This paper is concerned with comparing three poems. The first of these is a sonnet entitled ‘Sonnet 116,’ the second is entitled ‘Telephone Conversation’ and the third is entitled ‘Half Past Two.’ All three of the poems deal with at least two things; attitudes towards other people and the nature of time. The rest of this paper will examine how this is displayed in the poems themselves.
‘Sonnet 116’ is a love poem. It’s central claim is that Love, if it is true love, lasts forever. Although the world may change around it, love must stay the same. The poet writes ‘Love is not love / Which alters when it alteration finds.’ The technique of the poem serves to show the permanence of love through a variety of metaphors. The poet writes that love should be seen as ‘an ever-fixed mark / That looks on tempests and is never shaken / It is the star to every wandering bark.’ By describing love as a ‘star’ the poet uses an image of permanence, as stars were often used for navigation. He also describes it as a comfort. However, the poem is only able to do this by drawing attention to all of the difficulties of the world and of Time. The poet writes that ‘Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks / Within his bending sickle come.’ While love may not change, it is certain that the people who feel it will.
As such, there is a tension in the poem between mortality and immortality. This sense of mortality is made clear in the final lines of the sonnet: ‘Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, / But bears it out even to the edge of doom.’ The use of the word ‘bears’ suggests that there is much that love must endure in order to stay the same. As such, Sonnet ‘116’ can be seen as a poem which describes a timeless love, but places that love within time and in some way therefore makes its message deliberately fail. The poet ends the sonnet with the lines ‘If this be error and upon me proved, /I never writ, nor no man ever loved.’ The poet knows that he has written the lines, so in some way he knows that he is making an argument which cannot be refuted. The sonnet ends on a half rhyme, between ‘proved’ and ‘loved.’ Traditional sonnets end on a full rhyme. The sense of potential failure, and perhaps desperation to the poet’s claims of the eternal nature of love is clear in this structure, as the poem itself does not create the perfect completion which it seeks to.
‘Telephone Conversation’ is also about attitudes which are taken to be permanent and the things which surround them. The poem dramatises the conversation between an African person and someone who is clearly racist. Throughout the course of the poem, the African person describes their appearance in a series of absurd ways, in order to answer the question ‘HOW DARK?’ When the African person talks they are forced to use ridiculous metaphors, for example in the line ‘”You mean – like plain or milk chocolate?” Later in the poem the person states that they are a brunette; “Facially I am brunette, but madam you should see / The rest of me. Palm of my hand, soles of my feet / Are peroxide blond.” By employing this technique of absurdity the poet draws attention to the racism of the woman on the other side of the telephone. By doing this the poet employs a similar technique to ‘Sonnet 116.’ The outside is seen as transient and different, but it can be related to a single attitude. In the case of the sonnet it is ‘Love’ in the case of ‘Telephone Conversation it is racism.
‘Sonnet 116’ is also similar to ‘Half Past Two’ in the sense that both of the poems are related to an idea of time. ‘Half Past Two’ tells the story of someone who is supposed to be in detention at half past two, however they do not know the time properly, and, as a result they do not fully understand. For them time is divided up into ideas associated with actions; ‘Gettinguptime, timeyouwereofftime / Timetogohometime.’ The poem associates this understanding of time with a state of innocence and childhood and with an ability to exist outside of time in someway. In this way it is similar to ‘Sonnet 116’ which seeks to describe love as existing outside of time, however cannot do this fully as it is impossible.
In conclusion, the main points of similarity between the three poems is their relationship to time and to the world. All three of them represent a sense of some way being outside of time. In the case of ‘Sonnet 116’ and ‘Telephone Call’ this is connected to a certain attitude of emotion, in the case of ‘Half Past Two’ it is connected to innocence and childhood.