‘Lo! in the orient when the gracious light’ is Sonnet 7 of the one hundred and fifty-four sonnets that Shakespeare penned. It also belongs to the Fair Youth sequence. This is the series of poems that were dedicated to a specific person, whose identity has never been confirmed. He was a young man, someone, if the poems are anything to go by, who the poet cared about deeply. This sonnet is one of seventeen that is part of the group focused on procreation.
Explore Sonnet 7 : Lo! in the orient when the gracious light
Summary of Sonnet 7
In the first twelve lines of this poem the speaker uses the metaphor of a rising and setting sun to describe the ageing process. The speaker is trying to convince the listener, the Fair Youth, that it is in his best interests to have a child. Therefore, when the sun sets (he ages) his beauty will not be lost.
Structure of Sonnet 7
‘Lo! in the orient when the gracious light’ by William Shakespeare is a fourteen-line sonnet that is structured in the “Shakespearean” or English form. It made up of three quatrains, or sets of four lines, and one concluding couplet, or set of two rhyming lines. The poem follows a consistent rhyme scheme that conforms to the pattern of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG and it is written in iambic pentameter. This means that each line contains five sets of two beats, known as metrical feet. The first is unstressed and the second stressed. It sounds something like da-DUM, da-DUM.
The last two lines of ‘Lo! in the orient when the gracious light’ are a rhyming pair, known as a couplet. They often bring with them a turn or volta in the poem. They’re sometimes used to answer a question posed in the previous twelve lines, shift the perspective, or even change speakers. In this case, the last two lines get to the heart of the issue that the speaker continues to raise with the Fair Youth, that of his lack of children.
Poetic Techniques in Sonnet 7
Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in Sonnet 7. These include, but are not limited to, alliteration, sibilance, enjambment, and metaphor. The latter is the most important technique at work in the poem. It is extended, meaning that it lasts through multiple lines. In this case, it carries the reader all the way to the turn at the end of the poem. In the lines, the speaker is comparing the sun, which rises beautifully and entrancingly to the Fair Youth. He is beautiful now but, just as the sun sets, his beauty will also wane.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “having” and “heavenly hill” in line five. Sibilance is similar to alliteration but it is concerned with soft vowel sounds such as “s” and “th”. This kind of repetition usually results in a prolonged hissing or rushing sound. It is often used to mimic another sound, like water, wind, or any kind of fluid movement. For example, “Serving” and “sacred” in line four.
Enjambment is another important technique in this poem. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For instance, the transitions between lines one and two as well as that between lines eleven and twelve.
Analysis of Sonnet 7
Lo! in the orient when the gracious light
Lifts up his burning head, each under eye
Doth homage to his new-appearing sight,
Serving with looks his sacred majesty;
In the first lines of ‘Lo! in the orient when the gracious light’ the speaker begins by making use of the line by which this sonnet is best known. It is number seven, out of one hundred and fifty-four, but like most of Shakespeare’s sonnets is also known by its first line.
Unlike most of the sonnets in this series, the first quatrains do not get to the heart of the speaker’s problem with the Fair Youth, that he hasn’t had children. Rather, the poem begins with an extended metaphor that compares the setting of the sun to how the Fair Youth is going to be treated if he does not father a child.
In the first lines, the speaker draws the listener’s attention to “the orient,” or the east. This is where the sun rises and the place to which all eyes are drawn. It is a glorious sight, just like the Fair Youth is. Everyone wants to look at “his sacred majesty”.
And having climbed the steep-up heavenly hill,
Resembling strong youth in his middle age,
Yet mortal looks adore his beauty still,
Attending on his golden pilgrimage:
The metaphor continues in the second quatrain of ‘Lo! in the orient when the gracious light’. Here, the speaker moves forward in time until the sun is at its highest point. It has climbed up and still has the appearance of a strong “youth in his middle age”. The sun is still beautiful at this point and the speaker knows that everyone still enjoys looking at it.
But when from highmost pitch, with weary car,
Like feeble age, he reeleth from the day,
The eyes, ‘fore duteous, now converted are
From his low tract, and look another way:
Things change in the third and final quatrain of ‘Lo! in the orient when the gracious light’. Finally, the sun passes out of its higher point and begins to wane. This is when it grows weary and less beautiful. The speaker is making a connection between this process and what is going to happen as the young man ages. Eventually, people aren’t going to care about his beauty anymore. It’s going to be taken by age and time.
So thou, thyself outgoing in thy noon
Unlooked on diest unless thou get a son.
It’s not until the final two lines, or couplet, that concludes ‘Lo! in the orient when the gracious light,’ that the speaker reveals his true purpose in speaking these lines to the Fair Youth. Through the comparison, he is hoping, as he does in the over sixteen poems in this sequence, that the Fair Youth will stop wasting himself when he could be having a son. His energies are better spent elsewhere.