‘Soon’ by Vikram Seth is a seven stanza poem that is made up of sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a loose pattern of ABAB CDCD, but a number of the rhymes are half, or slant. These kinds of rhymes are seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line, or multiple lines of verse. For example, “blood” and “food” in the first stanza and “sweat” and “treat” in the second. These words are not perfect rhymes, but their endings are the same (due to consonance), making them half-rhymes.
The tone in this poem is transitory. At first, it is solemn but resigned, by the end though it is much more desperate and frightened as the speaker’s emotions come to the forefront. In regards to the mood, it is more consistent throughout. The sympathy the reader feels for the speaker at first is real, but with more details that sympathy turns into empathy.
Summary of Soon
The poem begins with the speaker making a shocking admission. He states, without hesitation, that he is going to die soon. He only hints at what’s wrong with him, but with a few context clues, such as the references to love in the third stanza, a reader can assume he is discussing HIV/AIDS. The speaker is entering the final days of his life and knows without a doubt there is no possibility that he is going to be saved. He does not hope for a miracle cure or that somehow he’s going to make it through.
The courage he has been exhibiting falls away in the last lines as he pleads with his lover to stay by his side until he’s dead and continue to love him after he’s gone. The poem ends with the speaker asking that someone save his life.
Analysis of Soon
I shall die soon, I know.
It saps my cells for food.
In the first stanza of the poem the speaker makes a shocking admission, he knows that he is going to die soon. This immediately sets expectations about what the tone is going to be and might make one guess about where the poem is going to end.
The speaker hints at what’s wrong with him in the rest of the stanza. He refers to the illness as being in his blood and doing its best to sap all his cells “for food”. Over the following stanzas, it becomes clear that the speaker has contracted AIDS and is in the final phases of the disease.
It soaks my nights in sweat
These limbs for love or gain.
Through alliteration, Seth evokes the misery of this speaker’s nights. The repetition of the “s” sound mimics the sound of water, or in this case, sweat sliding across the speaker’s skin. He can’t sleep during the night, and then during the day, any pleasure he might take is broken with pain. Through these lines, the reader is left with no doubt that the disease is his constant companion. He doesn’t ever get a reprieve from it.
The situation is made even worse with the information provided in lines three and four. There is nothing that a “hand or drug” can do to improve his situation. As he stated in the first lines, he knows he’s going to die and there is nothing he can do about it.
Love was the strange first cause
To fix its place and breed.
It is in the third stanza of ‘Soon’ that the reader should come to the conclusion that it is AIDS that is bringing on the speaker’s death. He speaks about it as the “first cause / That bred grief in its seeds”. He contracts HIV/AIDS through sexual intercourse and he is very aware of the irony that something as beautiful as love could bring him to such a state.
In an effort to speak to the power of the disease he describes how it gained a foothold in his body and made its own laws. It is up to the illness to decide how he lives, and for how long. It fixed itself inside him and is now breeding without limitations.
He whom I love, thank God,
He sees that I am sure.
In the fourth stanza of ‘Soon’, he speaks about his lover. He is there with him, but kindly, the lover does not give him false hope as others might. This is something that he’s very glad of. The speaker knows it would only make things worse for both of them if they put faith in a miracle occurring or a magic cure surfacing.
He knows what I have read
I read it in his eyes.
The speaker’s lover is fully aware of the situation they are in and knows that his partner is too. He states that his lover knows “what [he] has read,” therefore, there is no use in bringing “lies” to his bedside.
The truth of the disease is clear for everyone to see, even those who love the speaker the most. With a shocking bluntness, the speaker informs the reader that he knows that his lover sees him as dead. It isn’t something he states explicitly to his dying partner, but the speaker can read “it in his eyes”.
The sixth and seventh stanzas of ‘Soon’ appear to be directed to the lover. The speaker asks a number of emotional, rhetorical questions. This is the first time, through the broken up syntax, that uncontrolled emotion is showing through. He wonders how he’s supposed to continue on in this state with “These hands that shake and waste”.
The use of the “em” dashes at the ends of lines one and three denote the break in his thought process, he is at a loss for words and/or is overcome with emotion.
How am I to go on —
These hands that shake and waste?
In the last line the mask of strength, he wore in the previous lines crumbles. He asks his lover to stay by his side, even though he knows that death is surely on its way. The speaker is in a cold, “steel ward bed” from which there is no escape.
He is near the end of his life and all he can ask for is that his lover holds him, and love him after he has died. The final line is striking in its honesty and the speaker asks someone, anyone, to keep him from dying.