Thursday, March 24, 2011

X. Describes Phaon

Mary Robinson's Sonnet X uses striking symbols and images and a nontraditional vulta as tools to explain Sappho high praise her lover, Phaon. This Petrarchan sonnet is a blazon. It lists the physical characteristics of Phaon. After the vulta, the poem continues to describe Phaon wtih vivid symbols and images.

Each half of the octave contains a list of characteristics. For example, his lips, like Cupid's arrow, are strung with rubies. He has "murd'rous eyes" and a "smooth cheeek." The first four lines uses intense comparisons to describe Phaon's eyes, love, speech (tongue) and their effects on Sappho. The language clearly suggests that her love for him is very strong. The more she listens to his words, looks upon his face, and is in his presence she is dangerously swept up deeper in his love. The words "Dang'rous", "fatal", "haunts", and "arrow lies (suggesting she has been wounded by his arrow)" in the first four lines show the level of intensity Sappho feels for her lover. Line one best captures the almost odd symbol of the power and influence Phaon has over her. It reads, "dang’rous to hear, is that melodious tongue," She seems to be saying that she has to almost completely surrender her power and be on her guard when around Phaon because just the simplest word from him arrests her and she loses herself in him and he takes control of her heart.

The language of the next four lines of the octave suggests that her surrender of emotions is not necessarily voluntary, but if he gains her heart, she will not try to change the state of events. I'm sure it is because she is freely giving it. She continues to be consumed by Phaon. The danger referenced in line one is fully understood. Once Sappho is caught up in Phaon's goodness of his form which she has often enamored over, she will not be able to cease thinking about him and wanting to be with him. This idea is exemplified in the language and sequence of the poem seen vividly in the unique vulta. The vulta does not act as a traditional turn in thought toward a resolution. The shift in tone and idea does not occur. In fact, the list of positive descriptions of Phaon continues.

Instead of a turning from high emotion and praise to the expected hopelessness caused by the onset of reality, Sappho is unwavering and the blazon continues. The word choice is profound to show the steadfastness of Sappho's strong feelings. The sestet begins with "Still let me gaze upon the polish'd brow" making the audience understand that she refuses to change how much she admires and cares for Phaon. The Comments on his face, hair, and finally comparing him to the "Sun" gives him god-like qualities. This comparison has occurred in the octave where Phaon was compared to Cupid. Mary Robinson's use of language allows the audience to have a clearer picture into the level of love that Sappho may have had for Phaon.

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