Death is one of the few concepts in life that cannot be avoided. In An Echo Sonnet , Robert Pack uses a modified sonnet to portray the speaker’s struggles against his own thoughts on death. Pack combines the use of rhyme, juxtaposition, and alliteration with the sonnet’s natural three-quatrain and couplet form to clearly define the speaker’s emotional development throughout the poem. In the first quatrain, the speaker’s voice starts with four questions in a row which describe and show the conflicts and uncertainties in the speaker’s mind. Each question is answered by the speaker’s subconscious mind – the echo. Immediately, Pack uses rhyme between the last word of the speaker’s voice and the echo to paint the image of someone who is talking to himself about his own issues. The speaker is ambivalent about what to do with his life which is filled with “emptiness” (1). The conflicts in his mind are stressed by his indecision between the juxtaposing feelings of “joy or grief” (2). The second quatrain denotes the period in which the speaker’s emotions hit
- Not mar / ble nor / the guil / ded mon / uments
Interestingly this sonnet starts off with a negative, the adverb not, introducing the reader to think about what is not important in life, which is fine stone and crafted stonework. Note the double alliteration and the allusion to grand palaces.
This is iambic pentameter, five feet of unstressed then stressed syllable, English poetry's most dominant metre (meter in USA). Shakespeare uses it a lot in his sonnets but also mixes it up with spondee and trochee - watch out for the changes.
Note also the enjambment, the first line carrying on straight into the second, no punctuation.
- Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
So the stone work is royal, or at least, belongs to a young royal male. Is this a clue as to who the sonnet is written for? Another young male, but not a prince? Or is this generic royal stone? Either way this material doesn't get to outlive the power of this poetry.
Again iambic pentameter is to the fore, with assonance and alliteration in evidence.
- But you shall shine more bright in thesecontents
The third line helps the reader put things in perspective because now there is a person or figure involved...you shall shine...in the contents of the poem, which will endure.
Note the alliteration again and the trochee which comes as a surprise after the steady iambics - but contents is pronounced with the stress on the con - and leaves a feminine ending with enjambment.
- Than unswept stone, besmeared with sluttish time.
Time is here given a physical quality, unusually, and the word sluttish is associated with the world of whores and dubious morals. The suggestion is that material things eventually become dirtied and degraded but that this will not happen to the person.
Regular iambics returns. Note the prominence of the letter s. Besmear is to cover with a sticky or greasy substance.