Treatment of Nature in William Shakespeare’s Sonnets
Shakespeare’s sonnets revolved around the themes of love and friendship and in most of the sonnets, nature provides the background, either by supplying the images or by showing the objective co-relative for them. In his Comedies and Tragedies, Shakespeare showed his deep interest in the workings of the natural world. King Lear or As You Like It or A Midsummer Night’s Dream– everywhere the world of nature features prominently. The sonnets are Shakespeare’s attains at depicting the psychological propensities of human beings, caught in the web of romance, friendship, jealousy and the other motives. Nature plays an important role in the sonnets by supplying the back-drop or the psycho-drama of the feelings.
One of many interesting elements in Shakespeare’s sonnet is the nature-imagery. Nature’s loveliness and plenitude attracted Shakespeare more than her violent or tempestuous aspects. In various sonnets, Shakespeare refers to the morning beauty of nature and the rosy live of colors spread on the earth and on the clouds. A few examples:
“Lo, in the orient when the gracious light
Lifts up his burning head, each under eye”
“Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;”
“Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy;”
Shakespeare skillfully relates the description of nature to his theme. For example in sonnet 7, he uses the example of the morning glory in order to persuade his friend to get married. His argument runs thus; people gaze at the sun and worship its glory when it rises in the morning, they still worship its splendor when it is noon time and it has reached the highest point in the sky. But nobody bothers about the sun when it is setting like-wise the poets friend will be ignored or forgotten after his death unless he has a son to perpetuate his name.
Another aspect of nature that attracts Shakespeare is the evanescence of the beauty of flowers, the rose, the violet, the lily is constantly referred to both for their immaculate beauty and for their short-lividness.
Shakespeare sees the mutability of human existence reflected in the transience of these flowers. The natural world is in this way closely integrated into the texture of the poet’s thought. In sonnet 12 for example, he talks about the passage of time and the decline of all things:
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls all silver’d over with white;
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves
Which erst from heat did canopy the head,
And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves.
Another reference to nature comes in sonnet 18, where the poet compares his friend’s beauty with summer’s day and finds the former lovelier and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling birds of may
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Nature sometimes becomes a medium of the poet’s hyperbolic praise of his friend. In sonnet 28 for example, the poet tries to flatter the day by saying that it is bright by virtue of his friend’s presence even when there are clouds in the sky. The cloud comes back in sonnet 33 which is one of the passionate sonnets in the cycle.
The seasons attract Shakespeare for attention in some of the sonnets. Among the seasons the spring and the winter are often presented as antithetical and antagonistic. In sonnet 98, the spring season is given color of grief because the poet was absent from his friend:
When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in everything.
Yet neither the songs of birds not the sweet smell of different flowers with their many colours could put the poet in a mood of joy or stimulate him, nor did he fed any surprise to see the whiteness of the Lily, with the friend away from the poet it still seemed winter to the poet even though it was actually Spring. Winter figures prominently in sonnet 73, where the poet describes the natural scene with a kind of accuracy that reminds us of Shelley’s ‘Ode to the West Wind’.
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold…
The poet’s condition may be compared to this to the winter scene of desolation. In this scene, the desolate picture of desolation becomes a corollary of Shakespeare’s own old age, when one by one all his abilities will leave him like the autumnal leaves.
Shakespeare’s sonnets are interesting to us for their varied appeal to our aesthetic sense. The natural world with its flowers and foliage, the sun and the stars, the revolution of time and the cycle of the seasons come alive in the sonnets of Shakespeare.