Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) was an Italian poet famous for his Divine Comedy, which is regarded as the most prominent literary work ever written in Italian. The sonnet “All My Thoughts” is a part of the acclaimed narrative poem. The very title of the sonnet resorts to the readers’ attention and prepares the audience to perceive the author’s reflections. However, as it appears from the context, the poet is not quite sure where all of his thoughts are leading him. Thus, the sonnet is rather a self-analysis of the impossibility of a person to cope with the versatile nature of his thoughts than the explanation of their directions and purposes. The use of personification and metaphor allows Alighieri to convey his argument in the most far-reaching and beguiling way.
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In the tradition of Italian sonnets, the one under analysis consists of two stanzas. The first one contains eight lines and is called an octave, whereas the second one has six lines and is called a sestet. The structure of the octave in “All My Thoughts” is abbaabba, and the structure of the sestet is CDE CDE. It is typical for Italian sonnets to have a so-called turn, which signifies a shift from the poem’s proposition to its resolution. In the given poem, the turn occurs in the ninth line.
The first line of the sonnet informs the reader that the author is constantly under attack of love thoughts. However, despite the seemingly simple topic, it soon becomes evident that everything is quite complicated since there exists a vast difference between the various kinds of thoughts he has. Line three introduces the first type: the reflections of a kind and sober-minded nature. Meanwhile, straight after that, the poet describes the second category of thoughts, which reminds him of the Supreme Power and the punishment for behaving in an indecent way. Hence, one thought is full of “mind and sense” (Alighieri 3), whereas the other warns about the authority from “above” (4). The third type of thought is joyful and “hoping” (5). Finally, the fourth category is sad, bringing along “tears” (6). Therefore, the poet introduces the four types of thoughts pursuing him and offers a clear differentiation between them.
At the end of the octave, Alighieri mentions that despite the versatile character of his thoughts, there is one thing they have in common: each of them craves “pity” (7) and trembles “with fears” (8). This description suggests a notion that although love thoughts may have various manifestations, they all will eventually come to the point when one needs to receive the acceptance of love from another person. The idea of lines seven and eight is that along with joy, peacefulness, and happiness offered by love, an individual also risks suffering from unknown worries and rejection.
The beginning of the sestet presents a whole new idea: the poet admits that he is not sure which of the paths available he should undertake. Thus, he unwillingly decides to resort to the last option he has, which is addressing “lady Pity” (14). From this title, it becomes clear that the author experiences both awe and disgust toward pity. On the one hand, Alighieri acknowledges that pity can bring him help. On the other hand, however, he calls it his “enemy” (13), which signifies that he does not like it much.
The most pronounced techniques utilized in the poem are personification and metaphor. The former is represented much more numerously than the latter. However, despite there being only one metaphor, it is rather expressive and meaningful. When Alighieri says, “My lady Pity” (14), he means not a real girl or woman but a collective image of compassion, mercy, and charity. Because the word ‘pity’ is used two times, it is easy to distinguish between the direct and metaphorical meanings. Inline seven, the poet mentions “pity” as a feeling and starts it with a small letter. Meanwhile, in line fourteen, “Pity” is both written with a capital letter and accompanied by the honorific “lady” and an attribute “my.” This way, the poet allows understanding that the phrase “lady Pity” (14) has a symbolic meaning.
The second technique favored by Alighieri in the sonnet is personification. This device is used to give inanimate things, objects, and notions the characteristics and abilities to live beings. The examples from the poem are “my thoughts… speak” (1), “A second [thought] saith” (4), “The third… yields” (5), “them craving” (7), and thoughts “trembling” (8). It is evident that all of the cases of personification are applied to modify thoughts as the main characters of the sonnet. By exploiting this approach, the poet manages to give a deeper insight into the problem discussed.
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Apart from the two most crucial stylistic means, such devices as inversion, paradox, alliteration, and assonance are employed. Inversion is used to put emphasis on the object of the sentence rather than the subject: “And with the last come tears” (6). Thus, Alighieri stresses the fourth type of thought first and then explains what accompanies that type. A paradox is found in the line where the poet says that he wants to speak but does not know “what to say” (10). Cases of alliteration are as follows: “while one,” “bids me bow” (3), “sense, / A second saith” (3-4), “sore suspense” (7), “know not” (10). Instances of assonance are found in the following word combinations: “thoughts always,” “speak to me” (1), “to: look” (4), “not what” (10).
Alliteration and assonance perform the phonetic function of adding melody and harmony to the sonnet. Each of the techniques employed by the author, whether less or more frequently represented, aims at entitling a deeper meaning to the poem and encourages the reader to sympathize with the poet.
Upon performing a detailed analysis of the sonnet, it is possible to conclude that the ideas expressed in it relate to real life. Indeed, love thoughts, as well as manifestations of this feeling, are different for every person under various circumstances. And undoubtedly, in the worst of cases, a person resorts to pity as the last chance to find support from the beloved one. Whether successful or not, at some point, almost everyone falls in love and experiences the thoughts depicted in the sonnet. Alighieri uses many techniques to make the poem more attractive, but personification and metaphor are the most prominent of them. Other devices, such as alliteration, assonance, paradox, and inversion, make the sonnet more melodic and the ideas more thought-provoking. However, by personifying thoughts, the author makes them look as if they were active participants of his life, equal in significance and deserving consideration.
Alighieri, Dante. “All My Thoughts.” Poems Reading 1, p. 4.