V is for Volta


I still remember this one from my Shakespeare classes in college. Huzzah! I haven’t forgotten everything!


“Italian word for ‘turn.’ In a sonnet, the volta is the turn of thought or argument: in Petrarchan or Italian sonnets it occurs between the octave and the sestet, and in Shakespearean or English before the final couplet.”

Source: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/resources/learning/glossary-terms

Can you find the volta in Shakespeare’s 18th sonnet?

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st;
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”

In other words, it’s sad that you’ll grow old and die, but (volta!) through my words you get to be immortal.

This is an oft quoted sonnet by folks trying to get fancy with their wooing. Though, personally, I don’t find being told I have an expiration date terribly romantic.

I also know that the theme of the sonnets that precede number 18 is similar, but in those, the narrator encourages the pretty young subject hurry up and have children. So they can go on being pretty for her when she started to wither.

What are ya gonna do? Political correctness didn’t exist in the 16th century. Sweet talk had (and in some contemporary cases, still has) some evolving to do.


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