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Thomas Gray’s “Sonnet on the Death of Mr Richard West” Essay Sample

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Thomas Gray’s “Sonnet on the Death of Mr Richard West” Essay Sample

1. Communicative Situation, Theme and Figurative Speech

a) Communicative Situation

In the poem “Sonnet on the Death of Mr. Richard West” by Thomas Gray, the speaker can be identified by the use of personal pronouns of the first person singular “me” (l.1) and “I” (l.13), as well as the possessive pronoun “my” (l.7,8). It can be assumed that the speaker is male, since he mentions “happier men” (l.10), which could indicate that they are happier than he is, thus an “unhappy man”. Given that there are neither any personal pronouns of the second person nor is the speaker addressing anybody directly, e.g. by using imperatives, the addressee cannot be identified by the use of deictics. However, the speaker says “I fruitless mourn to him that cannot hear” (l.13), which discloses the addressee as a person that is not able to hear or react to the speaker, presumably Mr. Richard West, since he is the one who has apparently died. Throughout the poem, the speaker appears to be quite sad, depressed and unable to appreciate anything joy- or beautiful surrounding him.

b) Theme

The general theme of the poem is the speaker’s grievance, sadness and loneliness. However, the poem can be divided into various sections throughout which the theme develops. In the first section (lines 1-4) the speaker describes his surroundings, the rising sun, the singing birds and the green fields, in which he cannot find the joy these things are usually told to bring. In the second section (lines 5-8) the speaker illustrates the effect his sadness has on his own body, saying that his ears and eyes long to hear and see something else than what he perceives. He states that he is the only one who understands and feels this pain (see l.7) and that he is unable to feel joy. The third section (lines 9-12) contains observations of other people’s happiness and enthusiasm. In the fourth section (lines 13-14) the speaker finally reveals the cause of his sorrow, namely that he is mourning someone, who we can assume is Mr. Richard West, since the title of the sonnet contains information about his death. However, the speaker states that his “weep[ing]” (l.14) is “in vain” (l.14) which makes him even more miserable. Throughout the poem, a feeling of futility and forsakenness is established which becomes more obvious by looking at the isotopies, such as “in vain” (ll. 1, 3, 14), “fruitless” (l.13), “imperfect” (l.8) or “repine” (l.6).

c) Figurative Speech

The poem that is to be examined contains an abundance of elements that can be referred to as “figurative speech”. In order to give an example, I am going to analyse one of the metaphors more closely:

“[…] the smiling mornings shine” (l.1)
This metaphor can be separated into the literal and figurative use:
Lit: the ______ mornings shine
Fig: __ smiling _____________
In this case, the word “smiling” implies that the morning has something quite friendly about it. By constructing the tenor and the vehicle, the connection will become more apparent: TEN: the [beaming sunrays in the] mornings shine

VEH: the smiling [faces look at me]
Ground: Both the sunrays and the smiling, happy faces share the quality of usually conveying a warm and friendly feeling.

Other examples of figurative speech in this poem would be “My lonely anguish melts no heart but mine” (l.7) or “cheerful fields resume their green attire” (l.4).

2. Genre, Metre, Interplay and Rhyme Scheme

The poem given for analysis shows typical traits of a sonnet. First of all, it consists of 14 lines, which can be divided into an octave (lines 1-8) and a sestet (lines 9-14). Both the octave and the sestet consist of enclosing rhymes rhyming abababab and cdcdcd. The theme of loneliness is quite typical for sonnets as well. Also, it is written in iambic pentameters. There is, however, one exception: Line 8 contains not only 10, but 11 syllables, causing an inconsistency regarding the poem’s metre, which falls through in this case. This is called an interplay. Its effect is that, since the word “imperfect” has to be read in a dactyl, this word gets especially accentuated, which helps the speaker to convey the message that even though he is surrounded by apparently beautiful, enjoyable things, they are all “imperfect” to him.

3. Spot a problem

One could possibly compare Thomas Gray’s “Sonnet on the Death of Mr. Richard West” to the poem “Pity this busy monster, manunkind” by E.E.Cummings. Even though the topics of the two poems are entirely different, in both poems, the image of mankind being “busy” (Cummings line 1, Gray line 9) is used. However, while the speaker in Cummings’ sonnet openly criticizes mankind (which he actually calls “manunkind”) for being as busy, self-observed and progress-bound, the speaker in “Sonnet on the Death of Mr. Richard Gray” is apparently just unable to understand everybody’s rush and simple pleasures. In the end, however, both speakers feel uncomfortable in the worlds they are stuck in, perhaps for different reasons, but they both seem to feel like they do not belong there in a way.

1. Communicative Situation, Theme and Figurative Speech

a) Communicative Situation

In the poem “Sonnet on the Death of Mr. Richard West” by Thomas Gray, the speaker can be identified by the use of personal pronouns of the first person singular “me” (l.1) and “I” (l.13), as well as the possessive pronoun “my” (l.7,8). It can be assumed that the speaker is male, since he mentions “happier men” (l.10), which could indicate that they are happier than he is, thus an “unhappy man”. Given that there are neither any personal pronouns of the second person nor is the speaker addressing anybody directly, e.g. by using imperatives, the addressee cannot be identified by the use of deictics. However, the speaker says “I fruitless mourn to him that cannot hear” (l.13), which discloses the addressee as a person that is not able to hear or react to the speaker, presumably Mr. Richard West, since he is the one who has apparently died. Throughout the poem, the speaker appears to be quite sad, depressed and unable to appreciate anything joy- or beautiful surrounding him.

b) Theme

The general theme of the poem is the speaker’s grievance, sadness and loneliness. However, the poem can be divided into various sections throughout which the theme develops. In the first section (lines 1-4) the speaker describes his surroundings, the rising sun, the singing birds and the green fields, in which he cannot find the joy these things are usually told to bring. In the second section (lines 5-8) the speaker illustrates the effect his sadness has on his own body, saying that his ears and eyes long to hear and see something else than what he perceives. He states that he is the only one who understands and feels this pain (see l.7) and that he is unable to feel joy. The third section (lines 9-12) contains observations of other people’s happiness and enthusiasm. In the fourth section (lines 13-14) the speaker finally reveals the cause of his sorrow, namely that he is mourning someone, who we can assume is Mr. Richard West, since the title of the sonnet contains information about his death. However, the speaker states that his “weep[ing]” (l.14) is “in vain” (l.14) which makes him even more miserable. Throughout the poem, a feeling of futility and forsakenness is established which becomes more obvious by looking at the isotopies, such as “in vain” (ll. 1, 3, 14), “fruitless” (l.13), “imperfect” (l.8) or “repine” (l.6).

c) Figurative Speech

The poem that is to be examined contains an abundance of elements that can be referred to as “figurative speech”. In order to give an example, I am going to analyse one of the metaphors more closely:

“[…] the smiling mornings shine” (l.1)
This metaphor can be separated into the literal and figurative use:
Lit: the ______ mornings shine
Fig: __ smiling _____________
In this case, the word “smiling” implies that the morning has something quite friendly about it. By constructing the tenor and the vehicle, the connection will become more apparent: TEN: the [beaming sunrays in the] mornings shine

VEH: the smiling [faces look at me]
Ground: Both the sunrays and the smiling, happy faces share the quality of usually conveying a warm and friendly feeling.

Other examples of figurative speech in this poem would be “My lonely anguish melts no heart but mine” (l.7) or “cheerful fields resume their green attire” (l.4).

2. Genre, Metre, Interplay and Rhyme Scheme

The poem given for analysis shows typical traits of a sonnet. First of all, it consists of 14 lines, which can be divided into an octave (lines 1-8) and a sestet (lines 9-14). Both the octave and the sestet consist of enclosing rhymes rhyming abababab and cdcdcd. The theme of loneliness is quite typical for sonnets as well. Also, it is written in iambic pentameters. There is, however, one exception: Line 8 contains not only 10, but 11 syllables, causing an inconsistency regarding the poem’s metre, which falls through in this case. This is called an interplay. Its effect is that, since the word “imperfect” has to be read in a dactyl, this word gets especially accentuated, which helps the speaker to convey the message that even though he is surrounded by apparently beautiful, enjoyable things, they are all “imperfect” to him.

3. Spot a problem

One could possibly compare Thomas Gray’s “Sonnet on the Death of Mr. Richard West” to the poem “Pity this busy monster, manunkind” by E.E.Cummings. Even though the topics of the two poems are entirely different, in both poems, the image of mankind being “busy” (Cummings line 1, Gray line 9) is used. However, while the speaker in Cummings’ sonnet openly criticizes mankind (which he actually calls “manunkind”) for being as busy, self-observed and progress-bound, the speaker in “Sonnet on the Death of Mr. Richard Gray” is apparently just unable to understand everybody’s rush and simple pleasures. In the end, however, both speakers feel uncomfortable in the worlds they are stuck in, perhaps for different reasons, but they both seem to feel like they do not belong there in a way.

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