That Type of Awe Thou Mayst in Blog Behold

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"In me thou seest the glowing of such fire, / That on the ashes of his youth doth lie" (103).
                    William Shakespeare, Sonnet 73 (In Roberts)

Chapter 5 of Roberts' Writing About Literature made me think more deeply about the structure of literature, but I couldn't think of anything worthwhile to say about the structure in Shakespeare's Sonnet 73.  However, as I was reading it, I did notice Shakespeare's use of point of view.  I think everyone in class said they don't know of an example of the second person POV, but now we do.  Sonnet 73 is written from the point of view of a dying man as he tells his beloved what she sees.  I didn't even notice this the first couple of times I read it, searching for something to blog about.  However, I did notice that in line 10, the speaker calls his own youth "his youth" instead of "my youth," the latter being the phrase a person would use were they speaking in the first person.  Instead, the speaker was telling the listener what she sees in him - the glowing remnants on the ashes of his youth.  

I always thought the second person point of view would be ineffective if a whole literary work was from that POV.  However, I think it works in this case.  Since the speaker was telling the listener what she sees, I felt like I was actually seeing it instead of just knowing it.  This surprised me because I thought I would get aggravated and refuse to accept what the speaker was telling me, but the sonnet actually had the opposite effect.  Now I'm curious to know other examples of literary works from the second person point of view that I have enjoyed in the past without realizing the POV in which they were written.  

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5 Comments

Melissa Schwenk said:

Alright, so I think I may have found a good example of a book that uses second person point of view well: Diary by Chuck Palahniuk. Throughout this book, you're the main character. You're the one being yelled at, and you're the one figuring everything out. However, there are a lot of flashbacks (which we both love) as well as different points of view scattered throughout the book, so technically the whole thing isn't second person, but most of it is.

Anyway, I hadn't even realized at first that Shakespeare was talking about himself in third person with the whole "his youth" thing. However, (and this may be a bit of a stretch) I've heard rumors that Shakespeare may have been gay, perhaps this has a connection to a lover of the male variety? Because nowhere in the poem does it mention a woman. Also, could the poem be about a young lover of his being killed too early thus all the imagery of a short sunset in lines five and six "in me thou seest the twilight of such day/As after sunset fadeth in the West" further allude to such a claim?

Josie Rush said:

A lot of poetry makes use of the second person. I think it's a way for the poets to say what they want to say to people they could never say such things to. Off the top of my head, Millay's poem, Bluebeard; Collins' poem Litany; Parker's poem Surprise; Dickinson's If you were coming in the fall...
Second person is definitely a necessary tool for many poets. It's a shame we completely neglected mentioning this type of writing on Friday when we were racking our brains for a use of second-person.

Jessica Orlowski said:

I didn't catch the second person thing at all. I see what you mean now, though. Speaking of second person points of view in literature, have you ever read "The Perks of Being a Wallflower?" It's a series of letters or diary entries from a teenager to "You" (Whoever you is). I also didn't realize that this was in second person until now. Thanks, Karyssa :)

Dave said:

Melissa- Diary was the one example of second person that popped into my head about 5 minutes after I left class after the POV discussion. I'm glad someone else thought of it too.
Josie- That is a good point about poetry...though as you mentioned somewhat disappointing that none of us mentioned it.

Melissa- You're right; Shakespeare could be speaking to a man in this poem. I just referred to his audience in a general way. I didn't mean to imply that the person had to be a woman, though I didn't clarify that in my blog. I took the imagery from the lines to which you refer as him saying that his companion sees himself as the one fading away after having a full life, with the sunset (the end of a full day) representing that fullness. Interesting theory, though.

Josie- It definitely is written in second person. I felt a bit ashamed when I realized that it is because no one could think of an example of second person.

Jess- I have not read that book, but I've always wanted to. That's interesting that it's written in second person. Now I need to read it just so I can have an example in the future of a second person piece of literature.

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