first sonnet of the sequence. Wroth had a particular writing style that appears within this poem. This sonnet follows the Shakespearian formula rigidly and uses it quite effectively, though it isn’t just a sonnet. The poem itself addresses love and the many roads it can lead to, and not many of them are truly desirable. Surprisingly, the poem does not use literary elements like alliteration and assonance to make the poem interesting, instead it harnesses repetition and rhyme to compel the readers.
The sonnet feels seamless, which can be attributed to the transitions from one idea to the next along with the choice in language. The speaker of the poem does not come to a conclusion, which potentially speaks volumes about the authors own thoughts about love. Lady Mary Wroth wrote during a rich literary period in English history, yet her work was not widely published until years after her death. Perhaps most renowned for Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, the first sonnet sequence of the Renaissance to be written and voiced by a woman, Wroth presented a highly innovative and unique style in her writing.
In her prose as well as in her poetry, Lady Mary Wroth incorporated a dualistic balance of independence from and reliance on the works published by the male authors of and before her time. This complex duality was evident in her social life, as she often fluctuated between a life of public expression and private seclusion. As a writer, she fostered conflicting themes of autonomy and passivity, passionate liberty and legalism, action and stillness, and constancy and infidelity.
Although these themes often appear contradictory within her writing, they instead represent the various shades of character that color Wroth’s intricate manner of perception. The first passage of Lady Mary Wroth’s A Crown of Sonnets Dedicated to Love is a magnificent description of the trials and tribulations of love. The poem involves a woman who is in love with someone, yet she does not know how to approach that love. She describes love as complicated as a labyrinth with many paths going every which way. The speaker looks down each of these paths and sees what will become of her and the love she seeks to attain.
Each path leads to a less than ideal end, but the speaker refuses to turn around and leave the labyrinth that is love. Wroth follows the Shakespearian sonnet formula, the form consisting of fourteen lines and three quatrains followed by a single couplet. In standard versions of the English sonnet, the third quatrain generally introduces a thematic or imagistic ‘turn,’ which is called the volta. In Shakespearian sonnets however, the couplet at the end is used as the volta to wrap up the poem or to include a twist in the thematic elements of the poem.
Wroth uses the final couplet as the volta of this poem, with the speaker resolutely stating that she will not leave the labyrinth despite the choices she is given. In following the Shakespearian blueprint, each line is ten syllables long with a qualitative metre, with stressed syllables coming at relatively regular intervals throughout the poem. The rhyme scheme is end rhymed a-b-a-b c-d-c-d e-f-e-f g-g. This is only one sonnet out of a series of sonnets, which is called ‘a crown of sonnets’ which ties into the title of the collection of poems.
Though not its own literary element, the first two lines of this sonnet act as a sort of introduction to the poem. Love is a labyrinth; right off the bat that is what the speaker establishes. She follows this up by describing what each passage in this maze leads to and to be honest, none of the passages sound pleasant. “If to the right hand, there in love I burn. ” (line 3) In this line, the speaker is basically saying that if she were to take the right path, she would be consumed and hurt by the fires of love.
In the following line, as the speaker looks forward, she says that to go forward would lead her into danger, which can be attributed to an abusive or hazardous relationship with someone who isn’t very gentle. To the left, her love will be mired by suspicion, whether she will be the one haunted by suspicions or her lover is not stated. Either way, she will not find happiness by going down that path. In the next line, the speaker says that she wishes to go back and that her shame is agreeing with that idea.
Alternatively, her shame could be driving her to return to the point she now finds herself. Finally, the speaker says that standing still and not making a choice is the hardest thing to do because she finds herself mourning the fact that she can’t make a decision. Throughout this part of the poem, Wroth does not use the repetition of sounds to accentuate the poem. Rather, she uses the recurrence of emotions and direction to add weight to the poem. The theme of action and stillness that Wroth utilized in her works is pervasive hroughout this poem, because the speaker never did actually move; it was the emphasis on the direction that drove the poem forward. To the right, forward, left, and so on give the reader the impression that the speaker is spinning. Though there isn’t much in the ways of alliteration, assonance and whatnot, there is one particular line that has alliteration in it; “Thus let me take the right or the left-hand way…. ” (line 9) The ‘t’ sound is used repeatedly in this line, though whether this is intentional or not is unknown.
Due to the lack of alliteration through the rest of the poem, one can assume that this one instance was not deliberate, as the repetition of the ‘t’ sound in this particular line does not contribute to the poem. The poem flows smoothly from start to finish, which admittedly is a little surprising considering the era it came from. The language is accessible to the current era with only a few instances of unfamiliar language that might throw off those unfamiliar with the language of the Renaissance. Another aspect of the poem that adds to the fluidity are the transitions.
The first two lines of the poem act as the introduction, as was stated before. The introduction states that there are multiple paths to take within the labyrinth, and moves into what each of those paths lead to without specifically saying “and these are what the paths lead to. ” Once the separate paths are covered, the poem moves on once again. After pining over the fact that the speaker knows she is alone in her decisions, the volta shows up. The move into the volta is not abrupt and jarring, it fits with the rest of the poem and exposes more of the characters personality.
The volta reveals that the speaker knows that she wants love and refuses to leave the labyrinth like Theseus did with the thread, but she just doesn’t know how to approach love in a way that won’t hurt. Since the speaker does not reach a decision about love in this sonnet, Lady Mary Wroth could be communicating to her audience about the complexities of love. Many of her readers actually said that her poems helped them become better lovers. But the indecision of the character could also be a product of Wroth’s own misgivings.
She had a less than ideal marriage before her first husband died and she married her cousin. I can only assume that the rest of the poem gains some definitive ground in regards to the speaker’s decision on love. The first sonnet of Lady Mary Wroth’s A Crown of Sonnets Dedicated to Love has many little pieces in it that contribute to the quality of the poem. Though it might be nothing, the speakers indecision could be attributed to Wroth’s own insecurities if she had any, either way her poetry helped people become better at loving.
The language that Wroth used for the poem and the effectiveness of her transitions made the poem feel clean and polished. Aside from using rhyme and repetition, there aren’t many consistent literary elements in the poem. The poem is about love and how it is a confusing maze of decisions and consequences. The poem uses the Shakespearian formula for sonnets and it works well. Wroth’s style of writing and her utilization of certain themes are prevalent in this poem.
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