‘Sonnet: I Thank You’ by Henry Timrod explores friendship, with the poet writing the sonnet devoted to this theme. Upon receiving a gift from his friend, Timrod writes about how happy the flower make him, for their symbol of friendship. He hopes he is not just simply prescribing meaning where there is none. For Timrod, friendship is ‘love, without a love’s flame’.
Upon receiving a ‘gift’ of ‘flowers’ from a friend, Timrod writes ‘Sonnet: I Thank You’ in order to thank them for this, and for being his friend. He sees what ‘the flowers convey’, and extrapolates the meaning of true friendship. The following lines of the poem then detail a slight concern that Timrod may be reading too much into the flowers, not certain of his friendship. However, by the end of the poem, Timrod has retracted his uncertainty, stating that friendship is ‘love, without love’s flame’. This poem is a tribute to friendship, more so than the gift itself.
You can read the full poem here.
‘Sonnet: I Thank You’ by Henry Timrod is written, as you may probably catch from the title, in sonnet form. The sonnet form is a 14 line poetic form that frequently touches of thematic concerns of love. By using this form, Timrod is using the associations of love and then transforming them into friendship, exploring the beauty of friendships throughout the poem. The rhyme scheme couples lines throughout, with this constant rhyme perhaps reflecting the connection inherent within a friendship.
Timrod’s ‘Sonnet: I Thank You’ uses caesura to emphasize certain ideas within the poem. By disrupting the meter of the poem by employing a caesura, Timrod draws focus to the words before and after the disruption, furthering their impact. This is used within the poem to stress ideas that are important to the writer. For example, the key phrase of the poem, ‘I thank you,’ is emphasized by caesura.
Another technique that Timrod uses when writing the poem is symbolism. Both within the ‘flowers’ and ‘love’s flame’, Timrod is using certain associations with objects to draw out a further meaning. With ‘flowers’, the casual gift is transformed into a symbol of friendship. The use of ‘flame’ bares connotations of passion, with the fire igniting a ‘flame’ of friendship, rather than love here.
Analysis of Sonnet: I Thank You
I thank you, kind and best beloved friend,With the same thanks one murmurs to a sister,When, for some gentle favor, he hath kissed her,Less for the gifts than for the love you send,Less for the flowers, than what the flowers convey;If I, indeed, divine their meaning truly,And not unto myself ascribe, unduly,
The poem begins with the first person pronoun, ‘I’ instantly categorizing this poem as personal and related direction to Timrod’s own experiences and opinions. The first clause of the first line demonstrates the purpose of the poem, it is one in thanks, ‘I thank you’ being the opening few words. This is then emphasized by the use of a caesura, grammatically separating this clause from the rest of the line and placing metrical stress on the phrase.
Timrod follows this by designating two adjectives to his ‘friend’, ‘kind and best beloved’ suggesting the close connection he holds with his unnamed friend. Although the sonnet form is traditionally one that discusses love, here Timrod is suggesting it is only friendship, much like ‘the same thanks one murmurs to a sister’. There is a platonic connection Timrod and his ‘friend’, one that he chooses to explore and give thanks for within this poem.
The anaphoric repetition across ‘Less for the’ emphasizes the idea that it is not for any material reason that Timrod is giving thanks. Although he appreciates the ‘gifts’ and ‘flowers’, he favors what these things actually ‘convey’, ‘their meaning’ being expressed through the symbolism he attributes. The repetition of ‘flowers’ furthers this idea, the noun being placed in two phrases – one that distinguishes thanks for the material gift, the other expressing thanks for the symbol of friendship that Timrod is suggesting. Timrod favors this second reading, ‘what the flowers convey’ is important to the poet.
Things which you neither meant nor wished to say,Oh! tell me, is the hope then all misplaced?And am I flattered by my own affection?But in your beauteous gift, methought I tracedSomething above a short-lived predilection,
There is a slight note of uncertainty, Timrod not wanting to assign meaning when there is none. He states that ’myself ascribe’ a meaning, fearing that it is ‘unduly’ created. The rhyme that links ‘truly’ and ‘unduly’ furthers this idea, with Timrod forming a connection between ideas like the continuous connection within the rhyme scheme.
The expressive ‘Oh!’ furthers the sense of doubt Timrod feels. This could perhaps be linked to the idea that he is not sure if his friendship is quite as strong as he is suggesting. The use of the monosyllabic ‘oh’ stands out against the rest of the longer clauses within the poem, the short and sharp word being almost onomatopoeic in nature. Moreover, the use of an exclamation mark adds emphasis to this moment of self-consciousness, Timrod expressing a great deal of doubt.
He is worried that he is simply ‘flattered by my own affection’, the use of a question mark aligning with his previous sense of doubt. Timrod is worried about having read too much into the symbol of ‘flowers’. This echoes from the past line, ‘misplaced?’ also containing a question mark. Timrod has expressed a great deal of excitement and bliss at his gift of flowers, and is now worried that he has been too excited and misread what the ‘flowers convey’.
The focused nature of the verb ‘traced’ suggests that Timrod begins to recount his experiences, looking with meticulous detail over the rest of his story. The poet wants to affirm that he has not simply read too much into the flowers.
And which, for that I know no dearer name,I designate as love, without love’s flame.
The final two lines of the poem, as common in sonnet form, are written in a rhyming couplet. In doing this, the symbol of connection established could be reflecting the idea that Timrod has surpassed his feelings of doubt, ensuring himself that the friendship is ‘truly’ something to celebrate. The final image of the poem is Timrod creating the idea that friendship is ‘love, without love’s flame’. The poet is suggesting that the connection established within a friendship is exactly that of love, just without the passion that also constitutes a relationship. The strength of their friendship is therefore realized through the sonnet form, Timrod using the association with romantic poetry to apply to his own depiction of friendship. The poem elevates friendship, presenting the beauty of this form of human relationship.