Shakespeare's Sonnets Explained

With Summaries, Notes, Background Information, and Texts of All the Sonnets


By Michael J. Cummings
Copyright  2015   All Rights Reserved

Study Guides for Shakespeare's Plays and Other Works



Table of Contents

Sonnet Definition and Overview
Voice of the Sonnets
Focus of the Sonnets
Critical Reception
Structure
Meter
Rhyme
Origin of the Sonnet Form
Appearance in England
The Sonnets and Sexuality
The Young Man and the Dark Lady
The Rival Poet and the Mysterious "W. H."
The Complete Sonnets: Annotated, Summarized, and Explained



Sonnet Definition and Overview

William Shakespeare wrote one hundred fifty-four sonnets. A sonnet is a form of lyric poetry with fourteen lines and a specific rhyme scheme. Lyric poetry presents the deep feelings and emotions of the author as opposed to poetry that tells a story or presents a witty observation. The topic of most sonnets written in Shakespeare's time was love or a theme related to love. Sonnets in later times also focused on religion, politics, and other concerns of the reading public.

Poets usually wrote their sonnets as part of a series. Each sonnet was a sequel to the previous one in the same way that an episode of a soap opera on Wednesday is a sequel to the episode on Tuesday. However, many sonnets could stand alone as separate poems. Sonnets afforded their author an opportunity to show off his ability to write memorable lines. In other words, sonnets enabled a poet to demonstrate the power of his genius in the way that an art exhibition enabled a painter to show off his special techniques.

Shakespeare wrote his sonnets in London in the 1590's during an outbreak of plague that closed theaters and prevented playwrights from staging their dramas. Sonnets 138 and 144 were published in 1599 in a poetry collection entitled The Passionate Pilgrime [Pilgrim]. The other sonnets were published in 1609 in Shake-speares Sonnets. It is possible that the 1609 sequence of sonnets is out of its original order.

Shakespeare did not title his sonnets. Instead, he numbered them, using Roman numerals. For example, the first sonnet is Sonnet I; the second, Sonnet II; the third Sonnet III; and the fourth, Sonnet IV. This study guide generally uses Arabic numbers (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.) to identify a sonnet.

Voice of the Sonnets

The feelings and opinions expressed in a sonnet or any other poem do not necessarily represent those of the author. Sometimes an author presents his lines as if they were written or spoken by someone else. Consequently, when writing about a Shakespeare sonnet or another author's poem, critics and scholars customarily call the voice of the poem the "speaker" or the "persona." Either term can refer to the author or to a real or fictional person presenting the lines.

Focus of the Sonnets

Sonnets 1 through 126 focus on an unidentified young man with outstanding physical and intellectual attributes. However, the speaker does not always address the young man directly. In some sonnets, the speaker presents his own feelings as he considers his relationship with the young man.

The first seventeen sonnets urge the young man to marry so that he can pass on his superior qualities to a child, thereby allowing future generations to enjoy and appreciate these qualities when the child becomes a man. In Sonnet 18, the speaker presents this observation: that the sonnets may be all that is necessary to immortalize the young man and his qualities.

In Sonnets 127 through 154, the speaker devotes most of his attention to addressing a mysterious "dark lady"—a sensuous, irresistible woman of questionable morals who captivates the speaker. The speaker also presents his feelings and observations and separate poems. References to the dark lady appear in previous sonnets (35, 40, 41, and 42), in which the speaker reproaches the young man for an apparent liaison with her. The first two lines of Sonnet 41 chide the young man for "those petty wrongs that liberty commits / when I am sometime absent from thy heart," a reference to the young man's wrongful wooing of the dark lady. The last two lines further impugn the young man, saying he uses his good looks to attract the dark lady. In Sonnet 42, the poet charges, "thou dost love her, because thou knowst I love her."

Critical Reception

Generally, Shakespeare's sonnets have received high praise for their exquisite wording and imagery and for their refusal to stoop to sentimentality. Readers of his sonnets in his time got a taste of the greatness that Shakespeare exhibited later in such plays as Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, Othello, and The Tempest.

Structure

The Shakespearean sonnet has fourteen lines presented in three four-line stanzas and one two-line stanza with end rhyme. A four-line stanza is called a quatrain. A two-line stanza with end rhyme is called a couplet. All of Shakespeare's sonnets conform to this description of a sonnet's structure except Sonnet 126, which has only twelve lines consisting of six couplets. The stanzas and concluding couplet of each sonnet stand as a single block of type. No spaces divide one stanza from another or the last stanza from the couplet.

Meter

The meter of Shakespeare's sonnets is iambic pentameter except for Sonnet 145 and Sonnet 126. To understand iambic pentameter, you first need to understand the term iamb, which is pronounced EYE am. An iamb is a unit of rhythm consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. Consider the words annoy, fulfill,  pretend, regard, and serene. They are all iambs because the first syllable of each word is unstressed (or unaccented) and the second syllable is stressed (or accented), as illustrated here: an NOY, ful FILL, pre TEND, re GARD, and ser ENE. Iambs can also consist of one word with a single unstressed (unaccented) syllable followed by another word with a single stressed (accented) syllable (example: the KING). In addition, they may consist of a final unstressed syllable of one word followed by an initial stressed syllable of the next word.

The following presentation of the first stanza of Sonnet 18 graphically demonstrates iambic pentameter. The unstressed syllables are lower-cased and the stressed syllables are upper-cased and boldfaced.

Shall I comPARE thee TO a SUMmer's DAY?     If I compared you to a summer day
Thou ART more LOVEly AND more TEMperATE:     I'd have to say you are more beautiful and serene:
Rough WINDS do SHAKE the DARling BUDS of MAY,     By comparison, summer is rough on budding life,
And SUMmer's LEASE hath ALL too SHORT a DATE:     And doesn't last long either:

(In Shakespeare's time, May (line 3) was considered a summer month (line 4).

Rhyme

Sonnet 18 also demonstrates the end rhyme of the sonnets: ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. The capitalized letters indicate the rhyming lines. Following is graphic presentation of the rhyme scheme of Sonnet 18 and all the other sonnets except Sonnet 145 and Sonnet 126.

A   Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?     
B   Thou art more lovely and more temperate:     
A   Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,     
B   And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:

C   Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines
D   And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;   
C  And every fair from fair sometime declines,
D   By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;

E    But thy eternal summer shall not fade
F    Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
E    Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
F    When in eternal lines to time thou growest:

G    So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
G    So long lives this and this gives life to thee.    

Origin of the Sonnet

The sonnet originated in Sicily in the thirteenth century with Giacomo da Lentini (1188-1240), according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica. The poetic traditions of the Provençal region of France apparently influenced him, but he wrote his poems in the Sicilian dialect of Italian. The English word sonnet comes from the Italian word sonetto, meaning little song. Some early sonnets were set to music, with accompaniment provided by a lute.

The Italian poet Petrarch (1304-1374), a Roman Catholic priest, popularized the sonnet more than two centuries before Shakespeare was born. Other popular Italian sonneteers were Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), Italy's most famous and most accomplished writer, and Guido Cavalcante (1255-1300). The format of Petrarch's sonnets differs from that of Shakespeare. Petrarch's sonnets each consist of an eight-line stanza (octave) and a six-line stanza (sestet). The first stanza presents a theme, and the second stanza develops it. The rhyme scheme is as follows: (1) first stanza (octave): ABBA, ABBA; (2) second stanza (sestet): CDE, CDE (or CDC, CDC; or CDE, DCE).

Appearance in England

The sonnet form was introduced in England by Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542) and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517-1547). They translated Italian sonnets into English and wrote sonnets of their own. Surrey introduced blank verse (verse in unrhymed iambic pentameter) into the English language in his translation of the Aeneid of Vergil. Wyatt and Surrey sometimes replaced Petrarch's scheme of an eight-line stanza and a six-line stanza with three four-line stanzas and a two-line conclusion known as a couplet. Shakespeare adopted the latter scheme in his sonnets. Besides Shakespeare, well-known English sonneteers in the late 1500's included Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586), Samuel Daniel (1562-1619), and Michael Drayton (1563-1631).

Sonnets and Sexuality

Some Shakespeare interpreters maintain that his sonnets to the young man are expressions of homosexual love. They make this assertion even though no evidence exists in the record of Shakespeare's life or in reports on his friendships, his marriage, and his social activities to indicate that he was anything but heterosexual. Only one reference to homosexuality occurs in his plays. This reference, which is in Troilus and Cressida, condemns homosexuality in strong, insulting terms. The speaker is Thersites, a Greek with a scurrilous tongue. He addresses Patroclus, famous in Greek mythology as the male paramour of Achilles, the greatest warrior on either side in the Trojan War. Here is the exchange between Thersites and Patroclus:

THERSITES: Prithee, be silent, boy; I profit not by thy talk:
thou art thought to be Achilles' male varlet.     [varlet: attendant, page, slave]
PATROCLUS: Male varlet, you rogue! what's that?
THERSITES: Why, his masculine whore. Now, the rotten diseases
of the south, the guts-griping, ruptures, catarrhs,
loads o' gravel i' the back, lethargies, cold
palsies, raw eyes, dirt-rotten livers, wheezing
lungs, bladders full of imposthume, sciaticas,
limekilns i' the palm, incurable bone-ache, and the
rivelled fee-simple of the tetter, take and take
again such preposterous discoveries! (5.1.14-24)

It can be argued, of course, that Thersites is not speaking for Shakespeare but instead is expressing a view that existed since the time when Homer wrote of Achilles in The Iliad, completed between 800 and 700 BC.

Among those who believe that Shakespeare expresses homosexual love in his sonnets is Norrie Epstein, author of The Friendly Shakespeare. She has written:

There is profound resistance to accepting Shakespeare, the icon of Western civilization, as gay. High school teachers introduce Shakespeare's Sonnets as passionate love lyrics, neglecting to mention that they were written to a man. . . . But there's no getting around it: the Sonnets are clearly addressed to a young man, and even allowing for what professors call the "Renaissance cult of male friendship," many of the poems are quite ardent (267).

However, Hallet Smith, writing in The Riverside Shakespeare, rejects the view that the sonnets express homosexual desire, saying:

The attitude of the poet toward the friend [the handsome young man] is one of love and admiration, deference and possessiveness, but it is not at all a sexual passion. Sonnet 20 makes quite clear the difference between the platonic love of a man for a man, more often expressed in the sixteenth century than the twentieth, and any kind of homosexual attachment" (Evans, G. Blakemore, textual ed. Boston: Houghton, 1974. Page 1746).

Shakespeare scholar G.B. Harrison observes: "It was a common belief in Shakespeare's time that the love of a man for his friend, especially his 'sworn brother,' was stronger and nobler than the love of man for woman" (Shakespeare: The Complete Works. New York: Harcourt, 1952. Page 366). In fact, Shakespeare's plays contain many passages in which heterosexual males express non-sexual love for one another in doting language. For example, in Shakespeare's play The Two Noble Kinsmen, Arcite addresses his friend this way: "Dear Palamon, dearer in love than blood" (1.2.1). In Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Rosencrantz says to Hamlet, "My Lord, you once did love me." Hamlet replies, "So do I still . . . . (3.2.348).

In the play Antony and Cleopatra, Agrippa says of Lepidus: "How dearly he adores Mark Antony!" (3.2.9). Adore is a word a twenty-first-century American male heterosexual typically would use only in reference to a female. However, Shakespeare uses it here to signify political love and friendship, not sexual love. In Cymbeline, Iachimo speaks of Posthumus Leonatus as "such a holy witch / that he enchants societies into him; / Half all men's hearts are his" (1.6.166-168). Iachimo and Posthumus are both heterosexuals. When Proteus bids good-bye to his best friend, Valentine, in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, he says:

Wilt thou be gone? Sweet Valentine, adieu!
Think on thy Proteus, when thou haply seest
Some rare note-worthy object in thy travel:
Wish me partaker in thy happiness
When thou dost meet good hap; and in thy danger,
If ever danger do environ thee,
Commend thy grievance to my holy prayers,
For I will be thy beadsman, Valentine. (1.1.11-18)

Proteus and Valentine have eyes only for females, yet Proteus calls Valentine "sweet" and speaks of himself as "thy Proteus."

It is true that the London of Shakespeare's time had a homosexual culture which included writers and actors, as well as theatre patrons who paid their pennies to see boy actors playing the parts of women. But it is also true that society in general condemned homosexuality. Liza Picard writes: "Homosexuality was viewed as an abhorrent divergence from the natural order, a crime punishable by death" (172). But society's condemnation of homosexuality would have had no bearing on whether a person was or was not a homosexual. It would, however, have influenced his decision on whether to acknowledge his sexual preference if he was gay.

In the end, the only sure evidence (but not proof) of Shakespeare's sexuality is that he was a husband and father of three children, suggesting that he was a heterosexual. At age 18, he married a neighbor, Anne Hathaway, after she became pregnant with his first child, Susanna. He fathered two more children with Anne, twins Hamnet and Judith. It is also worth noting that in the first seventeen sonnets, Shakespeare urges the handsome man he addresses to have children so that he may pass his excellent qualities on to a new generation. In Sonnet 1, he writes: "From fairest creatures we desire increase, / That thereby beauty's rose might never die" (lines 1-2). Increase here means reproduction. The rose is the young man, who will "never die" if he lives on in his children. If Shakespeare had been homosexual, he would hardly have recommended that the object of his affection seek the arms of a woman. What's more, in Shakespeare's time, public discussion of love was limited to conventional, biblical-approved love. As a practical man concerned about the public's perception of him, Shakespeare probably would never have jeopardized his reputation by owning up to homosexual love. His expressions of affection in the sonnets were well within the bounds of propriety in a day when males could freely voice their love for one another with terms of endearment. Keep in mind, too, that in early sonnets referring to the "dark lady" Shakespeare actually rebukes the young man for attempting to "steal" the dark lady from him.

However, there can be no gainsaying that Shakespeare had competition in his admiration for the young man, for he refers in several sonnets to a rival poet who also praises the young man. The first four lines of Sonnet 80 make such a reference:

O, how I faint when I of you do write,
Knowing a better spirit [the rival poet] doth use your name,
And in the praise thereof spends all his might,
To make me tongue-tied, speaking of your fame!

Likewise, the last two lines of Sonnet 80 refer to this rival. "There lives more life in one of your fair eyes / Than both your poets can in praise devise." No one has successfully pinned down the identity of this rival poet. Nor has anyone cited irrefutable evidence of the identity of the young man (or the mysterious dark lady addressed in Sonnets 126 to 152).

The Young Man, the Dark Lady,
The Rival Poet, and W.H.:
Who Were They?

For centuries, literary sleuths throughout the English-speaking world have pored over old texts and dusty Shakespeare-era records to discover the identity of the person to whom Shakespeare's sonnets were dedicated, the mysterious "W.H." They have also spent countless hours trying to establish the identities of the three principal personas addressed or referred to in the sonnets: the young man, the dark lady, and the rival poet. So far, no one has produced enough undisputed evidence to identify any of these mysterious individuals by name.

The 1609 edition of the sonnets was dedicated to a person identified only with the initials W.H. and signed by a person identified only with the initials T.T.  The latter initials were probably those of the known publisher of the sonnets, Thomas Thorne. He might have (1) written the dedication to express his own wishes or (2) written or copied it to express the wishes of Shakespeare at the time that he was writing the sonnets.

If Thorne was expressing his own wishes, the W.H. to whom the sonnets were dedicated was not necessarily the young man to whom Shakespeare addressed the first 126 sonnets. Instead, W.H. might have been William Hall, an unimportant London printer known to have furnished manuscripts to other printers for publication; William Harvey, the husband of the mother of Henry Wriothesley, the Third Earl of Southampton (widely thought to have been the young man addressed in the sonnets); William Hathaway, Shakespeare's brother-in-law; or some other person. Thorne's dedication may have simply been an expression of gratitude to Hall, Harvey, Hathaway, or another person for bringing the sonnets to Thorne's attention. However, if Thorne was expressing Shakespeare's wishes, the initials W.H. in the dedication might in fact refer to the young man addressed in the sonnets.

As to the identities of the young man, the dark lady, and the rival poet, educated speculation has suggested the following names as those of the mystifying trio.

The Young Man

Henry Wriothesley, Third Earl of Southampton (1573-1624): Patron of writers and favorite at the court of Queen Elizabeth I. Shakespeare dedicated his long poems, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, to Wriothesley (pronounced ROSE le). Wriothesley married Elizabeth Vernon, one of the queen's attendants, in 1598. Supporters of Wriothesley as the young man of the sonnets note that his initials, H.W., are the reverse of the W.H. to whom the sonnets are dedicated.

William Herbert, Third Earl of Pembroke (1580-1630): Nephew of the writer Sir Philip Sidney and student of poet Samuel Daniel. Herbert became a privy councilor of England in 1611 and served as chancellor of Oxford University from 1617 until the time of his death. When Shakespeare's friends compiled the First Folio of his plays in 1623, they dedicated it to Herbert and his brother.

William Hughes: Supposedly a boy actor. The Irish playwright Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) championed a theory that Hughes was the young man. However, no records are available to establish that Hughes was a real person who acted in Shakespeare's time.

William Harte: Nephew of Shakespeare.

William Hatcliffe: A Lord of Misrule. The Lord of Misrule managed Christmas celebrations at the court of the monarch, at the homes of favored nobles, and at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

William Hammond: A literary patron.

William Holgate: A little-known poet.

The Dark Lady

Mary Fitton (1578-1647): Woman of dark complexion who enjoyed a place in the court of Queen Elizabeth I and was married and widowed twice. She gave birth to three illegitimate children fathered by three men.

Anne Whateley (or Whiteley): Resident of Temple Grafton, near Stratford, who may have been a girlfriend of Shakespeare. Evidence suggests that Shakespeare at one time intended to marry her but broke off his relationship to marry Anne Hathaway, who was pregnant with Shakespeare's child.

Jane  Davenant: Wife of the owner of The Crown Inn on Cornmarket Street in Oxford. (The inn still exists.) Supposedly, Shakespeare stopped at the inn on trips between Stratford and London. Shakespeare was the godfather of her child, William Davenant (1606-1668), a playwright and poet of some accomplishment. In 1638, Davenant became poet laureate of England after the death of Ben Jonson (1572-1637), one of England's great poets. Rumors abounded that Davenant was not only Shakespeare's godson but also his biological son. According to some accounts, Davenant once owned the famous Chandos portrait of William Shakespeare.

Emilia Bassano Lanier (1570-1640s): Daughter of Baptista Bassano of Venice. After she moved to England, she was the mistress of Henry Carey, a patron known to Shakespeare. She married Alphonse Lanier, a court musician. Shakespeare created characters named Emilia in three of his plays: Othello, The Comedy of Errors, and The Two Noble Kinsmen.

Elizabeth I (1533-1603): Queen of England from 1558 to 1603 and a supporter of stage plays.

Lucy Morgan: A black woman said to be a prostitute.

Marie Mountjoy: A London landlord who rented lodging to Shakespeare.

The Rival Poet

Michael Drayton (1563-1631): Poet of considerable talent who wrote sonnets, odes, and heroic poems.

Samuel Daniel (1562-1619): Poet, playwright, writer of masques, sonneteer, and author of a verse history of the War of the Roses and a prose history of England.

George Chapman (1559-1634): Playwright and translator of ancient literature, including highly praised translations of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey.

Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593): Elizabethan playwright of the first rank who helped popularize the strengths of blank verse (verse in unrhymed iambic pentameter). Marlowe's most famous plays are The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus (1588), The Jew of Malta (1589), and Tamburlaine the Great (1587). Marlowe also wrote distinguished poetry and, like Chapman, translated ancient literary works.

Ben Jonson (1572-1637): Poet and playwright of the first rank who advocated adherence to the drama rules (unity of time, place, and action) established by the ancient Greeks and later writers. Shakespeare acted in Jonson's first play, Every Man in His Humour, in 1598. Among Jonson's best plays are Volpone (1606) and The Alchemist (1610). Jonson also wrote masques and excellent poetry. He was a friend of Shakespeare who met frequently with him and other writers at the Mermaid Tavern in London.

Edmund Spenser (1552-1599): Poet of the first rank. He is most famous for his monumental epic poem, The Faerie Queene. His wedding poem, "Epithalamion," is one of the finest works of its type.

The Complete Annotated Sonnets

Format Guide

The sonnets contain single words or groups of words that may be difficult for some readers to understand. In this presentation of the sonnets, difficult words and word groups are underlined. Immediately after each sonnet—under the heading "Notes"—are definitions or explanations of the underlined words or word groups. Following the notes is a paraphrase or summary of the sonnet, under the heading "Summary and Meaning," to help make plain what the sonnet says. Sometimes, additional information appears under the heading "Comment."

1-10     11-20     21-30     31-40     41-50     51-60     61-70     71-80     81-90

91-100     101-110     111-120     121-130     131-140     141-150     151-154

Sonnet 1

Addressed to the Young Man

That thereby beauty's rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory:
But thou contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed'st thy light's flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thy self thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel:
Thou that art now the world's fresh ornament,
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content,
And, tender churl, mak'st waste in niggarding:
    Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
    To eat the world's due, by the grave and thee.

Notes

increase: Reproduction, offspring, children.
beauty's rose: Your beauty.
riper: Riper personthat is, older person or aging person.
tender: Young.
contracted . . . eyes: Married to yourself, in love with yourself.
thy light's flame: Love for yourself.
famine . . . lies: Depleting your own abundant beauty.
ornament: Young person.
bud . . . content: Bury your attention inside your own seed, or source of new life, instead of fathering a child.
tender churl: Young miser.
niggarding: Being stingy.

Summary and Meaning

We want beautiful people and things to reproduce themselves so that their good qualities will be passed on to their offspring (children, plants, etc.). It's true that an aging person or thing will eventually die, but the memory of that person or thing will continue to live if offspring are produced. But you, who are in love with yourself, seem to devote all your attention to yourself. You're like the flame of a candle that burns only for itself instead of providing light for others.You are your own enemy. Right now, you are young and new to the world. But instead of procreating and sharing yourself by marrying, you keep your procreative seed inside yourself, unused (thine own bud buriest thy content). Thus, young miser, you waste your good qualities by refusing to spend them on others. In the end, by thinking only of yourself and not mingling with others, you will consume your ability to procreate and go to your grave without any children or memories to immortalize you.

Sonnet 2

Addressed to the Young Man

When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty's field,
Thy youth's proud livery so gazed on now,
Will be a tatter'd weed of small worth held: 
Then being asked, where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days; 
To say, within thine own deep sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame, and thriftless praise.
How much more praise deserv'd thy beauty's use,
If thou couldst answer "This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count, and make my old excuse,"
Proving his beauty by succession thine!
    This were to be new made when thou art old,

    And see thy blood warm when thou feel'st it cold.

Notes

forty winters: Forty years; 
besiege: In the first two lines, Shakespeare compares aging to an army that lays siege to a fortress (the young man). The army digs trenches in the field around the castle. The trenches are the lines in the youth's once-flawless face. 
deep trenches: Wrinkles.
beauty's field: Complexion.
livery: Literally, attire or uniform; figuratively, appearance, good looks.
tatter'd: Withered (aging, old); some editions of the poem use totter'd.
To say: To admit the truth.
Were . . . shame: Would be an all-consuming shame.
thriftless: Without profit.
sum . . . excuse: Stand as proof of a well-spent youth and sustain me in old age.
his . . . thine: The child's beauty came from you.
This . . . . old: Thus your beauty will live anew in him.

Summary and
Meaning

When you reach forty, you will have wrinkles and look like an autumn weed. People will ask what happened to all your beauty and all the treasure of your youth. As you gaze out through your sunken eyes, you will have to admit that you squandered your youth and all its treasure—your looks, your talents, your money—on selfish pursuits. And you will have to acknowledge that any praise you received for your charm and physical appeal is now worthless, a complete waste. How much better it would be if you could answer that your youth produced a beautiful child. Your image and wise use of your good qualities would live on in him and, in your old age, warm your blood when you feel cold. 

Sonnet 3

Addressed to the Young Man

Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest
Now is the time that face should form another;
Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest,
Thou dost beguile the world, unless some mother.
For where is she so fair whose unear'd womb
Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry?
Or who is he so fond will be the tomb
Of his self-love, to stop posterity
Thou art thy mother's glass and she in thee
Calls back the lovely April of her prime;
So thou through windows of thine age shalt see,
Despite of wrinkles, this thy golden time.
    But if thou live, remember'd not to be,

    Die single and thine image dies with thee.

Notes


glass: Mirror.
form another: Beget a child.
unear’d: Not tilled; unplowed.
tillage: Fertilization; cultivation; reception of the male seed.
who . . . posterity: Your fondness for yourself will entomb the memory of you; for, failing to marry, you will not have a child who would preserve your image in him.
mother's glass: Mother's mirror. In other words, the young man is the mirror image of his mother.
she . . . prime: The image of her that I see in you reminds me of her loveliness in her prime.

Summary and
Meaning

Look in a mirror and tell yourself that now is the time to beget a child (“form another,” line 2). There is no woman, after all, who is so outstanding that she will refuse to marry you and engage in intimate relations. It is not right that a man should love only himself, refusing to take a wife and pass on his good qualities to a child. Your mother bequeathed to you your excellent attributes, and you in turn should bestow them on your own child, who will reflect your youth when you are old. If you choose not to marry and have a family, no one will remember you. 

Comment

Sonnet 3 centers on (1) the image the young man sees when he looks into a mirrora reflection of his mother when she was youngand (2) the likelihood that a child of his would reflect his image just as he reflects his mother's. Glass in the first line refers literally to a mirror; in line 9, it refers figuratively to the young man's resemblance to his mother.

Sonnet 4

Addressed to the Young Man

Unthrifty loveliness, why dost thou spend
Upon thy self thy beauty's legacy?
Nature's bequest gives nothing, but doth lend,
And being frank she lends to those are free:
Then, beauteous niggard, why dost thou abuse
The bounteous largess given thee to give?
Profitless usurer, why dost thou use
So great a sum of sums, yet canst not live?
For having traffic with thy self alone,
Thou of thy self thy sweet self dost deceive:
Then how when nature calls thee to be gone,
What acceptable audit canst thou leave?
    Thy unused beauty must be tombed with thee,
    Which, used, lives th' executor to be.


Notes

Unthrifty: Unproductive.
legacy: The beauty that your parents passed on to you.
frank: Generous.
those are free: Those free to be generous.
niggard: Stingy person.
bounteous largess: Plentiful good qualities.
Profitless usurer: A usurer lends to make a profit. (See Comment.)
So . . . alone: You have so much. However, you will have little to make your memory live on, for you are devoted only to yourself.
when . . . gone: When you die.
What . . . leave: What will you leave behind?
Which . . . be: But if you father a child, your qualities will survive in him.

Summary and Meaning

Why are you spending all your vigor and appeal on yourself (instead of sharing it by siring a child)? You ought to keep in mind that nature will eventually take away the youth that she lent to you. You have it for only a short time.Your good qualities are bountiful. You have more than you need. Yet you use all of them on yourself and still are not satisfied. In devoting all of your attention to satisfying your desires, you will end up going to your grave without a child that could inherit part of you and keep you alive in him.

Comment

As a profitless userer, the young man gets no return for the investment of his time, energy, and good qualities; he invests everything in activities that satisfy only himself. If he instead invested in love and marriage, he would realize a return: a child.

Sonnet 5

Addressed to the Young Man

Those hours, that with gentle work did frame
The lovely gaze where every eye doth dwell,
Will play the tyrants to the very same
And that unfair which fairly doth excel:
For never-resting time leads summer on
To hideous winter and confounds him there;
Sap check'd with frost and lusty leaves quite gone,
Beauty o'ersnow'd and bareness every where:
Then, were not summer's distillation left,
A liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass,
Beauty's effect with beauty were bereft,
Nor it nor no remembrance what it was:
    But flowers distill'd though they with winter meet,
    Leese but their show; their substance still lives sweet.


Notes

gaze: The young man's face.
Will play . . . doth excel: Time will become a tyrant to you and undo your good looks.
check'd: Frozen.
summer's distillation: Perfume from flowers.
A liquid . . . glass: Perfume in a bottle.
Leese: Lose.

Summary and Meaning

Time shaped you into a handsome young man upon whom everyone gazes. But time will eventually become a tyrant that will undo all of your good looks. For time does not rest; it moves from one season to the next, turning summer into hideous winter, stopping up the sap from trees with frost and killing the leaves on the trees. All is bare; snow covers whatever beauty there is. If people did not extract perfume from summer flowers and put it in a bottle, there would be nothing left from the summer. But flowers that leave part of themselves behind live on through winter. (In other words, the young man should take the time to marry and leave behind part of himself, a child.)

Sonnet 6

Addressed to the Young Man

Then let not winter's ragged hand deface,
In thee thy summer, ere thou be distilled:
Make sweet some vial; treasure thou some place
With beauty's treasure ere it be self-killed.
That use is not forbidden usury,
Which happies those that pay the willing loan;
That's for thy self to breed another thee,
Or ten times happier, be it ten for one;
Ten times thy self were happier than thou art,
If ten of thine ten times refigured thee:
Then what could death do if thou shouldst depart,
Leaving thee living in posterity?
    Be not self-willed, for thou art much too fair
    To be death's conquest and make worms thine heir.

Notes

winter's . . . hand: Old age.
summer: Youth.
ere: Before.
be distilled: Have a child who is the essence of you.
vial: Woman who will receive his seed.
beauty's treasure: The young man's seed.
forbidden usury . . .  one: Usury is the practice of lending money at interest. In earlier times, usury was considered a sin. Here, Shakespeare compares fathering offspring to lending money. The children the mother bears would be the "interest" she pays the father. But this type of "usury," the speaker says, would not be sinful.
Leaving . . . posterity: Leaving you to live on in your children after you die.

Summary and Meaning

Don't let old age deface you before you have a child. Take a wife and sweeten her womb with your offspring before you die. To use your creative power in such a way
to create another youwould make others happy. And if you fathered more than one child the happiness would multiply. Ten children would bring tenfold happiness. After your death, you would live on through your children. Let children be your heirs, not the worms that will consume you in your grave.

Sonnet 7

Addressed to the Young Man

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;
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:
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:
    So thou, thyself outgoing in thy noon
    Unlooked on diest unless thou get a son.

Notes

orient: East.
gracious light: Sun.
each . . . eye: Each person.
heavenly hill: Sky.
golden pilgrimage: Journey of the sun across the sky.
highmost pitch: Highest point; zenith.
The eyes . . .duteous: The people, previously attentive to the sun. Here, 'fore means before or previously.

Summary and Meaning

When the sun rises, people are thankful for the light that renews their ability to see. They pay it homage as a king of the day. When the sun climbs in the sky, people continue to glory in the light that it provides. But when the sun reaches its highest point and wearies from its journey, like an old man, the eyes of the people below turn their attention away from it. So it will be with you after you reach middle age and people no longer admire you as they did in your glorious youth. But if you father a son, people will continue to admire you
, in the likeness of your child.

Sonnet 8

Addressed to the Young Man

Music to hear, why hear'st thou music sadly?
Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy:
Why lov'st thou that which thou receiv'st not gladly,
Or else receiv'st with pleasure thine annoy?
If the true concord of well-tuned sounds,
By unions married, do offend thine ear,
They do but sweetly chide thee, who confounds
In singleness the parts that thou shouldst bear.
Mark how one string, sweet husband to another,
Strikes each in each by mutual ordering;
Resembling sire and child and happy mother,
Who, all in one, one pleasing note do sing:
    Whose speechless song being many, seeming one,
    Sings this to thee: 'Thou single wilt prove none.'

Notes

receiv'st . . . annoy?: Why do you receive with pleasure that which annoys you?
concord: Harmony.
Resembling . . . mother: The notes harmonize the way a husband, wife, and their child do.
speechless song: Song for instruments, not voices.

Summary and Meaning

When you listen to music, why does it make you unhappy? I think I know why. It makes you unhappy because it reminds you that music is like marriage. Consider that music is a combination of separate notes played in harmony. In like manner, marriage is a combination of separate people—a man, a woman, and eventually their offspring—who live together in harmony. You, however, are living alone, like a single note played again and again. There is no harmony. Consequently, when you hear a song, its notes “chide thee” (line 7)—that is, they scold you for refusing to marry and take part in the harmony of married life. In marriage, one note becomes “sweet husband to another” (line 9). After a child arrives, the husband, wife, and child or children all make harmony together. Though they are separate “notes,” they harmonize to make one pleasing song. That song tells you that you will never achieve harmony in life unless you marry.

Sonnet 9

Addressed to the Young Man

Is it for fear to wet a widow's eye,
That thou consum'st thy self in single life?
Ah! if thou issueless shalt hap to die,
The world will wail thee like a makeless wife;
The world will be thy widow and still weep
That thou no form of thee hast left behind,
When every private widow well may keep
By children's eyes, her husband's shape in mind:
Look what an unthrift in the world doth spend
Shifts but his place, for still the world enjoys it;
But beauty's waste hath in the world an end,
And kept unused the user so destroys it.
    No love toward others in that bosom sits
    That on himself such murderous shame commits.

Notes

Is it . . . eye: Is it because you are afraid that your death will make your widow cry . . .
issueless: Without children.
hap: Happen.

makeless: Childless.
no form of thee: No child .
may keep . . . mind: May be reminded of her late husband by her children's resemblance to him.
unthrift: Spendthrift.
Shifts . . . place: Continues to circulate in the hands of the public.
But beauty's . . . destroys it: When an unmarried man dies, he leaves nothing behind and thus destroys his image.
Murderous shame: Failure to father a child.

Summary and Meaning

The first two lines ask whether the young man refuses to marry for fear that he will leave behind a saddened widow when he dies. If he remains single because of that fear, the sonnet says, he should keep in mind that the world itself will weep for him because he died without children to preserve his image in them. He will become less than a wastrel, who lives on after his death in the still-circulating money that he spent. Shakespeare ends the sonnet by saying that the young man’s avoidance of marriage is shameful.

Sonnet 10

Addressed to the Young Man

For shame deny that thou bear'st love to any,
Who for thy self art so unprovident.
Grant, if thou wilt, thou art beloved of many,
But that thou none lov'st is most evident:
For thou art so possessed with murderous hate,
That 'gainst thy self thou stick'st not to conspire,
Seeking that beauteous roof to ruinate
Which to repair should be thy chief desire.
O! change thy thought, that I may change my mind:
Shall hate be fairer lodged than gentle love?
Be, as thy presence is, gracious and kind,
Or to thyself at least kind-hearted prove:
    Make thee another self for love of me,
    That beauty still may live in thine or thee.

Notes

unprovident: Not providing for the future; rash; incautious; improvident.
so . . . hate: So determined not to marry and have children—that is, determined to “murder” future generations.
beauteous roof: The noble house from which you descended. Not marrying and having children would mean the end of this house. The roof would collapse.
repair: You should maintain the house to assure that noble blood still runs in the veins of those who live in it. In other words, you should have children.

Summary and Meaning

You should be ashamed that you do not love anyone. Obviously, you don't care about providing ("thy self art so unprovident," line 2) a future life for yourself that includes a wife and children. I grant you, though, that many people love you even though you don't love any of them. You are so possessed with the idea of remaining single that you, in effect, are "murdering" the possibility of having children. You apparently seek to be the last of the line from which you are descended. You are inclined not to pass on to others the blood that you inherited from your forebears. If this truly is your attitude, your noble house will be ruined (line 7); it will end with you. But your chief desire should be to perpetuate your blood line. Therefore, I ask you to change your thinking so that I may change my negative opinion of you. Don't let hatred of marriage lodge in your heart. Instead, let love live there. Be as gracious and kind as your physical image—with all of its superior qualities—suggests that you are. Do it for your own sake. I ask you again: father a child. Do this one favor for me. I want your beauty to live on in others. Deciding to father a child will make beauty glow in you.

Sonnet 11

Addressed to the Young Man

As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou grow'st
In one of thine, from that which thou departest;
And that fresh blood which youngly thou bestow'st,
Thou mayst call thine when thou from youth convertest.
Herein lives wisdom, beauty, and increase;
Without this folly, age, and cold decay:
If all were minded so, the times should cease
And threescore year would make the world away.
Let those whom nature hath not made for store,
Harsh, featureless, and rude, barrenly perish:
Look whom she best endowed, she gave the more;
Which bounteous gift thou shouldst in bounty cherish:
    She carved thee for her seal, and meant thereby,
    Thou shouldst print more, not let that copy die.

Notes

wane: Weaken; decline.
one of thine: One of your children.
that fresh blood: A child.
When thou . . . convertest: When you grow old.
Herein: In this way of life—that is, in marrying and fathering children.
Increase: Offspring.
Without . . . decay: Without the folly of growing old alone.
If all . . . so: If every man decided not to marry.
threescore year: Sixty years.
barrenly perish: Die without children.
she . . . endowed: Nature endowed you with superior qualities.
print more: Print more copies of yourself—that is, father children.

Summary and Meaning

As fast as you age and weaken, a child of yours would grow. His “fresh blood” (line 3) would comfort you as the years pass. Choosing to father a child in marriage would be a wise and beautiful course of action and assure that your good qualities would live on in the child. Choosing to remain single, however, would be folly and would leave you cold, decrepit, and alone in your old age. If everyone decided to remain single, the world would soon end. Let those whom nature has not marked to sire children—those who are crude and ugly—die without children. Those whom nature endowed with superior gifts should cherish them and pass them on in marriage.

Sonnet 12

Addressed to the Young Man

When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls, all silvered o'er with white; 
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves,
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And summer's green all girded up in sheaves,
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard,
Then of thy beauty do I question make,
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake
And die as fast as they see others grow;
    And nothing 'gainst Time's scythe can make defence
    Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence. 

Notes

brave: Splendid; shining.
sable: Black.
erst: Formerly; at one time.
canopy: Cover, like an umbrella. 
green . . . sheaves: Harvested grain stalks tied in bundles.
bier: Cart, wagon.
beard: Tufted growth on the head of a cereal grain.
question make: Think about.
among . . . go: Must die, just as the violets, leaves, crops, etc.
scythe: Sickle, symbol of death; grim reaper
breed: Offspring, children.
brave him: Mock death, taunt death.

Summary and Meaning

The toll or tick of a clock, the setting sun, withering flowers, falling leaves, the autumn harvest all make me aware of the passing of time, reminding me that you (the young man) too will grow old and die. Therefore, now, while you are still young, you should marry and breed (have children) who will live on after you. Only in this way can you defeat death.
 
Comment

Sonnet 12 centers on symbols of impending death: hideous night, the violet past prime, once-black hair now silvered, barren trees, and the season's harvest carried on a bier. These images prompt the speaker of the poem to remind the young man that time is passing swiftly. His only defense against time and death is to father a child that keeps his name and image alive.

Sonnet 13

Addressed to the Young Man

O! that you were your self; but, love, you are
No longer yours, than you your self here live:
Against this coming end you should prepare,
And your sweet semblance to some other give:
So should that beauty which you hold in lease
Find no determination; then you were
Yourself again, after yourself's decease,
When your sweet issue your sweet form should bear.
Who lets so fair a house fall to decay,
Which husbandry in honour might uphold,
Against the stormy gusts of winter's day
And barren rage of death's eternal cold?
    O! none but unthrifts. Dear my love, you know,
    You had a father: let your son say so.

Notes

were: Owned.
than: Any more than.
semblance: Appearance; likeness; face.
in lease: Temporarily.
no determination: No end.
then . . . decease: Through a child that you father, you would be yourself again after you die. In other words, you would live on in your child.
issue: Child.
husbandry: Careful management.
unthrifts: Careless people who cannot manage property or money.

Summary and Meaning

Oh, I wish that you belonged to yourself. But you do not. Instead, you belong to death, which one day will come to claim you. However, it is possible to pass the image of yourself on to another person—a child that you father. This child would bear your form; he would be another you. It is foolhardy to allow a beautiful house to fall to ruin; such a house should stand for generations. Likewise, it is foolhardy for you to neglect your duty to keep your house standing. Therefore, seek to perpetuate your house through a child you beget, passing on your beauty to him. You had a father. Let your son say he also had one.

Sonnet 14

Addressed to the Young Man

Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck;
And yet methinks I have Astronomy,
But not to tell of good or evil luck,
Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons' quality;
Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell,
Pointing to each his thunder, rain and wind,
Or say with princes if it shall go well
By oft predict that I in heaven find:
But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive,
And, constant stars, in them I read such art
As truth and beauty shall together thrive,
If from thyself, to store thou wouldst convert;
    Or else of thee this I prognosticate:
    Thy end is truth's and beauty's doom and date.

Notes

Astronomy: Ability to use the stars to predict the future; astrology.
dearths: Famines.
constant: Faithful; reliable in the ability to reveal the future.
If . . . convert: If you decide to store yourself in another person—that is, if you father a child.
prognosticate: Predict.

Summary and Meaning

I do not read the stars to make a judgment. Nevertheless, I think am an astrologer—in a manner of speaking. True, I cannot foresee good luck or bad luck, plagues, famines, or the kind of weather we will have for a season of the year. Moreover, I cannot tell a person's fortune—whether his life will be stormy or calm. Nor can I predict what is in store for a country's ruler when he ascends his throne. However, I can derive knowledge from your eyes, which are constant stars. They tell me that truth and beauty will thrive in a child that you father. But if you fail to sire a child, your death will mark the end of truth and beauty.

Sonnet 15

Addressed to the Young Man

When I consider every thing that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment,
That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows
Whereon the stars in secret influence comment;
When I perceive that men as plants increase,
Cheered and checked even by the self-same sky,
Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,
And wear their brave state out of memory;
Then the conceit of this inconstant stay
Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,
Where wasteful Time debateth with decay
To change your day of youth to sullied night,
    And all in war with Time for love of you,
    As he takes from you, I engraft you new.

Notes

holds in perfection: Is at its best.
huge stage: Earth.
plants: Living beings.
Vaunt: Boastful; proud.
at . . . decrease: Youthful vigor begins to decline when it reaches its height.
conceit: Thought; idea.
debateth with decay: Conspires with decay.
sullied night: Middle age or old age.
And all . . . new: As time robs you of your youth, I create you anew in my sonnets.

Summary and Meaning

Everything on earth that passes through stages of growth is at its peak of perfection only for a short time. Moreover, everything is under the influence of the stars. When men progress through their stages of growth, the stars help or hinder them. In their youth, men boast about their powers. But after reaching an advanced age, they can no longer muster the vigor that carried them through youth. Then the thought of our short time spent on earth presents to my mind an image of you. Time and decay argue about how best to corrupt your body, changing your day of youth to dark night. But I battle time in my poems for love of you. As time takes away your youthful qualities, I make them new again in these sonnets.

Sonnet 16

Addressed to the Young Man

But wherefore do not you a mightier way
Make war upon this bloody tyrant, Time?
And fortify your self in your decay
With means more blessed than my barren rhyme?
Now stand you on the top of happy hours,
And many maiden gardens, yet unset,
With virtuous wish would bear you living flowers,
Much liker than your painted counterfeit:
So should the lines of life that life repair,
Which this, Time's pencil, or my pupil pen,
Neither in inward worth nor outward fair,
Can make you live your self in eyes of men.
    To give away yourself, keeps yourself still,
    And you must live, drawn by your own sweet skill.

Notes

wherefore: Why.
decay: Aging; death.
With  . . . rhyme: Fathering a child would be a better way to preserve your memory than my verse is.
stand . . . hours: You are in the prime of youth.
maiden gardens: Metaphor for young women in whom the young man's child could grow.
flowers: Children.
painted counterfeit: Painted portrait; sonnets that describe the young man.

Summary and Meaning

You could make war on time in a better way than I can. Namely, you could father a child. He or she would be a greater blessing than my poetry to preserve your good qualities, for the child would be a new you. At this moment, you are in the full blossom of youth, and many a maiden would take joy in marrying you and bearing your child, who would better represent you than my sonnets. These sonnets cannot make you fully live in the eyes of men. But passing yourself on to a child that you have authored will enable you to live all over again in his person.

Sonnet 17

Addressed to the Young Man

Who will believe my verse in time to come,
If it were filled with your most high deserts?
Though yet heaven knows it is but as a tomb
Which hides your life, and shows not half your parts.
If I could write the beauty of your eyes,
And in fresh numbers number all your graces,
The age to come would say "This poet lies;
Such heavenly touches ne'er touched earthly faces."
So should my papers, yellowed with their age,
Be scorned, like old men of less truth than tongue,
And your true rights be termed a poet's rage
And stretched metre of an antique song:
    But were some child of yours alive that time,
    You should live twice, in it, and in my rhyme.

Notes

high deserts: Superior qualities.
it is but a tomb . . . parts: My poetry is like a tomb because it hides your qualities.
numbers: Verses, poems.
touches: Qualities, attributes.
papers: Poems
old . . . tongue: Lying old men.
rage: Zeal, passion, enthusiasm.
stretched: exaggerated.
You . . . rhyme: You would live on in your child and in my poetry.

Summary and
Meaning

Will future readers of my verse believe me when I tell them about all of your superior qualities? So far, I have only hinted at these qualities because a full description of them would make readers doubt that anyone could have such extraordinary attributes. They would call me a liar. They would say I am exaggerating (with “stretched meter”). However, if you marry and father a child, people will see a reflection of you in the child and thus my poetry about you will be taken as the truth.

Sonnet 18

Addressed to the Young Man

This sonnet is one of Shakespeare's most popular because of the beauty of its poetry and rhythm. It differs from the previous seventeen sonnets in one key respect: It does not urge the young man to marry and have children. The reason for this new approach is that the author is apparently convinced that his poetry alone is enough to preserve the memory of the young man's outstanding qualities.

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course untrimmed:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st,
    So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
    So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Notes

temperate: Mild; moderate.
May: This month was thought by many in Shakespeare's time to be part of summer.
summer's . . . date: Summer does not last long.
eye of heaven: Sun.
often . . . dimmed: Clouds often pass between the sun and the earth, dimming or hiding its radiance.
every . . . declines: Every beautiful person or thing eventually diminishes in its attractiveness.
ow'st: ownest; own; possess.
Nor shall  . . . grow'st: Death cannot brag that he has conquered (or will conquer) you when the lines of my sonnets immoralize you.
this: This poem.

Summary and Meaning


If I compared you to a summer day, I'd have to say you are more beautiful and serene. By comparison, summer is rough on budding life, and it doesn't last long either. At times the summer sun is too hot, and at other times clouds dim its brilliance. Everything fair in nature becomes less fair at some time. No one can change nature or chance. However, you yourself will not fade or lose ownership of your fairness. Not even death will claim you, because these lines I write will immortalize you.

Sonnet 19

Addressed to Time

Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion's paws,
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger's jaws,
And burn the long-lived phoenix in her blood;
Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleet'st,
And do whate'er thou wilt, swift-footed Time,
To the wide world and all her fading sweets;
But I forbid thee one most heinous crime:
O! carve not with thy hours my love's fair brow,
Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen;
Him in thy course untainted do allow
For beauty's pattern to succeeding men.
    Yet, do thy worst old Time: despite thy wrong,
    My love shall in my verse ever live young.

Notes

Devouring Time: The speaker directly addresses time. Addressing an abstraction such as time, love, ambition, power, hatred, and so on contstitutes a figure of speech known as apostrophe.
blunt . . . paws: Blunt the claws of lions.
make . . . brood: Close up in graves the people and other creatures that die.
phoenix: In Egyptian mythology, the phoenix was a bird that lived five hundred years, then died in a fire after the sun ignited an Arabian tree on which the phoenix was perched. The tree was located near Heliopolis, Egypt. From the ashes, the phoenix rose to new life.
fleet'st: Speedily pass by.
fading: Aging.
carve not: Do not age; do not disfigure.
untainted: Unchanged by age.

Summary and Meaning

Time, go ahead and work your effects on the world as the years pass. For example, blunt the lion's claws as he ages, and make the earth entomb its creatures after their life ends. Moreover,  pull out the old and decaying teeth from the tiger's jaws and end the life of the phoenix, the bird that has the power to regenerate itself. As you swiftly pass, make some seasons of the year happy and some sorry, according to your wishes. But I forbid you to etch the signs of aging into the brow of my beloved friend. Instead, allow him to pass through life untainted by the corruption of years. However, if you do your worst against him, he will still remain young and pristine in my verses.

Sonnet 20

Addressed to the Young Man

A woman's face with nature's own hand painted,
Hast thou, the master mistress of my passion;
A woman's gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false women's fashion:
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
A man in hue all hues in his controlling,
Which steals men's eyes and women's souls amazeth.
And for a woman wert thou first created;
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
    But since she prick'd thee out for women's pleasure,
    Mine be thy love and thy love's use their treasure.

Notes

A woman's face: The young man has the face of a woman, for he inherited his good looks from his mother. (Sonnet 3 lready pointed out that the young man was his "mother's glass"
that is, the image of his mother.)
with . . . painted: Free of cosmetics; natural.
master mistress: Oxymoron (a figure of speech juxtaposing contradictory terms). The oxymoron is that the young man is both a master (male) and a mistress (female) at the same time.
but not . . . . change: Not fickle; not changing at every whim.
Gilding: Giving a golden sheen to.
A man . . . controlling: Even though you have "a woman's face" (line 1), you are man
—a man whose appearance and aspect is superior to those of all others, men and women.
wert: were.
wrought: Made.
by  . . . defeated: By the addition of your penis, she ended my thoughts of developing a male-female relationship with you.

Summary and Meaning

You have the face and gentle heart of a woman, but not the fickleness of her temperament. Your eyes are brighter than a woman's. However, they do not roll with flirtation the way a woman's do. You are a man who attracts the eyes of both men and women. Although you were first created as a woman, Nature endowed you with the male reproductive organ. But since nature marked you out for women's pleasure, I'll at least be able to keep and appreciate your affection while women pursue you for your good looks.

Sonnet 21

Observations of the Speaker

So is it not with me as with that Muse,
Stirred by a painted beauty to his verse,
Who heaven itself for ornament doth use
And every fair with his fair doth rehearse,
Making a couplement of proud compare
With sun and moon, with earth and sea's rich gems,
With April's first-born flowers, and all things rare,
That heaven's air in this huge rondure hems.
O! let me, true in love, but truly write,
And then believe me, my love is as fair
As any mother's child, though not so bright
As those gold candles fixed in heaven's air:
    Let them say more that like of hearsay well;
    I will not praise that purpose not to sell.

Notes

that Muse: Another writer.
painted beauty: One who uses cosmetics.
every fair . . . rehearse: He compares (rehearses) his beloved with every fair (beautiful) thing that he sees.
Making a couplement: Making his beloved and the beautiful thing two of a kind.
rondure: The earth.
though . . .  air: Though not so bright as the stars.  A possible interpretation of this line is that the speaker's friend does not need to be compared to the stars. His natural pleasing appearance stands for itself.
that . . . hearsay: That partake of idle conversation; that gossip.
I will not . . . sell: I will not praise the young man just to sell my verses or enhance my reputation.

Summary and Meaning

I am not like that other poet. He writes about a woman who paints herself with cosmetics to enhance her looks. In his verse, he uses wildly extravagant language to describe her, characterizing her as an ornament of heaven. He compares her to the sun and the moon, to precious gems, and to spring's first flowers. I don't need to use such exaggerations when I write about the friend I love. Instead, all I need to do is tell the truth. For he is as fair as anyone else who walks the earth. The truth will serve him best, without lavish, high-flown phrases to adorn his description. I will not cheapen my poetry with such phrases just so I can attract attention and sell my work.

Sonnet 22

Addressed to the Young Man

My glass shall not persuade me I am old,
So long as youth and thou are of one date;
But when in thee time's furrows I behold,
Then look I death my days should expiate
For all that beauty that doth cover thee,
Is but the seemly raiment of my heart,
Which in thy breast doth live, as thine in me:
How can I then be elder than thou art?
O! therefore, love, be of thyself so wary
As I, not for myself, but for thee will;
Bearing thy heart, which I will keep so chary
As tender nurse her babe from faring ill.
    Presume not on thy heart when mine is slain,
    Thou gav'st me thine not to give back again.
 
Notes

glass: Mirror
So . . . date: As long as you and youth are the same agein others words, as long as you remain young.
furrows: Wrinkles; signs of aging.
Then . . . expiate: Then let death claim me as payment for my sins (days).
seemly raiment: The youth's beauty. (The speaker's heart wears the beauty like clothing.)
in thy breast . . . me: My heart lives in you, and your heart lives in me.
be of thyself . . . will: Be concerned about your welfare; be as concerned about it as I am.
chary: Safe; free from harm.
Presume . . . again: Do not presume that your heart will go on beating when mine stops, for your heart and mine are the same. These lines could be a warning not to cross the speaker.

Summary and Meaning

Even though my mirror tells me that I am aging, the speaker says, I will not grow old while you remain young. However, when I see wrinkles (“time’s furrows”) on your face, then I will look for death to come for me and take me as payment for any offenses I may have committed in my life. Your heart and mine are bound together, and I will guard yours as carefully as a nurse caring for a baby. But do not presume that you will be unaffected when my heart is no longer able to beat for you. Here, the speaker appears to be warning the young man that ending their friendship would have adverse consequences.

Sonnet 23

Addressed to the Young Man

As an unperfect actor on the stage 
Who with his fear is put beside his part
Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage, 
Whose strength’s abundance weakens his own heart; 
So I, for fear of trust, forget to say 
The perfect ceremony of love’s rite, 
And in mine own love’s strength seem to decay
O’ercharg’d with burden of mine own love’s might
O! let my books be then the eloquence 
And dumb presagers of my speaking breast, 
Who plead for love, and look for recompense, 
More than that tongue that more hath more express’d
    O! learn to read what silent love hath writ: 
    To hear with eyes belongs to love’s fine wit. 

Notes

As an . . . his part: Like an imperfect actor who worries about making a mistake; like an actor with stagefright.
for fear of trust: The speaker, afraid to trust himself to remember the right words, tends to forget them.
in mine . . . love's might: The speaker's ability to keep his composure dwindles under the burden of his strong love for his friend (the young man).
dumb presagers: Mute predictors or indicators. The speaker has decided to convey his feelings through his writing. Writing, of course, makes no sound; it is mute, or dumb.
Who: The dumb presagers of line 10.
More than . . . express'd: The speaker pleads with more earnestness than has another writer or admirer of the young man.

Summary and Meaning

The speaker is like an an actor with stagefright or like a "fierce thing" with so much rage that his heart weakens. First, like the actor, the speaker is afraid to speak the lines expressing his love for the young man; for he might use the wrong words. Second, like the fierce creature, the speaker is weak under the burden of emotionthe emotion of love. 
Therefore, he says, he will let his writing do the speaking for him. The young man should learn to read of the speaker's silent love. He will then be able to hear the speaker's words in the words written on the page.

Sonnet 24

Addressed to the Young Man

Not from the stars do I my judgment pluck 
And yet methinks I have astronomy, 
But not to tell of good or evil luck, 
Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons’ quality
Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell,
Pointing to each his thunder, rain, and wind
Or say with princes if it shall go well, 
By oft predict that I in heaven find: 
But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive, 
And, constant stars, in them I read such art
As "Truth and beauty shall together thrive, 
If from thyself to store thou wouldst convert;" 
    Or else of thee this I prognosticate
    "Thy end is truth’s and beauty’s doom and date." 

Notes


the stars: Astrology.
astronomy: Astrology.

dearths: Poverty and famine.
seasons' quality: The quality of farm crops.
thunder . . . wind: Problems; difficulties.
constant stars: The young man's eyes. Constant appears to mean loyal, faithful, or unchanging.
If from . . . convert: If the young man ceases spending so much time on himself and marries and fathers a child.
prognosticate: Predict.

Summary and Meaning

The speaker says he does not base his judgment on the movement of the stars, as astrologers do. However, he does have an instinct for predicting outcomesbut not to foretell good or evil events, or plagues, poverty and famine, or crop harvests. Nor can he briefly sum up what will befall a person or whether a prince will have good fortune. But merely by looking into the eyes of the young man, he can determine that truth and beauty will endure if the young man gives up his wastrel ways and fathers a child. If he does not do so, truth and beauty will die with him instead of living on in the child. 

Sonnet 25

Addressed to the Young Man

Let those who are in favour with their stars
Of public honour and proud titles boast,
Whilst I, whom fortune of such triumph bars
Unlook'd for joy in that I honour most.
Great princes' favourites their fair leaves spread
But as the marigold at the sun's eye,
And in themselves their pride lies buried,
For at a frown they in their glory die.
The painful warrior famoused for fight,
After a thousand victories once foiled,
Is from the book of honour razed quite,
And all the rest forgot for which he toiled:
    Then happy I, that love and am beloved,
    Where I may not remove nor be removed.

Notes

are . . . stars: Enjoy good fortune.
Of . . . boast: Boast of public honour and proud titles.
fortune . . . joy: Fortune bars me from experiencing unsought or unexpected joy.
princes: Rulers such as kings, queens, emperors, dukes, and so on.
fair . . . eye: Open up like sunflower petals in sunlight.
famoused: Made famous by his fighting.
foiled: Defeated.
razed quite: Removed entirely.

Summary and Meaning

Let people favored by fortune boast of their honors and proud titles. I myself—lacking public honors and lofty titles—cannot makes such boasts. However, I derive great satisfaction from receiving your unsolicited and continuing affection. In this respect, I am more fortunate than a ruler's favored subjects assembled at court like marigolds in a meadow. If the sun shines on them, they thrive. But if the sun denies them its radiance, they languish. I am also more fortunate than a battlefield warrior who has lost one encounter after winning a thousand. His defeat erases all of his honors. How happy I am that I love you and you love me in return. No one can take this pleasure—this honor—away from me.

Sonnet 26

Addressed to the Young Man

Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage
Thy merit hath my duty strongly knit,
To thee I send this written embassage,
To witness duty, not to show my wit:
Duty so great, which wit so poor as mine
May make seem bare, in wanting words to show it,
But that I hope some good conceit of thine
In thy soul's thought, all naked, will bestow it:
Till whatsoever star that guides my moving,
Points on me graciously with fair aspect,
And puts apparel on my tottered loving,
To show me worthy of thy sweet respect:
    Then may I dare to boast how I do love thee;
   
Till then, not show my head where thou mayst prove me.

Notes

vassalage: Servitude
Thy . . . knit: As a poet and affectionate friend, I have a duty to write about your good qualities.
embassage: Message.
To witness duty: To affirm my devotion to you.
wit: Writing skill.
conceit: Idea; conceived image.
moving: Actions.
Points . . . aspect: Favors me.
puts . . . respect: And empowers me to write about you with skill that earns your respect.

Summary and Meaning

You are the lord of my love, and I am your servant. I send you this message to attest to my devotion to you rather than to show what a clever writer I am. My servile dedication to you is so great that I cannot find words to describe it. I do hope, however, that you have in your soul some idea of what you mean to me and why I am always ready to serve you. Anyway, here is the gist of my message: Until the stars favor me with the ability to write about you with the kind of skill that earns your respect, I will avoid seeking your opinion on the quality of my poems about you.

Sonnet  27

Addressed to the Young Man

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head
To work my mind, when body’s work’s expir’d:
For then my thoughts—from far where I abide—
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see:
Save that my soul’s imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.
    Lo! thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
    For thee, and for myself no quiet find.

Notes

For then . . . to thee: While lying in bed, far from the physical presence of the young man, the speaker intends to make a mental "pilgrimage" to the young man.
jewel: The young man's shadow.

Summary and Meaning

Tired from the day's tasks, the speaker goes to bed. But then his mind begins to wander and he takes an imaginary trip, in the darkness of the night, to the young man. But in the darkness he sees only the shadow of the youth. However, this shadow is like a jewel against the dark background and makes the night beautiful and renews its old face. Thus, whether in the day or in the night, the speaker spends his energy on the youth.

Comment

The central image of this sonnet is a simile that compares the young man's shadow to a jewel contrasted against the blackness of night. This image emphasizes the importance of the young man to the speaker. Day and night, the speaker thinks of him. Unlke other sonnets, Sonnet 27 is straightforward and easy to understand for the modern reader.

Sonnet 28

Addressed to the Young Man

How can I then return in happy plight,
That am debarred the benefit of rest?
When day's oppression is not eas'd by night,
But day by night and night by day oppressed,
And each, though enemies to either's reign,
Do in consent shake hands to torture me,
The one by toil, the other to complain
How far I toil, still farther off from thee
I tell the day, to please him thou art bright,
And dost him grace when clouds do blot the heaven:
So flatter I the swart-complexion'd night,
When sparkling stars twire not thou gild'st the even.
    But day doth daily draw my sorrows longer,
    And night doth nightly make grief's length seem stronger.

Notes

plight
: Mood; humor; state of mind.
toil: Work; exertion.
the other . . . . from thee: Night reminds speaker that, as he toils, the young man is far away from him. Consequently, the speaker cannot sleep.
dost . . . grace: Do adorn the day; do maintain the day's brightness.

swart-complexion'd: Dark-complexioned.
twire: Twinkle, gleam.
even: Evening. 


Summary and Meaning

Sonnet 28 continues the theme of Sonnet 27: that the speaker is losing sleep over his preoccupation with the young man. In a metaphor and personification, the speaker says the day and the night, though natural enemies, have agreed to conspire against him and torture him. In another metaphor and personification, the speaker says he tries to please the day and the night with flattery. He tells the day that it remains bright on cloudy days because the young man's radiance brightens the day. He tells the night that it remains beautiful on a starless night because the young man's radiance shines like the stars. But his tactics fail. Both day and night intensify their campaign against him.

Sonnet 29

Addressed to the Young Man

When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes

I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts my self almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
    For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
    That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Notes

beweep: Lament; weep over.
deaf heaven: Heaven does not listen to his pleas.
bootless: futile; having no effect.
art: Skill; know-how; winning manner or demeanor.
scope: breadth of intellect, ability, insight, etc.
With what . . . least: I am so upset that the things I ordinarily enjoy do not content me in the least.
haply: By chance; luckily.

Summary and Meaning

When I experience misfortune and disgrace in the eyes of others, I weep alone. Heaven does not hear my cries, and I curse my fate, wishing I had the qualities and good fortune of others. At such times, I am not even happy with the things that I previously enjoyed. However, thoughts of you boost my spirits and, before long, I am like a lark singing at the break of day. Remembering you brings me such a wealth of good feelings that I would not change places with anyone, even a king.

Sonnet 30

Addressed to the Young Man

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death's dateless night,
And weep afresh love's long since cancelled woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanished sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
    But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
    All losses are restor'd and sorrows end.

Notes

sigh: Regret; bemoan.
lack . . . sought: Failure to get what I wanted; failure to realize my dreams.
Then can . . . flow: Then can I cry, which I am not used to doing.
friends . . . night: Dead friends.
And weep . . . woe: And weep again over the hurt I experienced after loving relationships ended.
expense: Emotional cost.
foregone: Previous; in the past.
tell o'er: Relive.
fore-bemoaned moan: Sadness the speaker previously endured.

Summary and Meaning

When I am alone with my thoughts, I muse over the past and sigh about things I sought but did not gain. I then regret my waste of time and cry about friends who died. I weep again about my loving relationships in the past even though I thought I had forgotten about them and the pain they caused. I also moan about people I once loved who are now vanished from my sight. I grieve about the past and relive its pains, as if I had not suffered enough when I experienced them. However, if I think about you, all of my pain ends and I am new again.

Sonnet 31

Addressed to the Young Man

Thy bosom is endeared with all hearts,
Which I by lacking have supposed dead;
And there reigns Love, and all Love's loving parts,
And all those friends which I thought buried.
How many a holy and obsequious tear
Hath dear religious love stol'n from mine eye,
As interest of the dead, which now appear
But things removed that hidden in thee lie!
Thou art the grave where buried love doth live,
Hung with the trophies of my lovers gone,
Who all their parts of me to thee did give,
That due of many now is thine alone:
    Their images I loved, I view in thee,
    And thou (all they) hast all the all of me.

Notes

hearts: Other friends.
Which I . . . dead: People I thought were dead because I no longer received their love.
obsequious: Funereal. (The speaker wept at the funerals of his friends.)
As interest of the dead: The speaker's weeping was like an offering of money for his deceased friends.
trophies: Souvenirs; memories.

Summary and Meaning

You were dear to friends of mine whom I presume are dead because I haven't seen them or received their love in a long time. But the love they gave me and I gave them has not died; it lives on in your heart. I cried many holy and respectful tears at the funerals of these friends, but I am grateful that their love and kindness are reflected in you. You are the grave that contains the still-vibrant love of these buried friends. Now I give you the love that I once gave them; all that love is now yours alone. I see the images of my buried friends in you, and you can count on receiving all the attention that I once gave to them.

Sonnet 32

Addressed to the Young Man

If thou survive my well-contented day,
When that churl Death my bones with dust shall cover
And shalt by fortune once more re-survey
These poor rude lines of thy deceased lover,
Compare them with the bett'ring of the time,
And though they be outstripped by every pen,
Reserve them for my love, not for their rhyme,
Exceeded by the height of happier men.
O! then vouchsafe me but this loving thought:
“Had my friend's Muse grown with this growing age,
A dearer birth than this his love had brought,
To march in ranks of better equipage:
    But since he died and poets better prove,
    Theirs for their style I'll read, his for his love”.

Notes

re-survey: Peruse; read over.
lines: Poems; verses.
deceased lover: The speaker.
bett'ring: Surviving poets whose verses are better than mine.
though . . . pen: Though my verses be inferior to those of other poets.
Reserve . . . love: Keep them for the love they express.
rhyme . . . men: Rhyme and technical skill that are exceeded in the best poems of other men.
vouchsafe: Pledge, vow.
Muse: Creativity.

Summary and Meaning

If you survive after that ruffian death covers my bones with dust and if you happen to review these poems I have written to you, compare them with the lines of the best poets practicing their trade. You may discover that these poets possess talents superior to mine. Nevertheless, keep my poems close to your heart—not because of their rhymes but because of what they say to you. But vow to my memory this thought: Had I remained alive, I would have ranked among the best of the best poets. However, because my death would prevent me from living on to gain the wisdom to become a poet superior to other poets, vow that you read my poetry for the love it expresses—and other poets for their style.

Sonnet 33

Addressed to the Young Man

Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy,
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide,
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace.
Ev'n so my sun one early morn did shine
With all triumphant splendor on my brow;
But out alack, he was but one hour mine;
The region cloud hath mask'd him from me now.
    Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth.
    Suns of the world may stain when heav‘n’s sun staineth.

Notes


Flatter: Beautify.
sovereign eye: Majestic sunlight.
Kissing . . . green: Shining golden light on the green meadows.
heavenly alchemy: Reflected sunlight; dancing sunbeams.
Anon permit. . . ride: Permit is governed by the first line. In conversational English, line 1 and line 5 read as follows: I have seen many a glorious morning . . . permit the basest clouds to ride.
rack . . . visage hide: Mass of drifting clouds that hide the face of the sun from the world.
visage: face.
Stealing . . . disgrace: Moving westward above the cloud cover.
my sun: The young man.
did shine . . . Looked on me favorably in all of its splendor.
alack: Alas.
region . . . mask'd: The cloud above me hid him from me.
Yet . . . disdaineth: But I won't hold his behavior against him.
Suns . . . staineth: Problems darken human relationships, just as clouds hide the sun. 

Summary and Meaning

This sonnet is a metaphor that compares the young man to the sun. In the morning the sun turns its “sovereign eye” (light) on the mountaintops, then on the green meadows and streams. (In other words, when all is well between the speaker and the young man, everything is cheerful and bright.) However, dark clouds come between the sun and the earth (just as a barrier—perhaps a disagreement—has apparently come between the two men). Then, obscured by the clouds, the sun continues on its daily journey across the sky. Nevertheless, the poet says, he will not diminish his love and admiration for the young man. After all, the last two lines say, human relationships cloud over from time to time just as the sky does. The implication here is that the clouds will eventually move on and the sun will shine again.

Comment


The word flatter in the second line could indicate that the poet—despite the forgiving attitude he mentions in line 13—may be a bit peeved. In most dictionaries, one of the definitions for flattery is insincere praise. Thus, it could be that Shakespeare is chiding the young man for giving perfunctory, artificial praise, then returning to his “celestial orbit” and remaining there. In the fifth line, basest clouds appears to refer to despicable persons or regrettable circumstances that estranged the two men.

Sonnet 34

Addressed to the Sun as a Metaphor for the Young Man

Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day,
And make me travel forth without my cloak,
To let base clouds o'ertake me in my way,
Hiding thy bravery in their rotten smoke?
'Tis not enough that through the cloud thou break,
To dry the rain on my storm-beaten face,
For no man well of such a salve can speak,
That heals the wound, and cures not the disgrace:
Nor can thy shame give physic to my grief;
Though thou repent, yet I have still the loss:
The offender's sorrow lends but weak relief
To him that bears the strong offence's cross.
   
Ah! but those tears are pearl which thy love sheds,
    And they are rich and ransom all ill deeds.

Notes

in my way: While I was on my way.
bravery: Radiant appearance.
salve: Remedy.
physic: Relief.
those tears are pearl: One would expect the use of the plural pearls. However, the speaker is describing the makeup of the tears. Compare the speaker's clause with these: (1) those swords are steel (not steels); (2) those fabrics are cotton (not cottons).

Summary and Meaning

Why did you (the sun, as a metaphor for the young man) promise such a beautiful day, making me go forth without my cloak? Why did you let clouds overtake me as I was walking, hiding yourself behind the smoky clouds? You cannot fully redeem yourself by breaking through the clouds and drying the rain on my face. For no man can praise a remedy that heals the injury but not the disgrace. Nor can your shame make me feel better. You may repent, but your contrition still won't make things right. An offender's repentance is weak recompense for the wrong he does. Ah, but I must say that the tears you shed are pearls that compensate me for all your ill deeds.

Comment

In an extended metaphor, the speaker compares the young man to the sun. Apparently, the young man offended the speaker by making a promise and then breaking it. All the young man's attempts to make amends for the offense fail except the tears that he cries for hurting the speaker. 

Sonnet 35

Addressed to the Young Man

No more be grieved at that which thou hast done:

Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud:
Clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun,
And loathsome canker lives in sweetest bud.
All men make faults, and even I in this,
Authorizing thy trespass with compare,
Myself corrupting, salving thy amiss,
Excusing thy sins more than thy sins are;
For to thy sensual fault I bring in sense,
Thy adverse party is thy advocate,
And 'gainst myself a lawful plea commence:
Such civil war is in my love and hate,
    That I an accessary needs must be,
    To that sweet thief which sourly robs from me.

Notes

stain: Darken, pollute.
canker:
Plant disease caused by bacteria or fungi.
this: This matter.
Authorizing . . . sins are: Forgiving (or ignoring) your sin by comparing it with sin committed by others, corrupting myself in doing so, as I disregarded your transgression and excused it with more excuses than necessary.
sensual fault: Perhaps lust.
bring in sense: Bring reason, common sense.
adverse . . . commence: Although I am the injured party, I am speaking up for you and blaming myself.
I an accessary . . . from me: I helped you commit the crime even though I was the victim.

Summary and Meaning

Do not fret over your offense (which is not specified). After all, every man makes mistakes, including me. There are thorns on roses, and there is mud in silver fountains. And the moon and the sun are stained by clouds and eclipses. Moreover, disease such as canker resides in even the most appealing flower buds. I myself may be faulted for excusing your offense (trespass), thereby corrupting myself by minimizing the gravity of your offense (the amiss). I even excused your offense with a greater forgiveness than the offense required. Thus, I use common sense to deal with your offense (sensual fault, possibly lust).  Although I am the offended person (adverse party), I am your defender. In fact, I even lodge an accusation against myself. Here's why. Because I am so concerned in my love for you and in the hatred for what you did, I have become your accomplice in forgiving you. Yet you rob me of your presence.

Comment

The poem uses legal terms such as advocate (line 10), lawful plea (line 11), and accessary (accessory), line 13.

Sonnet 36

Addressed to the Young Man)

Let me confess that we two must be twain,
Although our undivided loves are one:
So shall those blots that do with me remain,
Without thy help, by me be borne alone.
In our two loves there is but one respect,
Though in our lives a separable spite,
Which though it alter not love's sole effect,
Yet doth it steal sweet hours from love's delight.
I may not evermore acknowledge thee,
Lest my bewailed guilt should do thee shame,
Nor thou with public kindness honour me,
Unless thou take that honour from thy name:
    But do not so, I love thee in such sort,
    As thou being mine, mine is thy good report.

Notes

twain: Apart; separate.
blots: Actions that brought shame upon the speaker and the young man.
there . . . respect: We are of the same mind.
separable spite: The unspecified problem that separates them.
doth . . . delight: Because the problem requires them to be apart, they cannot enjoy each other's company.
Unless . . . name: Unless you are willing to tarnish your reputation.

Summary and Meaning


I believe that the two of us must go our separate ways even though we are one in our love for each other. Alone, I will deal with the shame that tainted us. There can be no denying the bond of affection and friendship that unites us, but the disfavor that fell upon us makes it necessary for us to maintain our distance from each other. In fact, I cannot even acknowledge you in public. Doing so would damage your reputation. And you cannot acknowledge me either, for you would likewise invite damage to your good name. So keep your distance from me. But bear in mind that I love you with such fervor that your reputation will always be pristine in my eyes.

Comment

The speaker does not specify the nature of the shame that he and the young man brought upon themselves.

Sonnet 37

Addressed to the Young Man

As a decrepit father takes delight
To see his active child do deeds of youth,
So I, made lame by Fortune's dearest spite,
Take all my comfort of thy worth and truth;
For whether beauty, birth, or wealth, or wit,
Or any of these all, or all, or more,
Entitled in thy parts, do crowned sit,
I make my love engrafted to this store:
So then I am not lame, poor, nor despised,
Whilst that this shadow doth such substance give
That I in thy abundance am sufficed,
And by a part of all thy glory live.
    Look what is best, that best I wish in thee:
    T
his wish I have; then ten times happy me!

Notes

Fortune's . . . spite: An unspecified reversal suffered by the speaker.
I . . . store: I am proud to associate myself with you because of the good qualities you exhibit.
shadow: The young man.
And by . . . live: By appreciating your outstanding qualities, I have become part of them—and you—and therefore share in your glory.
sufficed: Satisfied.

Summary and Meaning

Like a decrepit father who delights in observing the activities of his children, I—a victim of recent misfortune—take all my comfort from observing the outstanding attributes you exhibit, including good looks, nobility, intelligence, and material and spiritual wealth. I love and admire these qualities in you. They make me forget about my misfortune; no longer am I a decrepit and despised wretch. Your abundance of good qualities rubs off on me, making me feel better. I want you to have the best of the best. And I will be all the happier.

Sonnet 38

Addressed to the Young Man

How can my muse want subject to invent,
While thou dost breathe, that pour'st into my verse
Thine own sweet argument, too excellent
For every vulgar paper to rehearse?
O! give thy self the thanks, if aught in me
Worthy perusal stand against thy sight;
For who's so dumb that cannot write to thee,
When thou thy self dost give invention light?
Be thou the tenth Muse, ten times more in worth
Than those old nine which rhymers invocate;
And he that calls on thee, let him bring forth
Eternal numbers to outlive long date.
   If my slight muse do please these curious days,
   The pain be mine, but thine shall be the praise.

Notes

muse: That which inspires the speaker; any of nine minor goddesses in Greek mythology who inspired poets, musicians, and other practitioners of the arts and sciences.
argument: Qualities; reasons that explain your excellence.
vulgar paper: Verse of a mediocre poet.
rehearse: Write about; recount.
aught . . . thy sight: If anything in my verses captures your attention.
invention: Creativity.
light: Inspiration.
tenth Muse: See muse and Summary and Meaning.
rhymers: Poets.
invocate: Call upon for inspiration. 
numbers: Verses; poems.

Summary and Meaning

While you are alive, I will always have a worthy subject to write about. Your qualities are of such a high order that ordinary, run-of-the-mill poets cannot adequately capture them in their verse. If my poetry about these qualities pleases you, give yourself the credit. After all, it is the inspiration you provide that gives life to my sonnets. In fact, you are ten times more inspiring than the nine muses of classical mythology. A talented writer who looks to you for inspiration can expect to produce poetry that will live in the hearts of men forever. If my poetry pleases readers of today, I am happy to take on the burden of writing it. However, the praise for the poetry belongs to you.

Sonnet 39

Addressed to the Young Man

O! how thy worth with manners may I sing,
When thou art all the better part of me?
What can mine own praise to mine own self bring?
And what is't but mine own when I praise thee?
Even for this, let us divided live,
And our dear love lose name of single one,
That by this separation I may give
That due to thee which thou deserv'st alone.
O absence! what a torment wouldst thou prove,
Were it not thy sour leisure gave sweet leave,
To entertain the time with thoughts of love,
Which time and thoughts so sweetly doth deceive,
    And that thou teachest how to make one twain,
   
By praising him here who doth hence remain.

Notes

manners: Modesty.
sing: Write poetry.
And what  . . . live: And when I praise you in my verses, I am also praising myself. For this reason, we should be apart.
make . . .  twain: Make one thing into two things. Here, the speaker refers to the necessity for him and the young man (one in their love) to live apart.

Summary and Meaning

How can I write modestly about your worth when you are the better part of me? It would be like writing about myself. After all, when I praise you in a poem, I would be praising myself. But if we live apart, we would in time lose the oneness that unites us in love as one person. Then I would be able to praise you in poetry without praising myself. You alone deserve the praise. I must point out that your absence would normally be a torment to me. However, because it gives me time to think about my love for you, our separation would not be hard to take. The time would pass swiftly. Thinking of you would teach me how to be separate from you. I would be writing praise about you here, where I am, while you remain elsewhere.

Sonnet 40

Addressed to the Young Man

Take all my loves, my love, yea take them all;
What hast thou then more than thou hadst before?
No love, my love, that thou mayst true love call;
All mine was thine, before thou hadst this more.
Then, if for my love, thou my love receivest,
I cannot blame thee, for my love thou usest;
But yet be blam'd, if thou thy self deceivest
By wilful taste of what thyself refusest.
I do forgive thy robbery, gentle thief,
Although thou steal thee all my poverty:
And yet, love knows it is a greater grief
To bear love's wrong, than hate's known injury.
    Lascivious grace, in whom all ill well shows,
    Kill me with spites yet we must not be foes.

Notes

Take . . . all: The young man is apparently seeing the speaker's mistress, and the speaker is offended. Here, the speaker chides the young man with a bit of sarcasm, telling him to take “all my loves.”
No . . . call: What you would have is nothing that you can call true love.
this more: This additional love.
my love: My mistress.
But yet . . . refusest: By I blame you if you willfully accept the love of my mistress while refusing to accept my love.

Summary and Meaning

Take from me my mistress. Take from me love itself, so that I am empty of all feelings of affection. (The speaker is being somewhat sarcastic in his opening, for he is perturbed by the young man's “theft” of his mistress.) What will you have that you didn't have before? Nothing that you can call true love. Here's why. You already possess my love for you. Any additional love that you take from me—whether love refers to a person (my mistress) or to an expression of deep emotion—would overflow the cup of love you already have. Perhaps you thought that taking my mistress would add to your store of love. By accepting her love, you would also be taking in the love I gave her. Or perhaps you simply wanted her so that you could satisfy your lustful desires. Whatever the case, I forgive you for stealing her from me, although I am poor in such love relationships. You hurt me, of course. An injury inflicted by a loved one causes more pain than an injury inflicted by an enemy. Lascivious grace (lustful friend), you have a talent for making the ill that you do appear good. Be that as it may, regardless of your offenses against me, we must not become foes.

Sonnet 41

Addressed to the Young Man

Those pretty wrongs that liberty commits,
When I am sometime absent from thy heart,
Thy beauty, and thy years full well befits,
For still temptation follows where thou art.
Gentle thou art, and therefore to be won,
Beauteous thou art, therefore to be assailed;
And when a woman woos, what woman's son
Will sourly leave her till he have prevailed?
Ay me! but yet thou mightst my seat forbear,
And chide thy beauty and thy straying youth,
Who lead thee in their riot even there
Where thou art forced to break a twofold truth:
    Hers by thy beauty tempting her to thee,
    Thine by thy beauty being false to me.

Notes

liberty: The young man's liberty. He takes the liberty to pursue women when the speaker is away from him.
assailed: Wooed; pursued.
my seat: My place. The speaker is accusing the young man of taking his (the speaker's) place with his mistress. 

Summary and Meaning

It is easy to understand why you engage in promiscuous behavior when I am absent from your thoughts. Your youth, charm, and good looks attract women to you everywhere you go. You cannot escape temptation. When a woman woos a young man like you, he generally gives her what she wants while satisfying his own desires. However, you should not take my place (my seat forbear, line 9) when it comes to my mistress. In this case, you should keep your charms in check. Don't use them to take my mistress from me, and don't use them to betray the affection we share for each other.

Sonnet 42

Addressed to the Young Man

That thou hast
her it is not all my grief,
And yet it may be said I loved her dearly;
That she hath thee is of my wailing chief,
A loss in love that touches me more nearly.
Loving offenders thus I will excuse ye:
Thou dost love her, because thou know'st I love her;
And for my sake even so doth she abuse me,
Suffering my friend for my sake to approve her.
If I lose thee, my loss is my love's gain,
And losing her, my friend hath found that loss;
Both find each other, and I lose both twain,
And both for my sake lay on me this cross:
    But here's the joy; my friend and I are one;
    Sweet flattery! then she loves but me alone.

Notes

her: The speaker's mistress.
That . . . chief: Th
at she has you is a source of misery for me.
Loving offenders
: The young man and the woman as betrayers.
abuse: Deceive; betray.
Suffering . . . her
: Allowing you to have an affair with her because she knows that you are my friend.
If I . . .  gain
: The loss of my friend is the woman's gain.
losing . . . loss: The loss of my mistress is my friend's gain.
twain
: Together.
But here's . . . one: M
y friend and I are the same person—that is, united in love.

Summary and Meaning
.
You now have the woman whom I love dearly. That she has given herself to you deeply hurts me, although I will excuse both of you for offending me. You love her because you know I love her, and she abuses me by allowing you to love her. If I lose you, my loss is her gain. And now that I have lost her, my loss is your gain. Both of you have found each other, meaning I have lost both of you and now have a cross to bear. But here's the saving grace of it all: My friend and I are united in our love and friendship; therefore, if she loves him, she also loves me.

Sonnet 43

Addressed to the Young Man

When most I
wink, then do mine eyes best see,
For all the day they view things unrespected;
But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee,
And darkly bright, are bright in dark directed.
Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright,
How would thy shadow's form form happy show
To the clear day with thy much clearer light,
When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so!
How would, I say, mine eyes be blessed made
By looking on thee in the living day,
When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade
Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay!
    All days are nights to see till I see thee,
    And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.

Notes

wink: Sleep.
unrespected: Commonplace and ordinary; uninteresting.
they look . . . directed: My eyes see you and brighten, for they focus on your brightness.
shadow . . . bright: The young man's shadow is bright and gives light to nearby shadows.
How . . . day: How bright your shadow would appear in daylight.

Summary and Meaning

When I am asleep, my eyes see the best sights. When I am awake during the day, however, I see too many things of inconsequence. In my dreams, my eyes behold your darkly bright shadow and reflect the light coming from it. I wonder how your shadow would appear in daylight, for it already shines in the darkness of the dream. My eyes would be blessed to see you in the brightness of day. Even in my dreams, your fair shadow remains fixed in my sightless eyes. All days are night to my dreaming eyes until I see your bright shadow shining. And nights become bright days.

Sonnet 44

Addressed to the Young Man

If the dull substance of my flesh were thought,
Injurious distance should not stop my way;
For then despite of space I would be brought,
From limits far remote, where thou dost stay.
No matter then although my foot did stand
Upon the farthest earth removed from thee;
For nimble thought can jump both sea and land
As soon as think the place where he would be.
But ah! thought kills me that I am not thought,
To leap large lengths of miles when thou art gone,
But that, so much of earth and water wrought,
I must attend time's leisure with my moan,
    Receiving nought by elements so slow
    But heavy tears, badges of either's woe.

Notes

If the dull . . . my way: If I were made of thought instead of flesh, wearying distance would not stop me from being with you.
As . . . think: As soon as thought finds out.
thought kills . . . thought: It kills me to realize that I cannot travel at the speed of a thought.
Of  . . . wrought: Made of flesh and blood; chemically composed of water and other earthly substances.
I must . . . leisure: I have no choice but to travel by foot and by the clock.

Summary and Meaning

Suppose my body—arms, legs, feet, and so on—is a thought. What an advantage I would have, for then I could instantly travel a long distance to see you. If my foot stood on ground across the world from you, I could jump both sea and land to visit you as soon as I knew where you were. But I am not a thought that can use such powers to be with you. Instead, I am made of flesh and blood and water; my body can move only at time's slow pace, receiving nothing for my painful effort but the water my body converts to tears of woe.

Comment: Line 11

Before scientists began identifying the chemical elements, alchemists, philosophers, and other observers of natural phenomena generally identified earth, water, air, and fire as the four basic elements constituting the makeup of the universe. In this sonnet, the speaker refers to two of them, earth and water (line 11). In the next sonnet (45), he refers to air and fire. The speaker uses earth and water in Sonnet 44 to symbolize his depressed mood; he uses air and fire in Sonnet 45 to symbolize his cheerful mood.

Sonnet 45

Addressed to the Young Man

The other two, slight air and purging fire,
Are both with thee, wherever I abide;
The first my thought, the other my desire,
These present-absent with swift motion slide.
For when these quicker elements are gone
In tender embassy of love to thee,
My life, being made of four, with two alone
Sinks down to death, oppressed with melancholy;
Until life's composition be recured
By those swift messengers return'd from thee,
Who even but now come back again, assured
Of thy fair health, recounting it to me:
    This told, I joy; but then no longer glad,
    I send them back again and straight grow sad.

Notes

The other . . . fire: See Comment, Line 11, Sonnet 44.
present-absent . . . slide: These elements reside in me one moment and fly to you the next.
embassy: mission; conveyance.
recured: Put back together; made right; cured.

Summary and Meaning

Air and fire are both evident in your makeup wherever I am. Air is my thought; fire is my desire. These elements move back and forth between us. When air and fire leave me, I become deeply depressed, having only the other two elements—earth and water—to sustain me. But when air and fire return to me from you, I become whole again. At this very moment, these swift messengers “come back again” (line 11) and assure me that you are good health. Their message makes me happy. However, when they leave me to return to you, I become depressed again.

Sonnet 46

Addressed to the Young Man

Mine eye and heart are at a mortal war,
How to divide the conquest of thy sight;
Mine eye my heart thy picture's sight would bar,
My heart mine eye the freedom of that right.
My heart doth plead that thou in him dost lie,
A closet never pierced with crystal eyes,
But the defendant doth that plea deny,
And says in him thy fair appearance lies.
To 'cide this title is impannelled
A quest of thoughts, all tenants to the heart;
And by their verdict is determined
The clear eye's moiety, and the dear heart's part:
    As thus: mine eye's due is thine outward part,
    And my heart's right, thine inward love of heart.

Notes

Mine eye . . . bar: My heart would bar my eyes from seeing you.
My heart . . . right: My eyes would not allow my heart to block my vision of you.
that thou . . . lie: That the image of you (the young man) lies in my heart.
closet: The heart; an enclosed place; a walled-in sanctuary.
defendant: Eyes; vision.
that plea: The plea in line 5 ("My heart doth plea").
in him . . . lies: The eyes say the image of the young man lies in them, not in the heart.
'cide: Decide.
impannelled . . . thoughts: Jury (quest) summoned (impanneled)  to hear a case.
tenants: Jury members who side with the heart.
moiety: Share; portion. 
mine eye's . . . heart: The jury finds that the eyes may see the outward appearance of the young man and that heart may love and be loved by the young man's heart.

Summary and Meaning

My eyes and my heart are at war over you. My eyes want to prevent my heart from seeing your image. My heart wants to prevent my eyes from having the freedom to see you. My heart says that your image lies inside of it, protected. But my eyes maintain that your image lies within their scope. Which is right, my eyes or my heart? To decide this, I have assembled a jury of thoughts sympathetic to the pleas of the heart. Their verdict is this: My eyes have the right to behold your physical appearance, and my heart has the right to experience the love we share.

Sonnet 47

Addressed to the Young Man

Betwixt mine eye and heart a league is took,
And each doth good turns now unto the other:
When that mine eye is famish'd for a look,
Or heart in love with sighs himself doth smother,
With my love's picture then my eye doth feast,
And to the painted banquet bids my heart;
Another time mine eye is my heart's guest,
And in his thoughts of love doth share a part:
So, either by thy picture or my love,
Thy self away, art present still with me;
For thou not farther than my thoughts canst move,
And I am still with them, and they with thee;
    Or, if they sleep, thy picture in my sight.
    Awakes my heart to heart's and eye's delight.

Notes

Betwixt: Between.
league: Alliance; agreement.
my eye . . . heart: When I look at your portrait, my eye invites my heart—where my love for you resides—to enjoy the painted banquet.
Thy self away: Though you are away from me.

Summary and Meaning

My eye and heart have agreed to perform favors for each other. For example, when my eye yearns for a look at you and my heart sighs with love for you, my eye feasts on a painting of you and invites the heart to the banquet. On another occasion, the heart invites the eye to share in the heart's thoughts of love. So, either via my eye or my heart, you are still present to me even though you are away from me. You cannot travel farther from me than my thoughts. But even if my thoughts go to sleep, my eyes will still see you.

Sonnet 48

Addressed to the Young Man

How careful was I when I took my way,
Each trifle under truest bars to thrust,
That to my use it might unused stay
From hands of falsehood, in sure wards of trust!
But thou, to whom my jewels trifles are,
Most worthy comfort, now my greatest grief,
Thou best of dearest, and mine only care,
Art left the prey of every vulgar thief.
Thee have I not locked up in any chest,
Save where thou art not, though I feel thou art,
Within the gentle closure of my breast,
From whence at pleasure thou mayst come and part;
    And even thence thou wilt be stol'n I fear,
    For truth proves thievish for a prize so dear.

Notes

took my way: Went on a trip; traveled.
under . . . bars: Uder lock and key.
hands of falsehood: Thieves.
Most . . . comfort: Most worthy friend, who are a comfort to me.
Best . . . dearest: Best of dearest persons or things.

Summary and Meaning

Whenever I took to the road, I was careful to lock up my belongings to prevent thieves from taking them. Of course, my possessions are mere trifles compared to you. Yet I worry that you are prey to every vulgar thief. I have not locked you up in any chest—except the chest in which my heart beats. In that place, you may come and go as you please. But I'm concerned that even if you are enclosed in my chest, a truly honest man would become a thief for so great a prize.

Sonnet 49

Addressed to the Young Man

Against
that time, if ever that time come,
When I shall see thee frown on my defects,
When as thy love hath cast his utmost sum,
Called to that audit by advis'd respects;
Against that time when thou shalt strangely pass,
And scarcely greet me with that sun, thine eye,
When love, converted from the thing it was,
Shall reasons find of settled gravity;
Against that time do I ensconce me here,
Within the knowledge of mine own desert,
And this my hand, against my self uprear,
To guard the lawful reasons on thy part:
   To leave poor me thou hast the strength of laws,
   Since why to love I can allege no cause.

Notes


Against: In preparation for.
cast . . . sum: Taken a full acounting of the poet; evaluated the poet.
audit: Evaluation; assessment.
advis'd respects: By your observance of me.
strangely pass: Walk by like a stranger.
that . . . eye: Your eye, which is like the sun.
converted . . . was: Diminished; lessened.
Shall . . . gravity: Will find serious reasons to go your separate way.
do I  . . . here: Do here entrench myself like a warrior.
Within . . . desert:
With the knowledge of my own qualities, including shortcomings.
And this . . . uprear: And and ready to disclose my faults.
To guard . . . part: To defend you against criticism.
thou . . . laws: You have good reasons.
Since . . . cause: Since I cannot give you rational reasons to remain.

Summary and Meaning

Here is what the speaker says, on the surface, to the young man:

Suppose a time comes when my flaws become annoying to you and, as a result, you evaluate our friendship—weighing the pluses and minuses as a bookkeeper does. Suppose a time comes when you walk by, hardly even noticing me, because your regard for me is no longer what it was and you have settled upon reasons to break off our relationship. Well, if such a time does come and our relationship ends, I will still hold you in fond memory and, like a soldier, defend your reputation against anyone who criticizes you for your action. I will defend you by pointing out my faults, noting that they are good reasons for you to go your own way. With all my defects, I will not be able to make a good case for you to stay. 

Here is what the speaker may be saying below the surface:

I have always sincerely valued our friendship without being petty or calling attention to your flaws. But you—you are like an accountant who wants everything to add up. The time may come when everything does not add up, in your mind, and you will then end our friendship. Like a mathematician, you will examine me as if you were examining an equation. Or, like a judge in a court of law, you will weigh me in the scales of justice. Then you will find reasons to justify your action. I will not protest because I will not be able to present legalisms that explain my fondness for you. Nevertheless, I will always defend you and speak no ill of you.

Sonnet 50

Addressed to the Young Man

How
heavy do I journey on the way,
When what I seek, my weary travel's end,
Doth teach that ease and that repose to say,
'Thus far the miles are measured from thy friend!'
The beast that bears me, tired with my woe,
Plods dully on, to bear that weight in me,
As if by some instinct the wretch did know
His rider lov'd not speed being made from thee.
The bloody spur cannot provoke him on,
That sometimes anger thrusts into his hide,
Which heavily he answers with a groan,
More sharp to me than spurring to his side;
    For that same groan doth put this in my mind,
    My grief lies onward, and my joy behind.

Notes

heavy: Downhearted.
what I seek: The end of the journey.
Ease . . . repose: The peace and rest he will find at the end of his trip will serve only to heighten his awareness of the distance between him and his friend.
anger . . . hide: The speaker sometimes spurs the horse out of anger and frustration.

Summary and Meaning

On a horseback trip, the speaker is in low spirits because the journey takes him farther and farther away from his friend. Because even the horse feels the weight of the speaker's woe, it is able only to plod along at a slow pace. It is as if the beast knows that the rider does not wish to put distance between him and his friend. Spurring the horse does no good. It merely groans. The groans are more painful to the speaker than to the horse, for they remind him that his ride is taking him away from his beloved friend.

Sonnet 51

Addressed to the Young Man

Thus can my love excuse the slow offence
Of my dull bearer when from thee I speed:
From where thou art why should I haste me thence?
Till I return, of posting is no need.
O! what excuse will my poor beast then find,
When swift extremity can seem but slow?
Then should I spur, though mounted on the wind,
In winged speed no motion shall I know,
Then can no horse with my desire keep pace.
Therefore desire, (of perfect'st love being made)
Shall neigh, no dull flesh, in his fiery race;
But love, for love, thus shall excuse my jade

    Since from thee going, he went wilful-slow,
    Towards thee I'll run, and give him leave to go.

Notes

offence: Pace.
dull bearer: The horse bearing the speaker on his journey.
thence: From where you are; from that place.
posting: Riding fast; resting post horses. In Shakespeare's time, post horses were rested horses available at relay stations along a main route. A rider could gallop from station to station, renting a fresh horse at each stop.
swift extremity: Extreme speed.
In winged  . . . know: Though riding at top speed, the speaker will feel as if he is not moving at all. His eagerness to reunite with his friend makes the return trip seem agonizingly slow.
But  love, for love: But my desire (love) to be reunited with my loving friend.
jade: Worn-out horse.

Summary and Meaning

The first word of Sonnet 51—the conjunctive adverb thus—links the poem with the previous sonnet, in which the speaker bemoans his separation from his friend. The speaker continues in Sonnet 51 to speak of the slowness of his progress toward his destination. Why, he asks, should he hurry on a journey that takes him away from his friend, from whom he does not wish to be separated? Not until he returns from his trip will he hurry.  At that time, he will use post horses so that he will be able to travel at top speed.

But even when he is riding at a gallop, his progress will seem slow. His eagerness to be reunited with his friend will outpace the speed of any horse. This eagerness—this desire to see his friend again—will neigh like a horse racing along. The horse will tire quickly, becoming a jade (an old, worn-out horse). But because the speaker's love for his friend makes him spur the horse on relentlessly, he does not blame the beast for exhausting itself. After the return journey, he'll give the horse “leave to go.”

Sonnet 52

Addressed to the Young Man

So am I as the rich, whose blessed key,
Can bring him to his sweet up-locked treasure,
The which he will not every hour survey,
For blunting the fine point of seldom pleasure.
Therefore are feasts so solemn and so rare,
Since, seldom coming in the long year set,
Like stones of worth they thinly placed are,
Or captain jewels in the carcanet.
So is the time that keeps you as my chest,
Or as the wardrobe which the robe doth hide,
To make some special instant special-blest,
By new unfolding his imprisoned pride.
    Blessed are you whose worthiness gives scope,
    Being had, to triumph, being lacked, to hope.

Notes

rich . . . treasure
: A rich man with a key that opens a great treasure. In the speaker's case, the treasure is the young man.
blunting . . . pleasure: If one does a pleasurable activity often, satisfaction derived from it diminishes.
stones of worth: Precious gems.
chest: Treasure chest.
carcanet: Ornamental headband or collar.
wardrobe . . . hide: A wardrobe or closet "hides" a robe hung in it.

Summary and Meaning

You are like a treasure chest of a rich man. He unlocks it and gazes upon the treasure only on special occasions. Doing so more frequently would lessen the pleasure of appreciating the contents. A great saint's feast day is celebrated only once a year. Likewise, precious jewels are spaced apart on a decorated collar, not lined up one adjacent to the other. Moreover, a finely tailored robe is saved for ceremonial occasions. Too much of a good thing diminishes one's desire for it. Blessed are you if you give me an opportunity to appreciate your presence—or at least to hope for it—on a special occasion.

Sonnet 53

Addressed to the Young Man

What is your substance, whereof are you made,
That millions of strange shadows on you tend?
Since every one hath, every one, one shade,
And you but one, can every shadow lend.
Describe Adonis, and the counterfeit
Is poorly imitated after you;
On Helen's cheek all art of beauty set,
And you in Grecian tires are painted new:
Speak of the spring, and foison of the year,
The one doth shadow of your beauty show,
The other as your bounty doth appear;
And you in every blessed shape we know.
     In all external grace you have some part,
     But you like none, none you, for constant heart.

Notes

whereof: Of what.
That millions . . . tend: That millions of others are reflected in your image.
shade: Image.
And you . . . lend: Your good qualities are reflected in (lent to) the images of others.
Adonis: In Greek mythology, a handsome teenager pursued by the goddess of love.
counterfeit: Adonis is only an imitation, a poor one, of the young man in the sonnet.
Helen: In Greek mythology, the most beautiful woman in the world.
tires: Attire; clothing.
foison: Harvest time.

Summary and Meaning

What are you made of? Like everyone else, you are a single physical entity with a special combination of features that constitute the whole of your being and appearance. You are unique. There is no one like you. Yet I see in you reflections of others with extraordinary physical attributes. In Greek mythology, Adonis was the handsomest of young men. He was chased by the goddess of love herself. Yet descriptions of him suggest that he was only a poor imitation of you. There is some of him in you, but only a shadowy reflection. Greek mythology also tells us that Helen of Troy was a supreme example of physical grace and beauty. But if one imagined you painted in ancient Greek attire, you would set a new and higher standard of perfection. And what of nature? Spring has its glory, but only a shadow of the glory in you. Harvest time brings a great bounty, but your bounty is far greater. It is as if you are the standard against which all human beings—and all of nature—are to be measured.

Comment

This high praise for the young man treats him as a model of perfection that others can only imitate. This view of the young man resembles the way the Greek philosopher Plato perceived the world. Everything in the world—a human being, a tree, or even a table or chair—is merely an imperfect imitation of an ideal form in the divine realm. The ideal forms in the heavens represent absolute perfection. The earthly versions are mere shadows

Sonnet 54

Addressed to the Young Man

O! how much more doth beauty beauteous seem
By that sweet ornament which truth doth give.
The rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem
For that sweet odour, which doth in it live.
The canker blooms have full as deep a dye
As the perfumed tincture of the roses,
Hang on such thorns, and play as wantonly
When summer's breath their masked buds discloses:
But, for their virtue only is their show,
They live unwoo'd, and unrespected fade;
Die to themselves. Sweet roses do not so;
Of their sweet deaths are sweetest odours made:
    And so of you, beauteous and lovely youth,
    When that shall vade, my verse distills your truth.

Notes

canker: Blossom of a dog rose, a pink or white wild rose that has no fragrance.
breath: Breeze.
sweetest odours: Perfumes, rose water (used in foods and perfumes), and other fragrant preparations.
vade: Go away; vanish; disappear.
verse . . . truth: This sonnet presents the beauty of your truth
—that is, your excellent inner qualities.

Summary and Meaning

Beauty seems much more beautiful when truth graces it, just as a fair rose appears fairer when when a sweet fragrance lives in it. Like roses, canker blossoms have a fair appearance and thorny stems, and they dance in the breeze. But people ignore these blossoms, for they lack the fragrance of the rose. They have no scent at all. So they fade and die alone. However, when the rose dies, its sweetness lives on in the fragrances made from it. It will be that way for you. When you fade ("vade", line 14), you will live on in your truth—the beauty of your inward qualities—which I will distill and write about in my poems.

Sonnet 55

Addressed to the Young Man

Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmear'd with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword, nor war's quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
'Gainst death, and all oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
    So, till the judgment that yourself arise,
    You live in this, and dwell in lovers' eyes.

Notes

gilded: Covered with a thin layer of gold.
this . . . rhyme: This sonnet.
contents: Lines of the sonnet.

unswept: Not cleaned or polished; neglected.
sluttish: Unkempt; sloppy.
broils: The upheavals and battles of wars.
Mars: In Roman mythology, the god of war. His Greek name was Ares.
oblivious enmity: Enmity (or hatred) of enemies who are not heedful of the harm they cause; hatred of enemies who easily forget their destructive acts.

Summary and Meaning

Neither marble nor the gilded monuments of princes will outlive this poem. But you will live on in my rhyme to shine more brightly than any monument sullied by the ravages of time. When war overturns statues and leaves a path of destruction, this record of your memory will survive the battlefield fire. All who are not yet born will read my praise of you in these lines. Your memory will live on until the end of time.

Sonnet 56

Observations of the Speaker

Sweet love, renew thy force; be it not said
Thy edge should blunter be than appetite,
Which but to-day by feeding is allayed,
To-morrow sharpened in his former might:
So, love, be thou, although to-day thou fill
Thy hungry eyes, even till they wink with fulness,
To-morrow see again, and do not kill
The spirit of love, with a perpetual dulness.
Let this sad interim like the ocean be
Which parts the shore, where two contracted new
Come daily to the banks, that when they see
Return of love, more blest may be the view;
    As call it winter, which being full of care,
    Makes summer's welcome, thrice more wished, more rare.

Notes

renew . . . force: Renew the force of your love.
be it . . . former might: Don't let it be said that the keenness of your love is less sharp than lust, which today satisfies itself only to return tomorrow with new cravings.
appetite: lust; craving.
allayed: Lessened
two contracted: A man and woman pledged to marry

Summary and Meaning

The speaker asks love itself to renew its intensity, telling it to be strong than lust. Though satisfied one day, lust renews its intensity the following day. Love, too, should renew its vitality. Today, the speaker says, love may fill its hungry eyes with what it desires. But tomorrow it should not languish in dullness just because it received its fill the previous day. Instead, it should revive its spirit and let the interval between one day and the next be like an ocean separating (by a short distance) a man and a woman pledged to be married. On one shore is the husband-to-be; on the other, the wife-to-be. When they return to their shores each day, the sight of each other renews their love with greater and greater intensity. Summer is welcome after a long, hard winter. Love should likewise be welcome after a separation.

Comment

When a poet addresses an abstraction
—in this case, love—he uses a figure of speech called apostrophe.

Sonnet 57

Addressed to the Young Man

Being your slave what should I do but tend
Upon the hours, and times of your desire?
I have no precious time at all to spend;
Nor services to do, till you require.
Nor dare I chide the world without end hour,
Whilst I, my sovereign, watch the clock for you,
Nor think the bitterness of absence sour,
When you have bid your servant once adieu;
Nor dare I question with my jealous thought
Where you may be, or your affairs suppose,
But, like a sad slave, stay and think of nought
Save, where you are, how happy you make those.
    So true a fool is love, that in your will,
    Though you do anything, he thinks no ill.

Notes

do . . . hours: Stand by and wait.
Nor dare . . . for you: Nor dare I complain about how slowly time passes, my king, when I watch the clock in your absence.
adieu: Good-bye.
nought: Nothing.
Save: Except for.

Summary and Meaning

Because I am your slave, I have nothing to do but stand by for many hours to await your commands. I have no time to spend on other activities. All I can do is remain in readiness until you call for me. I dare not complain about how boring it is to watch the clock, my sovereign, or how bitter it is to be separated from you. Moreover, I dare not ask where you go or speculate about what occupies you. I must simply wait and think of nothing except how happy you make the people with you. I am such a fool. You can do anything, and I will think no ill of you.

Comment

This sonnet relies on irony to make its point. Consider that the speaker is irritated that the young man ignores him for long periods in order to spend time with others. In expressing his dissatisfaction, the speaker says he dares not complain to the young man or question him about where he goes. Yet the poem is one long complaint written to reproach the young man. 

Sonnet 58

Addressed to the Young Man

That god forbid, that made me first your slave,
I should in thought control your times of pleasure,
Or at your hand the account of hours to crave,
Being your vassal, bound to stay your leisure!
O! let me suffer, being at your beck,
The imprison'd absence of your liberty;
And patience, tame to sufferance, bide each check,
Without accusing you of injury.
Be where you list, your charter is so strong
That you yourself may privilege your time
To what you will; to you it doth belong
Yourself to pardon of self-doing crime.
    I am to wait, though waiting so be hell,
    Not blame your pleasure be it ill or well.

Notes

That god forbid: Read this with emphasis on that
THAT god forbid. It appears that the speaker is referring to one of many gods, as in Greek mythology.
vassal: Servant.
beck: Beckoning; summons.
imprison'd absence: Imprisoning absence. In effect, your absence from me isolates me in a prison as I await your return.
bide: Abide; endure.
list: Desire.
charter: Liberty; power to act.

Summary and Meaning

The god that made me your slave should forbid me to even think about controlling your activities, in particular your pursuit of pleasure. That same god should forbid me from asking you where you have been and what you have been doing. Oh, let me simply suffer when you are absent; and let me be patient without accusing you of offending me. Go where you wish. You have the freedom to spend your time in any way you desire. If you do wrong, you have the power to pardon yourself. Meanwhile, I must wait, though waiting is hell, and not question you about your activities—whether they are right or wrong.

Sonnet 59

Addressed to the Young Man

If there be nothing new, but that which is
Hath been before, how are our brains beguil'd,
Which labouring for invention bear amiss
The second burthen of a former child.
Oh that record could with a backward look,
Even of five hundred courses of the sun,
Show me your image in some antique book,
Since mind at first in character was done,
That I might see what the old world could say
To this composed wonder of your frame;
Whether we are mended, or where better they,
Or whether revolution be the same.
    Oh sure I am the wits of former days,
    To subjects worse have given admiring praise.

Notes

invention: Something new.
bear: Give birth to.
burthen: burden.
former child: Old idea.
five . . . suns: Five hundred years.
Whether . . . they: Whether we have improved over them in our writing or whether they are better in some ways.
whether revolution: Whether our innovations.
wits: Poets; writers.

Summary and Meaning

If there is nothing new to command our attention—only that which has happened before—how are our brains fooled into conceiving the same old idea to inspire new poetry? The record of history could show me someone like you in an old book. Then I could learn what people of an earlier time would say about the wonder of your appearance and, in so doing, find out whether their description of a handsome young man was better or worse than—or about the same as—my description of you. You can be sure that the writers of former ages had devoted great praise to subjects whose qualities were not equal to yours.

Sonnet 60

Addressed to the Young Man

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown'd,
Crooked eclipses 'gainst his glory fight,
And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth
And delves the parallels in beauty's brow,
Feeds on the rarities of nature's truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow:
    And yet to times in hope, my verse shall stand
    Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.

Notes

Each . . . before: One wave takes the place of the wave that was there moments before.
In sequent . . . contend: This action is repeated without end.
Nativity: Early life.
main of light: Morning light without shadows.
Crawls to maturity:
Young people crawl figuratively, like a baby.
Crooked eclipses: Effects of aging (aging dims the light).
transfix: Paralyze; stop the ability to bloom and flourish.
delves the parallels: Carves wrinkles in the brow.
Feeds on . . . truth: Consumes youthfulness.
nothing . . . mow: Eventually death (scythe) cuts down the aging man.

Summary and Meaning
.
This sonnet says time passes swiftly, just as swiftly as ocean waves rushing toward a shore. The word minutes in line 2 and the number of the sonnet, 60, suggest that life passes like the 60 minutes in an hour. Although a young man stands for a while in the bright sunlight of youth, advancing age will all-too-soon appear as a cloud that hides the sun. Wrinkles will appear and infirmities will develop. Eventually, death—with its scythe—will come to reap its harvest. However, the poet’s verse will live on to extol the qualities of the man as he was in his youth. .

Sonnet 61

Addressed to the Young Man

Is it thy will, thy image should keep open
My heavy eyelids to the weary night?
Dost thou desire my slumbers should be broken,
While shadows like to thee do mock my sight?
Is it thy spirit that thou send'st from thee
So far from home into my deeds to pry,
To find out shames and idle hours in me,
The scope and tenor of thy jealousy?
O, no! thy love, though much, is not so great:
It is my love that keeps mine eye awake:
Mine own true love that doth my rest defeat,
To play the watchman ever for thy sake:
    For thee watch I, whilst thou dost wake elsewhere,
    From me far off, with others all too near.

Notes

shadows like to thee: Images resembling the young man.
scope . . .  jealousy: Extent and nature of your jealousy.

Summary and Meaning

While the young man is out entertaining guests, the speaker lies awake seeing images of him. He asks whether the images he sees were sent by the young man, perhaps to spy on him. Then he answers his own question by saying that the young man could not have sent the images, since the young man’s love for him is not that great. No, what keeps the speaker awake is his love for the young man. The poet is ever on the watch for the young man to appear even though the young man is apparently elsewhere enjoying the company of other acquaintances. There is a bit of irony in this poem, in that Shakespeare wonders whether the youth is watching him, evening prying, when it is the speaker is ever vigilant and watchful. 

Sonnet 62

Addressed to the Young Man

Sin of self-love possesseth all mine eye
And all my soul, and all my every part;
And for this sin there is no remedy,
It is so grounded inward in my heart.
Methinks no face so gracious is as mine,
No shape so true, no truth of such account;
And for myself mine own worth do define,
As I all other in all worths surmount.
But when my glass shows me myself indeed
Beated and chopp'd with tanned antiquity,
Mine own self-love quite contrary I read;
Self so self-loving were iniquity.
    'Tis thee, myself, that for myself I praise,
    Painting my age with beauty of thy days.

Notes

Sin . . . eye: The speaker may be alluding to Narcissus, a young man in Greek mythology who fell in love with himself after seeing his image reflected in a pool of water. The use of “eye” in line 1 and “glass” (mirror) in line 9 supports the view that this sonnet alludes to the Narcissus myth. However, unlike Narcissus, the speaker ages and sees the effects of time on his appearance.
tanned: Wrinkled; thrashed; drawn and browned like tanned leather.
'Tis thee, myself: The speaker seems to be saying that he and the young man are so close that they are the same person.

Summary and Meaning

I am guilty of the sin of self-love. This sin possesses my eyes, my soul—in fact, all of me—and is so entrenched in my heart that I think my face and shape are beyond compare and that I have more admirable qualities than any other man. However, when a mirror reveals signs of aging in my appearance, I realize that I am lying to myself; I am a reprehensible sinner. The truth is, the qualities that I praise in myself are actually qualities that you possess. When I paint a picture of myself, figuratively speaking, I use you as the model.

Sonnet 63

Observations of the Speaker

Against my love shall be as I am now,
With Time's injurious hand crushed and o'erworn;
When hours have drained his blood and filled his brow
With lines and wrinkles; when his youthful morn
Hath travelled on to age's steepy night;
And all those beauties whereof now he's king
Are vanishing, or vanished out of sight,
Stealing away the treasure of his spring;
For such a time do I now fortify
Against confounding age's cruel knife,
That he shall never cut from memory
My sweet love's beauty, though my lover's life:
    His beauty shall in these black lines be seen,
    And they shall live, and he in them still green.

Notes

With . . . hand: The speaker personifies time as a destroyer of youth.
the treasure  . . . spring: His (the young man's) youth.
though . . . life: Though he (time) will take his life.
green: Young.

Summary and Meaning

The day is coming when my friend shall be as I am now—overworn and etched with the imperfections of the injurious hand of time. The passing hours, days, and years will remove the rosy hue from his complexion and crease his brow with wrinkles. After his youthful morning becomes aged night, all of his good looks will have vanished; age will have stolen his youth. However, I am taking action to prevent time's knife from cutting out the memory of my friend from posterity. People of the future will remember him in these sonnets that I am writing. His beauty shall live in my poems; he will still be in the spring of youth.

Sonnet 64

Observations of the Speaker

When I have seen by Time's fell hand defaced
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-razed,
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the watery main,
Increasing store with loss, and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay;
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate
That Time will come and take my love away.
    This thought is as a death which cannot choose
    But weep to have that which it fears to lose.

Notes

fell: Deadly.
sometime: Sometimes.
down-razed: Fallen to ruin.
brass eternal: Brass is noted for its durability.
main: Wide-open sea.
store: Gain.
ruminate: Think over; consider.

Summary and Meaning

I have seen time deface proud monuments to the dead and tear down lofty towers. I have seen time and death
raging beasts that kill life and attack the memory of the deadwillfully destroy brass statues and memorials erected to eulogize noble men and women. I have seen swelling oceans steal shorelines, and then the shortlines take it back again, in a continual war of increase and loss. Decay, ruin, change—they are inevitable—and time will one day take away the friend I love. This is a deathly thought that makes me weep with the realization that one day I will lose him.

Sonnet 65

Addressed to the Young Man

Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o'ersways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O! how shall summer's honey breath hold out,
Against, when rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong but Time decays?
O fearful meditation! where, alack,
Shall Time's best jewel from Time's chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
    O! none, unless this miracle have might,
    That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

Notes

mortality: Time defeats brass and stone and even the earth sea.
wrackful: Destructive; ruinous.
Nor  . . . decays: Steel gates are not strong enough to withstand time's onslaught.
alack: Alas.
Time's best jewel: The young man.

Summary and Meaning

Time overcomes brass and stone, the earth and the sea. How can beauty stand against it? Beauty is no stronger than a flower. Time will also take away the sweet breath of summer and inflict decay on rocks and steel gates. Oh, where will my friend—a glittering jewel—hide from time's treasure chest? What hand can hold back time's progress? Who can prevent time from destroying beauty? No one except me. I can immortalize beauty in the words I write in my sonnets.

Sonnet 66

Observations of the Speaker

Tired with all these, for restful death I cry,
As to behold desert a beggar born,
And needy nothing trimm'd in jollity,
And purest faith unhappily forsworn,
And gilded honour shamefully misplaced,
And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,
And right perfection wrongfully disgraced,
And strength by limping sway disabled
And art made tongue-tied by authority,
And folly, doctor-like, controlling skill,
And simple truth miscalled simplicity,
And captive good attending captain ill:
    Tired with all these, from these would I be gone,
    Save that, to die, I leave my love alone.

Notes

these: Injustice; corruption; sinful behavior; foolishness; stupidity.
desert . . . born: Deserving person forced to beg for a living.
needy nothing: Good-for-nothing persons who have everything and dress in fine clothes.
strumpeted: Turned into promiscuity; virtue renounced in favor of becoming a whore or prostitute.
right perfection: Upright people.
sway: Rulership.
made tongue-tied: Censored; forbidden; banned.
simple . . . simplicity: Simple truth that is called simplistic.

Summary and Meaning

I am tired of all the injustice in the world and cry out for the eternal rest of death. Consider that so many worthy people of high promise end up as beggars and that people who have the most end up getting even more—the finest clothes, for example. I am tired of people who readily break promises and people who receive high honors when all they deserve is rebuke. I am tired of maidens who so willingly yield their virtue, of gossips who slander the upright, of weak leaders who disable the strong, of authorities who censor or repress artistry. I am tired of stupid people who hold sway over the intelligent. I am tired of people who label plain and simple truths as simplistic. I am tired of bad people who hold good people in subservience—and so-called good people who compromise their principles to serve bad people. Yes, I am tired of the world and everything in it—except the young man. He is the reason I live on.

Comment


This sonnet consists of a single sentence.
Lines 2-11 contain a figure of speech called anaphora, the repetition of a word or several words at the beginning of word groups occurring one after another.

Sonnet 67

Observations of the Speaker

Ah! wherefore with infection should he live,
And with his presence grace impiety,
That sin by him advantage should achieve,
And lace itself with his society?
Why should false painting imitate his cheek,
And steal dead seeming of his living hue?
Why should poor beauty indirectly seek
Roses of shadow, since his rose is true?
Why should he live, now Nature bankrupt is,
Beggared of blood to blush through lively veins?
For she hath no exchequer now but his,
And proud of many, lives upon his gains.
    O! him she stores, to show what wealth she had
    In days long since, before these last so bad.

Notes

wherefore: Why.
infection: Evil; corruption; wrongful behavior.
he: The Young man.
sin . . . achieve: By associating itself with the young man, sin pretends to be virtuous.
false painting: Application of cosmetics.
steal . . . hue: Make his vibrant hue seem lifeless and colorless.
Roses . . . true: Roses on bushes are mere shadows of the real rose, the young man.
Beggared: Devoid.
exchequer: Treasury.

Summary and Meaning

Why should the young man have to live with so much evil around him? Why should he have to grace impiety with his presence? Those who commit impiety use his presence to pretend to be better and thereby gain advantage. Why should cosmetics be allowed to imitate the blush of his cheek, creating a lifeless hue that degrades the living hue? Why should anyone indirectly seek beauty in an ordinary rose when the young man is the most perfect rose of all? Why should he go on living, now that nature is so bankrupt of vital resources that it cannot even create enough blood to rush through veins? He lives on because he is the only resource from which nature can borrow to beautify herself and her offspring. Thus, she uses him to display the great store of beauty she had in days gone by.

Sonnet 68

Observations About the Young Man

Thus is his cheek the map of days outworn,
When beauty lived and died as flowers do now,
Before these bastard signs of fair were born,
Or durst inhabit on a living brow;
Before the golden tresses of the dead,
The right of sepulchres, were shorn away,
To live a second life on second head;
Ere beauty's dead fleece made another gay:
In him those holy antique hours are seen,
Without all ornament, itself and true,
Making no summer of another's green,
Robbing no old to dress his beauty new;
    And him as for a map doth Nature store,
    To show false Art what beauty was of yore.

bastard: Not genuine; inferior.
fair: Beauty.
durst: Dared.
shorn: Cut.
Ere: Before.
fleece: Covering of hair.
green: Youth; youthful appearance.

Summary and Meaning

Thus, the young man serves as an example of what beauty was like in the days when people—like flowers—displayed beauty in all its glory before dying. Now, people are attempting to duplicate beauty cosmetically. They are even snipping golden tresses from the dead to make wigs for themselves. Such fleeces make them happy. But in the young man, one can see how beauty once was, pure and unadorned, without the use of someone else's stolen youth. So it is that nature sustains him to show false art what real beauty was in former times.

Sonnet 69

Addressed to the Young Man

Those parts of thee that the world's eye doth view
Want nothing that the thought of hearts can mend;
All tongues, the voice of souls, give thee that due,
Uttering bare truth, even so as foes commend.
Thy outward thus with outward praise is crown'd;
But those same tongues, that give thee so thine own,
In other accents do this praise confound
By seeing farther than the eye hath shown.
They look into the beauty of thy mind,
And that in guess they measure by thy deeds;
Then, churls, their thoughts, although their eyes were kind,
To thy fair flower add the rank smell of weeds:
    But why thy odour matcheth not thy show,
    The soil is this, that thou dost common grow.

doth: Does.
Want . . . mend: Have nothing that requires mending or improvement.
All . . . souls: All persons.
churls: Rude, surly persons; peasants.
soil: Reason.

Summary and Meaning

No part of your physical appearance requires improvement. Everyone who sees you agrees with this observation, even your enemies. You receive outward praise for your outward person. But the same ones who praise your appearance offer less-than-complimentary opinions about your inward self, your mind. Gauging the quality of your thoughts by your deeds, they maintain that the fair flower on the outside is not so fair on the inside. It may be morally corrupt. They say this because of the questionable company you keep. By choosing to live in a garden with rank weeds, you are beginning to smell like them.

Sonnet 70

Addressed to the Young Man

That thou art blamed shall not be thy defect,
For slander's mark was ever yet the fair;
The ornament of beauty is suspect,
A crow that flies in heaven's sweetest air.
So thou be good, slander doth but approve
Thy worth the greater, being wooed of time;
For canker vice the sweetest buds doth love,
And thou present'st a pure unstained prime.
Thou hast passed by the ambush of young days
Either not assailed, or victor being charged;
Yet this thy praise cannot be so thy praise,
To tie up envy, evermore enlarged,
    If some suspect of ill masked not thy show,
    Then thou alone kingdoms of hearts shouldst owe.

Notes

slander's . . . fair: Gossips, envious of beautiful people, tell lies about them.
slander . . . greater: Slander only makes you seem better, since everyone knows that slanderers attack the best of people.
canker: Ruinous; diseased.
unstained prime: Upright youth.
ambush: Temptations.
Yet . . . enlarged: But my praise for you in the sonnets will not stop the envious from talking about you.

Summary and Meaning

Don't worry about people who slander you with accusations of shameful behavior. They attack you because they are jealous of your good looks. They see you as a crow that dares to fly in the sweet air of heaven. But their false talk serves only to enhance your reputation by making people realize that vicious gossips target the best of men, not the worst. Fortunately, you have so far navigated your youthful years without yielding to temptation. But keep in mind that my praise of you in my sonnets won't silence envious gossips. There will always be those who say you hide dirty secrets behind your outer appearance.

Sonnet 71

Addressed to the Young Man

No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
From this vile world with vilest worms to dwell:
Nay, if you read this line, remember not
The hand that writ it, for I love you so,
That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,
If thinking on me then should make you woe.
O! if, I say, you look upon this verse,
When I perhaps compounded am with clay,
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse;
But let your love even with my life decay;
    Lest the wise world should look into your moan,
    And mock you with me after I am gone.

Notes

bell: Church bell rung at a funeral.
fled: Dead.
with . . . dwell: To lie in a grave with worms.
compounded  . . . clay: Buried.

Summary and Meaning
 
When I am dead, don't mourn for me any longer than it takes to hear the doleful church bell ring at my funeral, alerting the world that I have left the world to live in a grave with worms. No, if you read this line, don't remember the hand that wrote it. For I love you so much that I don't want you to fret over me if doing so will make you sad. O, if you read this verse when I am buried in clay, do not so much as mention my insignificant name. Instead, let your love decay, just as I decay, lest the world mock you for hanging onto the memory of me. 

Sonnet 72

Addressed to the Young Man

O! lest the world should task you to recite
What merit lived in me, that you should love
After my death,—dear love, forget me quite,
For you in me can nothing worthy prove.
Unless you would devise some virtuous lie,
To do more for me than mine own desert,
And hang more praise upon deceased I
Than niggard truth would willingly impart:
O! lest your true love may seem false in this
That you for love speak well of me untrue,
My name be buried where my body is,
And live no more to shame nor me nor you.
    For I am shamed by that which I bring forth,
    And so should you, to love things nothing worth.


Notes

you . . . prove: You will find nothing worthy in me.
virtuous lie: An example of oxymoron, a figure of speech in which contradictory words appear side by side.
than . . . desert: Than I deserve.
niggard: Stingy.

Summary and Meaning

If the world asks about what merits I possess that live on in your memory after my death, simply forget about me. For you will find nothing meritorious in me for you to call attention to—unless you lie about my life, giving me praise that I do not deserve. Stingy truth will not yield anything in my life that is praiseworthy. People will think that you speak well of me simply because you loved me. It would be better to bury my name and reputation with my body. Doing so assures that my name will not shame you or me. I am ashamed of my deeds. You should be too; you should not love worthless things.

Sonnet 73

Addressed to the Young Man

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed, whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourish'd by.
    This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
    To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.

Notes


behold: Notice; realize that.
Bare ruin'd choirs: metaphor comparing the branches to church choirs.
Death's second self: Night.
on the ashes . . . lie: The fire of life is dying; only embers remain on ashes.
Consumed . . . nourish'd by: Paradox
consumed by the love (fire) that nourished him.
This thou perceiv'st: When you realize that I am dying.
ere: Before.


Summary and Meaning

In this sonnet, the speaker assumes the persona of an old man reflecting on his advancing age. Here is what he tells the young man: I am like trees as they appear late in the year—either autumn (signified by "yellow leaves") or early winter (signified by “none”) when most or all of the leaves have fallen from the trees. The boughs of the trees, once alive with choirs of singing birds, now are bare—like empty seats in the chancel or choir loft of a decaying church. (Many churches and monasteries in Shakespeare’s day were in ruins as a result of  King Henry VIII’s crackdown on Catholicism before Shakespeare was born.) I am also like evening after the “sunset fadeth.” The blackness of night, or death, will eventually take me, sealing me from life as I lie at eternal rest. Finally, I am like dying embers on ashes—the burned-out remnants of the fire of my youth. 

Comment

The last two lines appear to have two meanings: (1) you will love me, an aging man, all the more because you know that I am near death; (2) you will love and appreciate your own life more because you now realize that the green leaf of youth will soon turn yellow and fall.

Sonnet 74

Addressed to the Young Man

But be contented when that fell arrest
Without all bail shall carry me away,
My life hath in this line some interest,
Which for memorial still with thee shall stay.
When thou reviewest this, thou dost review
The very part was consecrate to thee:
The earth can have but earth, which is his due;
My spirit is thine, the better part of me:
So then thou hast but lost the dregs of life,
The prey of worms, my body being dead;
The coward conquest of a wretch's knife,
Too base of thee to be remembered.
    The worth of that is that which it contains,
    And that is this, and this with thee remains.    

Notes

fell: Deadly; cruel.
Without all bail: No one can post bail to rescue a person from death.
in this line: In this poem.
for  . . . stay: The poem shall remain behind as a remembrance of my affection for you.
consecrate: Sacred.
dregs: Least important part; body.
The coward . . . knife: Cowardly death "cut away" my life.

Summary and Meaning

Be content when death takes me from you. Bear in mind, however, that I will still be alive in these lines that I write. They shall stand as a memorial for you. When you read this sonnet, you will be reading about the part of me that was dedicated to you, my soul. The earth can have my body, but my spirit—the better part of me—is yours. So your only loss would be the worst part of me, my body, the prey of worms. Cowardly death will kill it, as with the knife of an assassin. But my corpse will be too base for you to remember. What is important is not the body that I leave behind, but the verse I have written that will continue to live with you.

Sonnet 75

Addressed to the Young Man

So are you to my thoughts as food to life,
Or as sweet-season'd showers are to the ground;
And for the peace of you I hold such strife
As 'twixt a miser and his wealth is found.
Now proud as an enjoyer, and anon
Doubting the filching age will steal his treasure;
Now counting best to be with you alone,
Then better'd that the world may see my pleasure:
Sometime all full with feasting on your sight,
And by and by clean starved for a look;
Possessing or pursuing no delight
Save what is had, or must from you be took.
    Thus do I pine and surfeit day by day,
    Or gluttoning on all, or all away.

Notes

for the . . . found: There is peace between us, with no more strife than there is between a miser and his treasure.
anon: Soon.
Now counting . . . pleasure: One moment I think it best to be alone with you. But the next moment I think it best to be with you in the world so that people can see the pleasure I take in your presence.
Sometime: Sometimes.
surfeit: Get my full.

Summary and Meaning

You are as important to me as food is to the body or as rain is to the ground. The peace you give me is calming and serene, with no more strife than there is between a miser and his gold. Although I enjoy your company one moment, the next moment I worry that someone will try to steal you away. And although I think it best to be alone with you, I sometimes desire to let the world see what a treasure I have. The sight of you fills my eyes with a feast. But after I look away for a while, I become hungry for another look. I do not possess or pursue any other delight, only you. Thus do I pine for you when you are out of my sight and then get my full when you are near.

Sonnet 76

Addressed to the Young Man

Why is my verse so barren of new pride,
So far from variation or quick change?
Why with the time do I not glance aside
To new-found methods, and to compounds strange?
Why write I still all one, ever the same,
And keep invention in a noted weed,
That every word doth almost tell my name,
Showing their birth, and where they did proceed?
O! know sweet love I always write of you,
And you and love are still my argument;
So all my best is dressing old words new,
Spending again what is already spent:
    For as the sun is daily new and old,
    So is my love still telling what is told.

Notes

new pride: New subject matter and new ways of writing.
compounds strange: Peculiar or unusual writing styles or techniques.
invention: Creativity.
noted weed: Familiar clothing; familiar appearance.
argument: Subject.

Summary and Meaning

Why is my verse always the same, varying or changing little over time and never exhibiting new methods and techniques? Why do I always express my creativity in the same old clothing (weed, line 6)
so much so that every word almost shouts my name, informing people who wrote the poem? The reason is you. My love for you is always fresh and new, even though I use old words to describe it. In fact, my love is like the sun—always bringing a new day even though it is as old as the universe. So it is that I continue to write about a bright sun—my love for you.

Sonnet 77

Addressed to the Young Man

Thy glass will show thee how thy beauties wear,
Thy dial how thy precious minutes waste;
The vacant leaves thy mind's imprint will bear,
And of this book, this learning mayst thou taste.
The wrinkles which thy glass will truly show
Of mouthed graves will give thee memory;
Thou by thy dial's shady stealth mayst know
Time's thievish progress to eternity.
Look what thy memory cannot contain,
Commit to these waste blanks, and thou shalt find
Those children nursed, delivered from thy brain,
To take a new acquaintance of thy mind.
    These offices, so oft as thou wilt look,
    Shall profit thee and much enrich thy book.

Notes

glass: Mirror.
dial: Clock.
vacant leaves: Blank pages in a diary or notebook.
And of . . . taste: And while compiling this notebook, you may learn the following.
mouthed: Open.
Look . . . blanks: What you cannot remember you should write down on the blank pages.
children nursed: Thoughts that have matured.

Summary and Meaning

Your mirror will show you how you age, your clock will show you the time you waste, and the blank pages in your diary will display the words expressing your thoughts on these and other subjects. The diary will teach you about life. For example, the words you write about the aging image in the mirror will call up thoughts of gaping graves and remind you of your mortality. As you note down how you spend your hours and days, you will learn how relentless thievish time is in his march toward eternity. Be sure to write down the thoughts that you are unlikely to remember. Thoughts are the children of your mind. When you review these thoughts years later, they will give you insights you didn't see the first time. Observing your changing image, taking note of how you spend your time, and writing down your thoughts will all profit you and enrich your time on earth.

Sonnet 78

Addressed to the Young Man

So oft have I invoked thee for my Muse,
And found such fair assistance in my verse
As every alien pen hath got my use
And under thee their poesy disperse.
Thine eyes, that taught the dumb on high to sing
And heavy ignorance aloft to fly,
Have added feathers to the learned's wing
And given grace a double majesty.
Yet be most proud of that which I compile,
Whose influence is thine, and born of thee:
In others' works thou dost but mend the style,
And arts with thy sweet graces graced be;
    But thou art all my art, and dost advance
    As high as learning, my rude ignorance.

Notes

Muse: Inspiration.
every . . . pen: Every other writer.
poesy: Poetry.
disperse: Distribute.
compile: Write.

Summary and Meaning

Often I have called upon you to inspire my poetry. On such occasions, your inspiration has worked so well that other poets who read my writing are imitating my verse and showing it around. Your dazzling eyes have taught ignorant and mediocre writers to compose soaring poetry. They have earned praise from learned writers, giving their verse a double majesty. Yet be proudest of the verse I write—born of you and inspired by you. In the works of other writers, you simply mend their mistakes and add grace where there is none. But, since you are everything in my verse, you advance my rude ignorance to the highest level.

Sonnet 79

Addressed to the Young Man
As a Complaint About the Rival Poet

 
Whilst I alone did call upon thy aid,
My verse alone had all thy gentle grace,
But now my gracious numbers are decay'd,
And my sick Muse doth give another place
I grant, sweet love, thy lovely argument
Deserves the travail of a worthier pen,
Yet what of thee thy poet doth invent
He robs thee of and pays it thee again.
He lends thee virtue and he stole that word
From thy behavior; beauty doth he give
And found it in thy cheek; he can afford
No praise to thee but what in thee doth live.
    
Then thank him not for that which he doth say,
    
Since what he owes thee thou thyself dost pay.

Notes

Whilst . . . aid: When only I wrote about you.
numbers: Poems.
sick Muse: Flagging, overtaxed creativity.
argument: Excellent qualities that "argue" for attention.
travail: Writing, poetry; the work of writing poetry.
Yet . . . invent:
Whatever quality of yours this other poet writes about.

Summary and Meaning

When only I wrote about you, mine was the only poetry that extolled your gentle virtues. However, now that I have worn myself out praising you in verse, another poet has taken my place and is writing his own poems about you. Of course, I realize that your lovely qualities deserve the attention of another poet (usually referred to by Shakespeare scholars as "the rival poet"). Yet all he seems to do is reflect your virtues in words—that is, he takes your good qualities, then simply gives them back to you. He doesn't really interpret you creatively; he merely repeats what is already written in your behavior or in your cheek. Thus, you don't owe him any thanks for what he writes about you. In fact, he owes you thanks for what you are giving him.

Sonnet 80

Addressed to the Young Man

O! how I faint when I of you do write,
Knowing a better spirit doth use your name,
And in the praise thereof spends all his might,
To make me tongue-tied speaking of your fame.
But since your worth, wide as the ocean is,
The humble as the proudest sail doth bear,
My saucy bark, inferior far to his,
On your broad main doth wilfully appear.
Your shallowest help will hold me up afloat,
Whilst he upon your soundless deep doth ride;
Or, being wracked, I am a worthless boat,
He of tall building, and of goodly pride:
    Then if he thrive and I be cast away,
    The worst was this, my love was my decay.

Notes

better spirit: The rival poet.
But since . . . bear: But since your worth as a human being, like a wide ocean, can carry the humblest ship as well as the proudest.
bark: Small sailing vessel.
main: Open sea.
soundless: One of the meanings of the verb sound is to measure the depth of water by dropping down a line with a weight attached. In this sonnet, soundless, an adjective, means that the water is so deep that the depth cannot be measured.
wracked: Wrecked.

Summary and Meaning

When I write, I become upset after I consider that a better poet spends all his energy in praise of you in order to outdo me. (The speaker is probably being ironic—or even sarcastic—when he refers to the rival poet as a “better spirit.” Other sonnets, such as 82, clearly indicate that the speaker believes his writing—all things considered—is superior to that of other poets.) Your worth is as wide as an ocean. But because both the humblest and proudest sails can navigate that ocean, I have steered my small sailing ship—far inferior to the other poet's—onto your open sea. Your inspiration will help me stay afloat while he rides on your deepest water. If I am shipwrecked, my boat will be worthless. And if his large and seaworthy ship thrives and I be cast away, the worst you can say about me was that I went down because of my love for you.

Sonnet 81

Addressed to the Young Man
 
Or I shall live your epitaph to make,
Or you survive when I in earth am rotten;
From hence your memory death cannot take,
Although in me each part will be forgotten.
Your name from hence immortal life shall have,
Though I, once gone, to all the world must die:
The earth can yield me but a common grave,
When you entombed in men's eyes shall lie.
Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall o'er-read,
And tongues to be your being shall rehearse
When all the breathers of this world are dead;
     You still shall live—such virtue hath my pen—
     Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men.

Notes

Or I shall . . . cannot take: Suppose you die before me and I write your epitaph. Or suppose you survive while I rot in the grave. In either case, your memory will live on and mine will be forgotten.
Or you . . . rotten: S
o that you will live on in my words when I am dead.
hence: The epitaph. You will be remembered by my poetry, which will serve as your epitaph.
Which . . .  o'er-read: Future generations will read about you.
tongues to be: Future generations.

Summary and Meaning

The speaker says his poetry about the young man will immortalize the youth. It will serve as an epitaph that future generations will read and talk about. Although the speaker himself will lie in a humble grave, forgotten, the young man will "lie" in a memorial of fame constructed by the speaker's poetry. After everyone in the world of the speaker and the young man is dead, the young man will continue to live in the speaker's words.

Sonnet 82

Addressed to the Young Man

I grant thou wert not married to my Muse,
And therefore mayst without attaint o'erlook
The dedicated words which writers use
Of their fair subject, blessing every book.
Thou art as fair in knowledge as in hue,
Finding thy worth a limit past my praise;
And therefore art enforced to seek anew
Some fresher stamp of the time-bettering days.
And do so, love; yet when they have devised,
What strained touches rhetoric can lend,
Thou truly fair, wert truly sympathized
In true plain words, by thy true-telling friend;
    And their gross painting might be better used
    Where cheeks need blood; in thee it is abused.

Notes

Muse: Poems; verses.
attaint: Rebuke; taint or stain.
o'erlook: Look over; peruse.
fair subject: The young man.
Some . . . stamp: Poetry of new writers.
sympathized: Depicted.
true . . . friend: The speaker.
painting: Metaphor comparing writing to painting.

Summary and Meaning

Because you are not married to my sonnet collection, you may of course look over what other poets write about you. I will not fault you for doing so. You are a fair subject for them, blessing every book they write. Since you are as knowledgeable as you are attractive, I find that your overall worth is beyond the praise I can give it. For this reason, you seek out poems about you by other writers. By all means, do so. I don't mind. But after you browse through their fancy, stylized verses, you will come to realize that the plain words of my poetry—words that truthfully and accurately portray your outstanding qualities—are superior to their bombastic and flamboyant words. They should be writing about inferior people who need to be dressed up with words. But their use of excessively ornate and flowery language to describe you is unnecessary and out of place.

Sonnet 83

Addressed to the Young Man

I never saw that you did painting need,
And therefore to your fair no painting set;
I found, or thought I found, you did exceed
The barren tender of a poet's debt:
And therefore have I slept in your report,
That you yourself, being extant, well might show
How far a modern quill doth come too short,
Speaking of worth, what worth in you doth grow.
This silence for my sin you did impute,
Which shall be most my glory being dumb;
For I impair not beauty being mute,
When others would give life, and bring a tomb.
    There lives more life in one of your fair eyes
    Than both your poets can in praise devise.

Notes

painting: Writing that is excessively ornate; writing that is overembellished.
The barren . . . debt: The meager resources that a writer would use to pay his debt to you—that is, his obligation to acknowledge your excellence. Here, the speaker uses a business metaphor, money (tender, line 4), to represent the talent or ability of a poet.
slept . . . report: Stopped writing about you.
being extant: Being outstanding. Extant today means alive or surviving, but in Shakespeare's time it could also mean standing out.
quill: Writer. Substitution of quill for writer constitutes a figure of speech called metonymy, in which a word or phrase represents a closely associated term. Examples: (1) Wall Street frowned on the president's economic plan. (Wall Street represents investors.)  (2) I got a new set of wheels for my birthday. (Wheels represents a car.)
impute: Find fault with; criticize.
dumb: Inactive in writing about you.
mute: Same as dumb.
others . . . tomb: Other writers try to bring you to life with their words but succeed only in entombing you.
both . . . poets: Shakespeare and the rival poet.

Summary and Meaning

I never found that you needed a lavish verbal portrait that attempted to glorify you. Therefore, none was written. I found—or thought I found—that your excellent qualities exceeded a poet's talent to capture them in words. Consequently, I ceased writing about them. Consider that you yourself stand as a living portrait that shows how meager are a poet's verses that depict you. Speaking of your worth, I wish to point out that yours continues to grow. But my worth seems to have diminished, since you consider my silence—that is, my decision to stop writing about you—an offense. I don't see it that way. I think my silence is prudent; by writing nothing, I do no harm to your image. Other poets who try to bring you to life end up placing you in a tomb. (As I said before, your outstanding qualities are beyond the ability of a writer to describe them. Thus, any attempt to depict them damages your image.) There is more life in one of your eyes than either I or the rival poet
can adequately represent in words.)

Sonnet 84

Addressed to the Young Man

Who is it that says most, which can say more,
Than this rich praise, that you alone, are you,
In whose confine immured is the store
Which should example where your equal grew?
Lean penury within that pen doth dwell
That to his subject lends not some small glory;
But he that writes of you, if he can tell
That you are you, so dignifies his story.
Let him but copy what in you is writ,
Not making worse what nature made so clear,
And such a counterpart shall fame his wit,
Making his style admired every where.
   You to your beauteous blessings add a curse,
   Being fond on praise, which makes your praises worse.

Notes

Who is . . . equal grew: Which writer heaps the most praise on you? Which writer can top this praise of you: that you alone are you--unique and unequaled? In you is the highest example of beauty and excellence.
penury: Poverty of words; lack of creativity.
writ: Written; obvious to observers.
fame: Make famous.

Summary and Meaning

Who writes the most praise about you? Who can say more than this rich praise: that only you are you; you have no equal. In you are so many excellent qualities that only you can be compared to yourself. It is a poor writer who cannot glorify his subject at least in some small way. But you glorify any writer—no matter his talent or lack of it—who merely writes that you are you. Let him simply copy what is already written in you and, if he copies accurately, he shall become famous. Everyone will admire his style. There is a problem, though. Because you love the praise you get, writers lavish so much flattery on you that they worsen their writing and distort their portraits of you.

Sonnet 85

Addressed to the Young Man

My tongue-tied Muse in manners holds her still,
While comments of your praise richly compiled,
Reserve thy character with golden quill,
And precious phrase by all the Muses filed.
I think good thoughts, whilst others write good words,
And like unlettered clerk still cry 'Amen'
To every hymn that able spirit affords,
In polished form of well-refined pen.
Hearing you praised, I say ''tis so, 'tis true,'
And to the most of praise add something more;
But that is in my thought, whose love to you,
Though words come hindmost, holds his rank before.
    Then others, for the breath of words respect,
    Me for my dumb thoughts, speaking in effect.

Notes

My tongue-tied . . . quill: The speaker says his inspiration (Muse) to write about the young man is tongue-tied. Therefore, he is not producing any new verses about the young man. However, other writers are composing rich works that memorialize the young man. (In Greek mythology, muses were goddesses who inspired writers, musicians, astronomers, choreographers, historians, and others involved in the arts and sciences.)
unlettered: Having a meager education; deficient in reading and writing.
hindmost: Last; of secondary importance.
dumb: Silent; unexpressed.

Summary and Meaning

While the Muse that inspires my poetry remains mute, others praise you in richly adorned verses, writing glowing descriptions of you. I think good thoughts about you while others write down their thoughts and cry amen after every poem they complete in polished form. Noting their praise, I say, “ 'tis so, 'tis true.” To my critique of their verses praising you, I add an additional comment. But that comment remains in my thoughts, whose love for you ranks higher than words. Other writers place words first. My silent thoughts speak for me.

Sonnet 86

Addressed to the Young Man

Was it the proud full sail of his great verse,
Bound for the prize of all too precious you,
That did my ripe thoughts in my brain inhearse,
Making their tomb the womb wherein they grew?
Was it his spirit, by spirits taught to write
Above a mortal pitch, that struck me dead?
No, neither he, nor his compeers by night
Giving him aid, my verse astonished.
He, nor that affable familiar ghost
Which nightly gulls him with intelligence,
As victors of my silence cannot boast;
I was not sick of any fear from thence:
    But when your countenance filled up his line,
    Then lacked I matter; that enfeebled mine.

Notes

proud . . . verse: Metaphor comparing seemingly good poetry to a sail that has caught wind. His refers to the rival poet.
inhearse: Kill; bury; entomb.
Was it . . . dead: Was it his gifted writing, which must have been taught to him by the ghosts of dead writers, that caused me to cease writing about you?
compeers by night: Ghostly associates.
gulls: Deceives; tricks.
countenance: Approval; commendation.

Summary and Meaning

Was it the rival poet's proud verse, written to win you over, that buried my thoughts in a tomb in my brain, a tomb that was once a womb that gave birth to thoughts? Was it his spirit, which the ghosts of poets past taught to write with superhuman skill, that struck me silent in the first place? No, neither he nor those ghosts stifled my verse. No, neither he nor a ghost that nightly visits him can take credit for silencing me. I was not afraid of them. But when you made known your approval (countenance, line 13) of his verse, then I went silent. Your approval enfeebled me.

Sonnet 87

Addressed to the Young Man

Farewell! thou art too dear for my possessing,
And like enough thou know'st thy estimate,
The charter of thy worth gives thee releasing;
My bonds in thee are all determinate.
For how do I hold thee but by thy granting?
And for that riches where is my deserving?
The cause of this fair gift in me is wanting,
And so my patent back again is swerving.
Thy self thou gavest, thy own worth then not knowing,
Or me to whom thou gav'st it else mistaking;
So thy great gift, upon misprision growing,
Comes home again, on better judgement making.
    Thus have I had thee, as a dream doth flatter,
    In sleep a king, but waking no such matter.

Notes

dear: Valuable; expensive; of great worth.
estimate: Value; worth.
charter: Details, like those in a legal agreement.
determinate: Ended; severed.
fair gift: The young man's gift of himself to the speaker.
patent: Inclination.
misprision: Failure to recognize the value of something.

Summary and Meaning

Farewell! You come at too high a price for me to continue to possess you. It is likely that you know your worth, which gives you the right and the wherewithal to go your own way. The bonds that tied you to me are severed. I have no right to your company, no claim on you. Therefore, the gift you gave me, yourself, is no longer mine. Originally, you befriended me when you were not aware of your worth—or simply made a mistake in associating with me. Now you are free and independent of me. I must say, though, that when you were with me it was as if I was in a wonderful dream that flattered my ego. For a time, I was a king. Then I awakened to reality.

Sonnet 88

Addressed to the Young Man

When thou shalt be disposed to set me light,
And place my merit in the eye of scorn,
Upon thy side, against myself I'll fight,
And prove thee virtuous, though thou art forsworn.
With mine own weakness being best acquainted,
Upon thy part I can set down a story
Of faults concealed, wherein I am attainted;
That thou in losing me shalt win much glory:
And I by this will be a gainer too;
For bending all my loving thoughts on thee,
The injuries that to myself I do,
Doing thee vantage, double-vantage me.
    Such is my love, to thee I so belong,
    That for thy right, myself will bear all wrong.

Notes

set . . . light: Focus attention on me; discuss me in public; criticize me in public.
forsworn: Having broken a promise or promises.
attainted: Tainted; tarnished.

Summary and Meaning

When you part from me and subject me to the eye of public scorn, I shall fight against myself and prove you virtuous even though you have broken promises to me. For my own part, I have weaknesses and faults that tarnish my reputation. Therefore, in separating from me, people will think better of you. I too will gain, however, for I will then focus all my thoughts on you while doing injuries to myself. These injuries will make me appear even more despicable and you, by comparison, more admirable. And whatever benefits you benefits me doubly. Such is my love for you that I will bear all wrong for your sake.

Sonnet 89

Addressed to the Young Man

Say that thou didst forsake me for some fault,
And I will comment upon that offence:
Speak of my lameness, and I straight will halt,
Against thy reasons making no defence.
Thou canst not, love, disgrace me half so ill,
To set a form upon desired change,
As I'll myself disgrace; knowing thy will,
I will acquaintance strangle, and look strange;
Be absent from thy walks; and in my tongue
Thy sweet beloved name no more shall dwell,
Lest I, too much profane, should do it wrong,
And haply of our old acquaintance tell.
    For thee, against my self I'll vow debate,
    For I must ne'er love him whom thou dost hate.

Notes

halt: Limp; hobble along.

acquaintance strangle: End our friendship.

Summary and Meaning

Suppose you renounced me and told others you did so because of a fault of mine. For your sake, I would pretend to have that fault. For example, if you told others that I was lame, I would begin to limp. I would not defend myself but accept any disgrace you impose on me. Moreover, I would not do anything to rekindle our friendship. I would cease taking walks with you and would not even utter your name out of fear that doing so would cause you embarrassment. I would not love myself if you did not.

Sonnet 90

Addressed to the Young Man

Then hate me when thou wilt; if ever, now;
Now, while the world is bent my deeds to cross,
Join with the spite of fortune, make me bow,
And do not drop in for an after-loss:
Ah! do not, when my heart hath 'scaped this sorrow,
Come in the rearward of a conquered woe;
Give not a windy night a rainy morrow,
To linger out a purposed overthrow.
If thou wilt leave me, do not leave me last,
When other petty griefs have done their spite,
But in the onset come: so shall I taste
At first the very worst of fortune's might;
    And other strains of woe, which now seem woe,
    Compared with loss of thee, will not seem so.

Notes

the world . . . cross: The world is giving me a hard time.
do not . . . after-loss: Do not visit me after we part company.
when . . . sorrow: When I have gotten over the loss of your friendship.
windy . . . overthrow: The speaker compares his emotional state to a windy night and a rainy tomorrow that would only extend his suffering from the young man's purposeful rejection of him.

Summary and Meaning

Hate me when you wish. In fact, break off our friendship now, at a time when the world is at odds with me. Join in with everyone else who is against me. After I have accepted the loss of your friendship, do not come to see me anymore. But do not wait; cut off your relationship with me now. Other griefs that come my way will then seem petty compared to the grief of losing your friendship.

Sonnet 91

Addressed to the Young Man

Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,
Some in their wealth, some in their bodies’ force,
Some in their garments, though new-fangled ill,
Some in their hawks and hounds, some in their horse;
And every humour hath his adjunct pleasure,
Wherein it finds a joy above the rest.
But these particulars are not my measure;
All these I better in one general best.
Thy love is better than high birth to me,
Richer than wealth, prouder than garments’ cost,
Of more delight than hawks or horses be;
And having thee, of all men’s pride I boast.
    Wretched in this alone, that thou mayst take
    All this away, and me most wretched make.

Notes

Some in their: The use of this phrase in the first four lines constitutes a figure of speech known as anaphora, the repetition of a word or a group of words at the beginning of a phrase, clause, or sentence.
birth: Social status.
garments . . . ill: New clothes that are garish and tawdry.
humour: caprice; notion; impulse; whim.
are not . . . measure: Are not what I use to measure happiness.

Summary and Meaning

Some men glory in having a prestigious family name. Others glory in special talents—or perhaps in their wealth or physical strength. Still others take great pride in wearing the latest fashions, even though sometimes they choose horrid apparel. And there are all sorts of other things that command the attention of men. As for me, I prize your love above all else. It is better than horses and hawks and all the other pursuits and pleasures. However, if you choose to ignore me, I will become woeful and desolate.

Sonnet 92

Addressed to the Young Man

But do thy worst to steal thyself away,
For term of life thou art assured mine;
And life no longer than thy love will stay,
For it depends upon that love of thine.
Then need I not to fear the worst of wrongs,
When in the least of them my life hath end.
I see a better state to me belongs
Than that which on thy humour doth depend:
Thou canst not vex me with inconstant mind,
Since that my life on thy revolt doth lie.
O what a happy title do I find,
Happy to have thy love, happy to die!
    But what's so blessed-fair that fears no blot?
    Thou mayst be false, and yet I know it not.

Notes

But do . . . will stay: If you steal away from me, you will still be mine for the rest of my life. Here's why: I will die the moment I no longer have your love.
it: My life; the length of my life.
need I . . . end: I need not worry about the worst way you can offend me, for the least way would end my life.
humour: Mood; attitude toward me.
inconstant: Changing; faithless.

Summary and Meaning

Do your worst to avoid me, but I regard you as mine for life. However, if your love for me ends, my life ends. But there is an advantage in this outcome: if I am dead, I will no longer worry about whether you will abandon me. Therefore, I am in a good state of mind; I don't fret over whether you decide to maintain or end our friendship. I am happy to have your love when you give it, and I am happy to die when you don't give it. And what if you are false to me without my knowledge? I say this: How could I worry about a situation of which I have no knowledge?

Sonnet 93

Addressed to the Young Man

So shall I live, supposing thou art true,
Like a deceived husband; so love's face
May still seem love to me, though altered new;
Thy looks with me, thy heart in other place:
For there can live no hatred in thine eye,
Therefore in that I cannot know thy change.
In many's looks, the false heart's history
Is writ in moods, and frowns, and wrinkles strange.
But heaven in thy creation did decree
That in thy face sweet love should ever dwell;
Whate'er thy thoughts, or thy heart's workings be,
Thy looks should nothing thence, but sweetness tell.
    How like Eve's apple doth thy beauty grow,
    If thy sweet virtue answer not thy show!

Notes

true: Faithful
in that . . . change: I cannot tell from looking into your eyes whether your attitude toward me has changed.
many's looks: Many persons' looks.
should . . . thence: Your face would not give away anything from those places (the mind and the heart).

Summary and Meaning

I will carry on with life under the assumption that you are remaining a faithful friend. But if you are deceiving me the way an unfaithful wife deceives her husband—pretending to look upon me with love while your heart is with another person—I will have no way of knowing about your unfaithfulness. True, a false heart's deceptive behavior is often given away by moods and frowns and strange wrinkles. In your case, however, affection always appears on your face. Whatever you are thinking or feeling is unknown to me. You may be like Eve's apple: beautiful on the outside but corrupted on the inside.

Sonnet 94

Observations of the Speaker

They that have power to hurt, and will do none,
That do not do the thing they most do show,
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,
Unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow;
They rightly do inherit heaven's graces,
And husband nature's riches from expense;
They are the lords and owners of their faces,
Others, but stewards of their excellence.
The summer's flower is to the summer sweet,
Though to itself, it only live and die,
But if that flower with base infection meet,
The basest weed outbraves his dignity:
    For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
    Lilies that fester, smell far worse than weeds.

Notes

hurt: Injure emotionally.
none: No hurtful deed.
do not . . . show: Do not engage in wanton behavior.
moving others: Arousing desire in others.
husband: Manage.
stewards: In Shakespeare's day, a steward was the manager of a king's or nobleman's household. Compare stewards with lords and owners in the previous line.

Summary and Meaning


There are people with exceptional qualities who have the power to hurt the feelings of others but refuse to do so. Even though their admirers desire to be intimate with them, these extraordinary specimens avoid untoward liaisons and remain chaste, keeping their emotions under control. Such people are the ones who earn heaven's smiles, the ones who refuse to cheapen themselves by spending their natural treasures to obtain momentary gratification. They discipline themselves; they own themselves. Compare them to a summer flower that is sweet to all who behold it. In modesty, it keeps its place, perfuming the air while it lives, then withers and dies. But if that flower were to bow to the advances of a weed, it would become like the weed—base, undignified. Good things turn bad when they choose to do bad things. A lily that willingly associates with a weed soon festers with infection. Eventually, it becomes worse than the weed.

Sonnet 95

Addressed to the Young Man

How sweet and lovely dost thou make the shame
Which, like a canker in the fragrant rose,
Doth spot the beauty of thy budding name!
O! in what sweets dost thou thy sins enclose.
That tongue that tells the story of thy days,
Making lascivious comments on thy sport,
Cannot dispraise, but in a kind of praise;
Naming thy name blesses an ill report.
O! what a mansion have those vices got
Which for their habitation chose out thee,
Where beauty's veil doth cover every blot
And all things turns to fair that eyes can see!
    Take heed, dear heart, of this large privilege;
    The hardest knife ill-used doth lose his edge.

Notes

canker: Plant disease that causes lesions.
spot: Disfigure.
sport: Behavior.
O . . . thee: Metaphor comparing the young man to a mansion and his sins to the residents.
beauty's veil: Metaphor comparing the young man's good looks to a veil that covers ugliness, or sin.

Summary and Meaning

I have been hearing stories about your sinful behavior, which infects you the way a disease infects a rose. The teller of these tales makes your shame appear sweet and fragrant, as if your sins carried the scent of a rose. The mere mention of your name “blesses an ill report” (line 8) about your vices, which have taken up residence in the mansion of your being. Your beautiful exterior, like the splendid exterior of a fine house, hides ugliness within. Be careful. You cannot sustain a sterling reputation forever. Eventually, like the fine edge of an ill-used knife, the fine edge of your reputation will eventually become dull. Your good name will suffer.

Sonnet 96

Addressed to the Young Man

Some say thy fault is youth, some wantonness;
Some say thy grace is youth and gentle sport;
Both grace and faults are lov'd of more and less:
Thou mak'st faults graces that to thee resort.
As on the finger of a throned queen
The basest jewel will be well esteem'd,
So are those errors that in thee are seen
To truths translated, and for true things deem'd.
How many lambs might the stern wolf betray,
If like a lamb he could his looks translate!
How many gazers mightst thou lead away,
If thou wouldst use the strength of all thy state!
    But do not so, I love thee in such sort,
    As thou being mine, mine is thy good report.

Notes

Thou . . . graces: You have the ability to make your faults seem like good qualities. Mak'st faults graces is an example of a paradox, a figure of speech that presents a contradictory statement that appears to be true.
errors . . . translated: Your sins are viewed by others as virtues.
If . . . translate: This line
—like hundreds of others in the sonnets—contains alliteration, a figure of speech that repeats a consonant sound at the beginning of words or syllables. Here are the consonant sounds, boldfaced: "If like a lamb he could his looks translate."
gazers: Admirers.

Summary and Meaning

Some blame your youth for your behavior. Others say you simply have loose morals. Still others observe that your youth and your behavior are, together, appealing and winsome. Thus, your good qualities and faults—faults which you have the ability to turn into seeming graces—both receive the approval of many people. But your reprehensible behavior is like the least valuable gem on one of the rings on the fingers of a queen: The other jewels—the finer ones—make the base jewel seem better than it is. Oh, how many lambs could the wolf snatch away if it disguised itself as a lamb? How many of your admirers could you lead astray if you used your charms to tempt them? But do not do so. I hold such affection for you that whatever taints your reputation taints mine as well.

Sonnet 97

Addressed to the Young Man

How like a winter hath my absence been
From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!
What old December's bareness everywhere!
And yet this time removed was summer's time;
The teeming autumn, big with rich increase,
Bearing the wanton burden of the prime,
Like widow'd wombs after their lords' decease:
Yet this abundant issue seemed to me
But hope of orphans, and unfathered fruit;
For summer and his pleasures wait on thee,
And, thou away, the very birds are mute:
    Or, if they sing, 'tis with so dull a cheer,
    That leaves look pale, dreading the winter's near.

Notes
From . . . year: From you, who make the passage of time a pleasure.
What freezings . . . everywhere: The repetition of what constitutes a figure of speech called anaphora,
the repetition of a word or a group of words at the beginning of a phrase, clause, or sentence.
autumn . . . increase: Metaphor comparing autumn to a pregnant woman.
widow'd wombs: This is an example of synechdoche, a figure of speech in which a part represents a whole. In this case, wombs represents women.
prime: Beginning of new life.
issue: Offspring; harvest.

Summary and Meaning

My absence from you has been like a winter. When I am with you, life is such a pleasure; time passes quickly. My time away from you has been cold and dark and bare, like December. Oddly, though, my absence from you took place in the summer. When autumn arrived, it was big and rich, like a pregnant woman; it bore a harvest as a widow whose husband had died months before. The offsrping—the fruits and vegetables and other issue—thus were pitiful orphans. Or at least they seemed so to me because of the emptiness I felt in being away from you and because of the shining summer of your presence. When you are away, even the birds around me go silent. Of if they sing at all, their tune is so dull and lifeless that the leaves lose their color in dread of approaching winter.

Sonnet 98

Addressed to the Young Man

From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing,
That heavy Saturn laughed and leapt with him.
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odour and in hue,
Could make me any summer's story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew:
Nor did I wonder at the lily's white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
    Yet seemed it winter still, and you away,
    As with your shadow I with these did play.

Notes

pied: Having patches of two or more colors.
Saturn: In Roman mythology, the god of agriculture.
lays: Songs.
vermilion: Vivid red.

Summary and Meaning

I have been absent from you in the spring, when many-colored April—dressed in all his finery—put a spirit of youth in everything. Even the god Saturn laughed and leaped with the joy of the season. But neither the songs of the birds nor the sweet smell of the flowers could lift my spirits. Nor could the whiteness of the lily or the vivid redness of the rose. To be sure, these flowers were figures of delight. However, they were patterned after you. And because you were absent from me—making spring seem like winter—I was sad. Nevertheless, I played with them as if they were your shadow.

Sonnet 99

Addressed to the Young Man

The forward violet thus did I chide:
Sweet thief, whence didst thou steal thy sweet that smells,
If not from my love's breath? The purple pride
Which on thy soft cheek for complexion dwells
In my love's veins thou hast too grossly dy'd.
The lily I condemned for thy hand,
And buds of marjoram had stol'n thy hair;
The roses fearfully on thorns did stand,
One blushing shame, another white despair;
A third, nor red nor white, had stol'n of both,
And to his robbery had annexed thy breath;
But, for his theft, in pride of all his growth
A vengeful canker eat him up to death.
    More flowers I noted, yet I none could see,
    But sweet, or colour it had stol'n from thee.

Notes

whence: From where; from what place.
cheek: Petals.
dy'd: Dyed.
marjoram: Plant of the mint family.
annexed: Acquired; taken; incorporated.
canker: Plant disease.

Summary and Meaning

I scolded a brazen violet for stealing its sweet smell from your breath and for stealing its purple color from your veins. I also reprimanded a lily for stealing the hue of your hand and chided marjoram buds for stealing the appearance and fragrance of your hair. One rose took red from you; another, white; and a third took red and white, as well as your breath. For his crime, a vengeful disease consumed him. I noted that other flowers all stole a color or a fragrance from you.

Sonnet 100

Addressed to a Muse

Where art thou, Muse, that thou forget'st so long
To speak of that which gives thee all thy might?
Spend'st thou thy fury on some worthless song,
Darkening thy power to lend base subjects light?
Return, forgetful Muse, and straight redeem
In gentle numbers time so idly spent;
Sing to the ear that doth thy lays esteem
And gives thy pen both skill and argument.
Rise, resty Muse, my love's sweet face survey,
If Time have any wrinkle graven there;
If any, be a satire to decay,
And make Time's spoils despised every where.
    Give my love fame faster than Time wastes life;
     So thou prevent'st his scythe and crooked knife.
  
Notes

Muse: In Greek mythology, one of several goddesses who inspired poets, artists, musicians, and scientists.
that which gives thee all thy might: The young man's good qualities.
Darkening . . . light: Lowering yourself by focusing on unworthy subjects.
numbers: Poems; verses.
Sing . . . esteem: Provide the inspiration that I need to write beautiful poems (lays) about the young man.
skill and argument: Worthy and meaningful words that you inspire.

resty: Sleepy; inactive.
graven: Etched; carved.

If any . . .decay: If there are wrinkles, ridicule them.
make . . . where: Make everyone hate time. 

Summary and Meaning
.
The speaker has apparently been experiencing writer’s block or some other problem hindering him from producing new poems about the young man. So, in this sonnet, he asks the Muse for new enthusiasm, new ideas, so that he may continue to extol the virtues of the young man. A Muse was a Greek goddess. There were nine of them in all. It was believed that they infused poets, painters, and other artists with the fire of creativity. Shakespeare, of course, did not believe in goddesses. He was simply using the word Muse as a metaphor for the intellectual stimulation required to write a good poem. Since ancient times, writers have used Muse in this way. In modern America, we call upon the metaphorical "Uncle Sam" to protect us against enemies or upon "Lady Luck" to bring us good fortune in a gambling casino. And, we also call upon the "Muse" to inspire us to write a good essay for English 101.

Sonnet 101

Addressed to a Muse

O truant Muse, what shall be thy amends
For thy neglect of truth in beauty dyed?
Both truth and beauty on my love depends;
So dost thou too, and therein dignified.
Make answer, Muse: wilt thou not haply say
'Truth needs no colour, with his colour fix'd;
Beauty no pencil, beauty's truth to lay;
But best is best, if never intermix'd?'
Because he needs no praise, wilt thou be dumb?
Excuse not silence so; for't lies in thee
To make him much outlive a gilded tomb,
And to thee praised of ages yet to be.
    Then do thy office, Muse; I teach thee how
    To make him seem long hence as he shows now.

Notes

truant: Neglectful; absent; uninspiring.
truth . . . dyed: Reference to the young man, in whose beauty truth resides (is dyed).
truth . . . depends: Since truth and beauty display themselves in the young man, they depend on him.
So dost . . .  dignified: You depend on him too, for you use his good qualities to inspire poetry. This process dignifies you.
will thou . . . colour fix'd: You will probably try to escape your duty of inspiring poets like me by saying that truth does not require fancy words to describe it when beauty already speaks the truth about itself. Further description would be superfluous; no description is necessary.
But best . . . intermix'd: Why should you mix your descriptions, you make ask, with the descriptions that naturally radiate from him?
Excuse . . . tomb: But your silence on this matter won't do. For it is your obligation as a muse to glorify him in a way that makes him live on in the minds of people long after he is dead and buried.
Then do . . . Muse: Then do your job, Muse; inspire poets to immortalize him with their words.

Summary and Meaning

The speaker continues to address the muse. Specifically, he lectures her for not inspiring him with suitable words to describe the young man's qualities. She may maintain that these qualities radiate from him and, therefore, do not require description. But that explanation is simply an excuse for her silence. The Muse has a duty to do all she can to make sure that words are penned that will glorify the young man for ages to come.

Sonnet 102

Addressed to the Young Man

My love is strengthened, though more weak in seeming;

I love not less, though less the show appear;
 That love is merchandized, whose rich esteeming,
The owner's tongue doth publish every where.
Our love was new, and then but in the spring,
When I was wont to greet it with my lays;
As Philomel in summer's front doth sing,
And stops his pipe in growth of riper days:
Not that the summer is less pleasant now
Than when her mournful hymns did hush the night,
But that wild music burthens every bough,
And sweets grown common lose their dear delight.
    Therefore like her, I sometime hold my tongue:
    Because I would not dull you with my song.

Notes

merchandized: Cheapened.
wont: Inclined.
lays: Poems; songs.
Philomel: Another name for a nightingale. Philomel is derived from the name Philomela. In Greek mythology. Philomela was a princess of Athens. Her sister, Procne, was married to King Tereus of Thrace. Not satisfied with only one of the sisters, Tereus lusted after Philomela and one day raped her. To prevent her from revealing his crime, he cut out her tongue. However, Philomel embroidered a tapestry depicting his brutality and showed it to her sister. The two women then plotted against Tereus  and ended up serving him his son, Itys, in a stew. When Tereus discovers what they did, he chases them with an axe. The gods then turn Philomela into a nightingale and Procne into a swallow.
pipe: Vocal organ (syrinx) of birds. Birds sing by vibrating the membranes of the syrinx.
burthens: Burdens; weighs down.
sweets . . . common: Songs heard too often.
sometime: Sometimes.

Summary and Meaning

My love is stronger, although it may seem weaker. I love you no less than before, although I do not make a public display of my love. A person cheapens love when he publicizes his affection for another. Our love was new, just in its spring, when I decided to express it in my poetry. Compare me to a nightingale. The nightingale sings at the beginning of summer, then stops as the summer wears on. It's not that the passing summer has become less pleasant than it was earlier. But there comes a time when so many birds fill the air with their singing that their song becomes repetitive and tedious. Therefore, like that first nightingale that stops singing when so many other birds take up its song, I sometimes put my pen down to avoid boring you with an endless flow of poetic lines.

Sonnet 103

Addressed to the Young Man

Alack! what poverty my Muse brings forth,
That having such a scope to show her pride,
The argument all bare is of more worth
Than when it hath my added praise beside!
O! blame me not, if I no more can write!
Look in your glass, and there appears a face
That over-goes my blunt invention quite,
Dulling my lines, and doing me disgrace.
Were it not sinful then, striving to mend,
To mar the subject that before was well?
For to no other pass my verses tend
Than of your graces and your gifts to tell;
   And more, much more, than in my verse can sit,
   Your own glass shows you when you look in it.

Notes

Alack: alas, an interjection expressing dismay.
Muse: Creativity. In Greek mythology, a goddess of poetry.
scope: Wide range of the young man's qualities.
argument . . . bare: Verse without words. The young man has such obvious excellent qualities that praising him is unnecessary.
glass: Mirror.
over-goes: Exceeds; is superior to.
blunt invention: Lack of creativity.
sinful: Wrong; mistaken.

Summary and Meaning

Alas, I can't find the right words to express my feelings even though I have so much to inspire me. If I wrote nothing at all, the blank page would sound better than the words of praise I am putting on it. Please don't blame me if I trouble writing more about you. Look in your mirror and you will see a face that is superior to my ability to describe it. Compared with it, my lines are dull. I am disgraced. Isn't it wrong to try to mend my words when they only end up marring my subject? You and your qualities are the only topic I want to write about. But you reveal more, much more, than I am capable of capturing in words.

Sonnet 104

Addressed to the Young Man

To me, fair friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I eyed,  
Such seems your beauty still. Three winters cold
Have from the forests shook three summers' pride,
Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turn'd
In process of the seasons have I seen,
Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burn'd,
Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green.
Steal from his figure and no pace perceived;
Ah! yet doth beauty, like a dial-hand,
So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth stand,
Hath motion and mine eye may be deceived:
    For fear of which, hear this, thou age unbred;
    Ere you were born was beauty's summer dead.

Notes

when . . . eyed: When first I saw you.
Three . . . cold: Three years.
pride: Leaves.
green: Young.
dial-hand: Hand of a sun dial or clock.
no . . . perceived: Time seems to be standing still
hath motion: Continues to age.
thou . . . unbred: All of you who have not yet been born.

Summary and Meaning

In my eyes, you can never be old, for you look the same now as you did when I first saw you. You still retain your beauty. Since that time, three cold winters have shaken the leaves of three summers off the trees, and three beautiful springs have turned into the yellow color of autumn. During those three years, the fresh fragrance of three Aprils burned away in the hot sun of three Junes. Yet still you are young, unchanged. The hand of the clock may be stealing your beauty, but the hand must be moving very slowly because I perceive no change in you. Your sweet complexion still looks the same, even though it is aging, but I realize time may be deceiving my eye. In fear that I am being deceived, I urge you who have yet to be born, all of you of future generations, to pay attention to this observation: you cannot grow up to be truly beautiful, because beauty—which has been fully and supremely realized in the young man I am writing about—will die when he dies. In him, beauty has used itself up. 

Sonnet 105

Addressed to the Young Man

Let not my love be called idolatry,
Nor my beloved as an idol show,
Since all alike my songs and praises be
To one, of one, still such, and ever so.
Kind is my love to-day, to-morrow kind,
Still constant in a wondrous excellence;
Therefore my verse to constancy confined,
One thing expressing, leaves out difference.
Fair, kind, and true, is all my argument,
Fair, kind, and true, varying to other words;
And in this change is my invention spent,
Three themes in one, which wondrous scope affords.
    Fair, kind, and true, have often lived alone,
    Which three till now, never kept seat in one.

Notes

all  . . . songs: All my poems.
constant: Faithful; consistent.
leaves . . . difference: Leaves out other subjects, focusing only on constancy.
argument: Topic; what I am writing about.
varying . . . words: Using various words to point out that the young man is fair, kind, and true.
invention: creativity.

Summary and Meaning

People should not describe my preoccupation with the young man as idolatry. Nor should they call the young man himself an idol. There are many idols, representations of many gods. But all my poems and praises are addressed to one person. My affection for him is always kind and always will be. Because it is a constant love, my verses are and always will be constant and will always focus on one subject
the qualities of beauty, kindness, and faithfulness, which characterize our relationshipnever digressing to focus on other things. Those three qualities unite in the young man.

Sonnet 106

Addressed to the Young Man

When in the chronicle of wasted time
I see descriptions of the fairest wights,
And beauty making beautiful old rhyme,
In praise of ladies dead and lovely knights,
Then, in the blazon of sweet beauty's best,
Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow,
I see their antique pen would have expressed
Even such a beauty as you master now.
So all their praises are but prophecies
Of this our time, all you prefiguring;
And for they looked but with divining eyes,
They had not skill enough your worth to sing:
   For we, which now behold these present days,
   Have eyes to wonder, but lack tongues to praise.

Notes

chronicle: historical account.
wasted time: Spent time; the past.
wights: Persons; human beings.
beauty . . . rhyme: The beauty of the wights makes the poetry beautiful.
blazon: description.
All . . . prefiguring: All the praises of the authors could be applied to you.
They . . . sing: They lacked the skill to use words that would your superior qualities.

Summary and Meaning

When I read books about the past, I see descriptions of the fairest human beings. These descriptions make the old rhymes in the books beautiful. I note the praise of dead ladies and handsome knights. In these descriptions of hands, feet, lips, eyes, and brows, I realize that the pens of the authors would have praised you (the young man) if they were living today. In fact, all their praises are prophecies—that is, they are descriptions of you. However, these authors lacked the skill that would be required to do you justice. Today, it is the same. We authors see you but lack the skill to describe you adequately.

Sonnet 107

Addressed to the Young Man

Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul
Of the wide world dreaming on things to come,
Can yet the lease of my true love control,
Supposed as forfeit to a confined doom.
The mortal moon hath her eclipse endured,
And the sad augurs mock their own presage;
Incertainties now crown themselves assured,
And peace proclaims olives of endless age.
Now with the drops of this most balmy time,
My love looks fresh, and Death to me subscribes,
Since, spite of him, I'll live in this poor rhyme,
While he exults o'er dull and speechless tribes:
    And thou in this shalt find thy monument,
    When tyrants' crests and tombs of brass are spent.

Notes

Can . . . control: Can control how long my true love will last.
confined doom: Grave; tomb.
augurs: Omens.
presage: Prediction; prophecy.
Incertainties: Uncertainties.
olives: An olive branch was a symbol of peace.
Death . . . tribes: Death cannot truly conquer me, since
—in spite of his fatal power—I'll live on in this poetry after I die. Meanwhile, he will brag about the dull and commonplace people that he has entombed.

Summary and Meaning

Neither my own fears about the future nor the visions of prophets can affect the duration of my love for you (the young man)—a love which supposedly will end when I am confined to a grave. It is true that everything around us is mortal, even the moon. It is also true that uncertainty governs future events. However, my love for you will not die; in a world of uncertainty, the immortality of my love is the only certainty. This love will live forever through this poem that I am writing (“I'll live in this poor rhyme,” line 11), and even death will salute me as an equal. Consequently, the memory of you will also live on, for the sonnet will stand as a monument to you long after tyrants die and tombs of brass decay. 

Sonnet 108

Addressed to the Young Man

What's in the brain that ink may character
Which hath not figured to thee my true spirit?
What's new to speak, what now to register,
That may express my love, or thy dear merit?
Nothing, sweet boy; but yet, like prayers divine,
I must each day say o'er the very same;
Counting no old thing old, thou mine, I thine,
Even as when first I hallowed thy fair name.
So that eternal love in love's fresh case,
Weighs not the dust and injury of age,
Nor gives to necessary wrinkles place,
But makes antiquity for aye his page;
    Finding the first conceit of love there bred,
    Where time and outward form would show it dead.

Notes

that . . . character: That I may write in my verses.
say . . . same: Ask the same questions.
hallowed: Honored; revered.
So that . . . age: So that I could immortalize my love for you, making it immune to the ravages of time.
But . . . page: But makes time his servant.
conceit: Poetic expression.

Summary and Meaning

What's left in my brain to say about you? What new words can I use to express my love and your merit? There aren't any. Yet each day I must consider these questions, regarding no old topic as old. When I first wrote about you, each topic was new and fresh. Now, it's as if each topic is still new, for eternal love is always fresh. It does not suffer “the dust and injury of age” (line 10). Nor does it take on wrinkles as time passes. The first poetic expression of love has not withered even though time would say it is dead.

Sonnet 109

Addressed to the Young Man

O! never say that I was false of heart,
Though absence seemed my flame to qualify,
As easy might I from my self depart
As from my soul which in thy breast doth lie:
That is my home of love: if I have ranged,
Like him that travels, I return again;
Just to the time, not with the time exchanged,
So that myself bring water for my stain.
Never believe though in my nature reigned,
All frailties that besiege all kinds of blood,
That it could so preposterously be stained,
To leave for nothing all thy sum of good;
    For nothing this wide universe I call,
    Save thou, my rose, in it thou art my all.

Notes

absence . . . qualify: Absence from you seemed to suggest that I betrayed my feelings for you or lessened them in some way.
Just to the time: At the right time; at the appropriate time; at the appointed time.
not . . . exchanged: Not changed in my feelings toward you.
So that . . . stain: The speaker brings water to wash away his misdeeds. In other words, he is apologetic and repentant.
All . . . blood: All kinds of sinful behavior exhibited by people of every nationality, creed, social standing, etc.
For nothing . . . my all: I don't call anything in this universe my rose except you.

Summary and Meaning

Don't say that I was false to you. True, my absence from you seemed to suggest that I forgot about you. But it would be as easy for me to abandon you as it would be for me to abandon myself. My soul lies within you. You are my home. If I have gone away for a time, like a traveler, I now return at the appropriate time. But time has not changed my feelings toward you. If I have offended you by being way, I apologize. However, never believe that while I was away I gave in to wanton impulses that tempt all human beings. In all the universe, only you merit all my attention.

Sonnet 110

Addressed to the Young Man

Alas! 'tis true, I have gone here and there,
And made my self a motley to the view,
Gored mine own thoughts, sold cheap what is most dear,
Made old offences of affections new;
Most true it is, that I have looked on truth
Askance and strangely; but, by all above,
These blenches gave my heart another youth,
And worse essays proved thee my best of love.
Now all is done, have what shall have no end:
Mine appetite I never more will grind
On newer proof, to try an older friend,
A god in love, to whom I am confined.
    Then give me welcome, next my heaven the best,
    Even to thy pure and most most loving breast.

Notes

Motley: Colorful attire of a court jester. Here, the speaker uses motley to mean court jester.
Made . . . new: With new friends, I committed the same offenses I was guilty of in the past.
I have . . . strangely: I have failed to appreciate the value of our true friendship.
These blenches: These retreats from our friendship.
Essays . . . love: Activities with others that did not measure up to the high quality of the speaker's relationship with the young man.
Mine . . . grind: I will never again give in to my baser instincts.

Summary and Meaning

Alas, it is tue that I have gone here and there and made a fool of myself, done things I knew were wrong, sold valuable possessions for a few coins, and committed—with new friends--the same misdeeds that I was guilty of in the past. During these times, I neglected my allegiance to you. But all of these experiences gave me new insights that made me realize how important you are to me. Now I am done with my wayward revelry and will never again take part in it. Instead, I turn to my old friend, you, to whom I am attached. So, welcome me back to your pure and loving friendship, which is the next best thing to heaven.

Sonnet 111

Addressed to the Young Man

O! for my sake do you with Fortune chide,
The guilty goddess of my harmful deeds,
That did not better for my life provide
Than public means which public manners breeds.
Thence comes it that my name receives a brand,
And almost thence my nature is subdued
To what it works in, like the dyer's hand:
Pity me, then, and wish I were renewed;
Whilst, like a willing patient, I will drink
Potions of eisel 'gainst my strong infection;
No bitterness that I will bitter think,
Nor double penance, to correct correction.
    Pity me then, dear friend, and I assure ye,
    Even that your pity is enough to cure me.

Notes

Fortune: Allusion to Fortuna, the ancient Roman goddess of luck (good and bad).
public means: Working in the theatre.
brand: Shady reputation.
my nature . . . hand: Takes on the hue of what it immerses itself in; takes on the characteristics of what surrounds it. The speaker compares the audiences for which he performs to a dye that colors him. In other words, the audiences stain him with their corrupt behavior and views.
eisel: Vinegar.

Summary and Meaning

For my sake, you reprimand the goddess of fortune for steering me into a profession with a questionable reputation, the theatre. This profession requires me to appear before audiences that corrupt my morals and manners. As a result, my good name suffers, for I have become like those base audiences. It is as if I dipped my soul in polluted dye. Pity me and wish me to be cleansed of my sins and renewed. For my part, I will do penance, and I will drink a healing balm to rid me of my afflictions. If it is bitter, I will drink it as if it is not bitter. If my penance is difficult, I will not complain. So, again, pity me, dear friend. Your pity will be enough to cure me.

Sonnet 112

Addressed to the Young Man

Your love and pity doth the impression fill,
Which vulgar scandal stamped upon my brow;
For what care I who calls me well or ill,
So you o'er-green my bad, my good allow?
You are my all-the-world, and I must strive
To know my shames and praises from your tongue;
None else to me, nor I to none alive,
That my steeled sense or changes right or wrong.
In so profound abysm I throw all care
Of others' voices, that my adder's sense
To critic and to flatterer stopped are.
Mark how with my neglect I do dispense:
    You are so strongly in my purpose bred,
    That all the world besides methinks y'are dead.

Notes


o'er-green: Cover over, like growing grass; hide.
all-the-world: Everything.
None . . . alive: I will not listen to anyone else but you.
abysm: Pit, abyss.
adder's sense: Awareness of the opinions of others.
Mark . . . dispense: I will no longer neglect you.

Summary and Meaning

Your concern for me helps ease the pain of a scandal that ensnared me. Really, though, what do I care who calls me good or bad when you are covering up the offenses I committed and allowing everyone to see the good in me. But, because you are all the world to me, I am willing to hear from your own tongue what I do wrong and what I do right. I don't want to talk with anyone else about my failings and successes. I will throw the observations of others in a deep abyss. I will pay no attention to their criticism or praise. No longer will I neglect our friendship. Because of my heightened attention to you, you will be dead to the rest of the world.

Sonnet 113

Addressed to the Young Man

Since I left you, mine eye is in my mind;
And that which governs me to go about
Doth part his function and is partly blind,
Seems seeing, but effectually is out;
For it no form delivers to the heart
Of bird, of flower, or shape which it doth latch:
Of his quick objects hath the mind no part,
Nor his own vision holds what it doth catch;
For if it see the rud'st or gentlest sight,
The most sweet favour or deformed'st creature,
The mountain or the sea, the day or night,
The crow, or dove, it shapes them to your feature.
    Incapable of more, replete with you,
    My most true mind thus maketh mine eye untrue.

Notes

mine . . . mind: My thoughts influence and distort what my eyes see.
that . . . me: My mind, my intellect; my brain.
Seems . . . out: I seem to see, but my vision is out of order.
latch: Take an interest in.
My  . . . mind: My faithfulness to you; my thoughts of you.

Summary and Meaning

After I left you, your image completely dominated my thoughts. In fact, it even changed my perception of the world. For example, when my eyes beheld a bird, a flower, or an interesting shape, my vision delivered it to my brain as an image of you. Now, whatever I see—a crude, gentle, or sweet thing; a deformed creature, the mountain or the sea, the day or the night, a crow or a dove—takes on your features. I am incapable of seeing anything but any image of you. Although I am true to you, my eyes are untrue to me.

Sonnet 114

Addressed to the Young Man

Or whether doth my mind, being crowned with you,
Drink up the monarch's plague, this flattery?
Or whether shall I say, mine eye saith true,
And that your love taught it this alchemy,
To make of monsters and things indigest
Such cherubins as your sweet self resemble,
Creating every bad a perfect best,
As fast as objects to his beams assemble?
O! 'tis the first, 'tis flattery in my seeing,
And my great mind most kingly drinks it up:
Mine eye well knows what with his gust is 'greeing,
And to his palate doth prepare the cup:
    If it be poisoned, 'tis the lesser sin
    That mine eye loves it and doth first begin.

Notes

monarch's . . . flattery: A king or queen received a "plague" of flattery from visitors to the court.
alchemy: Magic; trick.
indigest: repulsive; intolerable.
cherubins: cherubs, cherubim. A cherub was a winged heavenly creature (angel), often depicted as an innocent child with chubby cheeks.
As fast . . . assemble: As fast as my eye can fix its gazes upon objects.
'tis the first: The first reason given (lines 1 and 2).
what . . . 'greeing: What is agreeable to his (the eye's) taste.

Summary and Meaning

Perhaps my mind is dazed from the flattery of being crowned with thoughts about you. Its confusion would explain why all the images I see are attractive ones resembling you in form. Or perhaps my eyes, betwitched by your affection, are tricking my my mind into interpreting images incorrectly. Whatever the case, thinking about you makes my mind picture monstrous and unwholesome images as angelic sights resembling you in their features. Everything bad in the images I see becomes good—perfect, in fact. My mind drinks up the flattery of these images, as a king drinks up the flattery he hears around him. My eye well knows that I like pleasing images and readily fixes on them. If they are poisoned with falsehood, my eye—like my mind—consumes them anyway, for it enjoys their taste.

Sonnet 115

Addressed to the Young Man

Those lines that I before have writ do lie,
Even those that said I could not love you dearer:
Yet then my judgment knew no reason why
My most full flame should afterwards burn clearer.
But reckoning Time, whose million'd accidents
Creep in 'twixt vows, and change decrees of kings,
Tan sacred beauty, blunt the sharp'st intents,
Divert strong minds to the course of altering things;
Alas! why, fearing of Time's tyranny,
Might I not then say, 'Now I love you best,'
When I was certain o'er incertainty,
Crowning the present, doubting of the rest?
    Love is a babe, then might I not say so,
    To give full growth to that which still doth grow?

Notes

reckoning: Taking into account.
million'd: Millions of.
accidents: (1) Unexpected turn of events; (2) forces that change the quality of something.
'twixt: Between.
Tan: Turn into leather; turn a smooth face into an aging, wrinkled face.

Summary and Meaning

The sonnets I previously wrote about you lie, even those that said I could not love you with more intensity. However, I was not aware when I wrote the sonnets that my love for you could grow. But I was aware that my love could diminish. After all, time is powerful. It can lay events before us that make us renounce promises we made. Moreover, it can change the decrees of kings, take away a person's beauty, dull the passions, and cause great thinkers to alter their views. Therefore, it was only natural back then (when I worried that time might weaken my love) for me to say, “Now I love you best.” I now realize that love is a baby. When this baby is still growing, its capacity to love also grows. Thus, I was wrong to say that “I could not love you dearer.”

Sonnet 116

Addressed to the Young Man
 
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixéd mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
     If this be error and upon me proved,
    
I never writ, nor no man ever loved

Notes

Let me . . . finds: When two people bond intellectually (platonically), they should not allow impediments (problems, personal flaws, etc.) to come between them. Love is not love if impediments separate them.
bends . . . remove: Weakens or succumbs to these impediments in response to an offense by the other person (remover).
ever-fixéd mark: Permanent state.
That looks . . . bark: Metaphor comparing the constancy of real love during difficult times to the constancy of a star that guides ships (barks).
worth's: Worth is. Worth here refers to the composition or substance of the star.
height: Position in the sky; distance from earth.
Love's . . . fool: Love does not lessen or change over time.

Summary and Meaning

The message of this sonnet is simple and straightforward: If a person discovers impediments hampering his relationship with another person, he should not alter his love for that person. On the contrary, his love should remain fixed and constant, like a star that guides ships in a storm. In addition, his love should remain strong even when youth passes—in fact, “even to the edge of doom.”

Sonnet 117

Addressed to the Young Man

Accuse me thus: that I have scanted all,
Wherein I should your great deserts repay,
Forgot upon your dearest love to call,
Whereto all bonds do tie me day by day;
That I have frequent been with unknown minds,
And given to time your own dear-purchased right;
That I have hoisted sail to all the winds
Which should transport me farthest from your sight.
Book both my wilfulness and errors down,
And on just proof surmise accumulate;
Bring me within the level of your frown,
But shoot not at me in your wakened hate;
    Since my appeal says I did strive to prove
    The constancy and virtue of your love.

Notes

scanted: Neglected; gave inadequate attention to.
deserts repay: Pay back what you deserve.
whereto: To which (referring to your love, line 3).
unknown minds: Strangers; people I know little about.
given . . . right: Spent time on other pursuits that I should have spent with you.
surmise accumulate: Reach conclusions about where I have been and with whom.

Summary and Meaning

You can accuse me of neglecting our friendship and spending time with others, including people I don't know very well. I have traveled far and wide with all types of people, all the while forgetting about you. Note down these offenses that I committed or any offenses that you imagine I committed. Then summon me to meet with you face to face. But don't condemn me summarily, for I did all these things to test the strength of your love for me.

Sonnet 118

Addressed to the Young Man

Like as, to make our appetites more keen,
With eager compounds we our palate urge;
As, to prevent our maladies unseen,
We sicken to shun sickness when we purge;
Even so, being full of your ne'er-cloying sweetness,
To bitter sauces did I frame my feeding;
And, sick of welfare, found a kind of meetness
To be diseased, ere that there was true needing.
Thus policy in love, to anticipate
The ills that were not, grew to faults assured,
And brought to medicine a healthful state
Which, rank of goodness, would by ill be cured;
    But thence I learn and find the lesson true,
    Drugs poison him that so fell sick of you.

Notes

compounds: Seasonings.
We . . . purge: We make ourselves sick, by purging, in order to remain healthy.
ne'er-cloying: Never too sweet; never too rich and syrupy.
bitter sauces: Bad company.
meetness: Satisfaction.
ere: Before.
grew . . . assured: Began to like and keep company with my “bitter” friends.
Which . . . cured: Illness cannot cure goodness.

Summary and Meaning

We season our food to make it more appealing to the palate. Sometimes, to prevent illness, we rid our body of digested impurities by purging our bowels. While I was full of your sweetness—which is never too rich or otherwise unagreeable and thus never requiring purging—I decided to try bitter sauces to make myself sick. These bitter sauces were other people. I wanted to be sick of them, not you. Being sick of their bitterness would make me more appreciative of your sweetness. But my strategy backfired. First, there were no ills in our relationship that would cause me to take such action. But I turned them into ills with my behavior in order to taste of bitterness. I didn't realize it at the time, but our relationship did not require me to take such extreme measures; it was already healthful. Besides, goodness has no need of being cured by illness. I have learned a lesson. My use of bitter remedies to test the sweetness of our relationship poisoned me. 

Sonnet 119

Addressed to the Young Man

What potions have I drunk of Siren tears,
Distilled from limbecks foul as hell within,
Applying fears to hopes, and hopes to fears,
Still losing when I saw myself to win!
What wretched errors hath my heart committed,
Whilst it hath thought itself so blessed never!
How have mine eyes out of their spheres been fitted,
In the distraction of this madding fever!
O benefit of ill! now I find true
That better is by evil still made better;
And ruined love, when it is built anew,
Grows fairer than at first, more strong, far greater.
    So I return rebuked to my content,
    And gain by ill thrice more than I have spent.

Notes

Siren: In Greek mythology, any of a group of sea nymphs on an island that sang a song so beautiful that it seduced sailors to turn their ships toward the island. The ships crashed on rocks. If there were survivors, they listened to the sirens until they starved to death.
limbeck: Alembic, a device used to distill liquids.
madding: frenzied.

Summary and Meaning

The speaker acknowledges that he has engaged in unseemly activities. He attempts to mitigate the gravity of his offenses by saying that he was not himself, that he was in the throes of a disorienting fever. He then says he is a better man for his experiences because he has learned from his mistakes. He says that he has drunk evil thinking it was good—just as the sailors of ancient times drank in the deadly song of the Sirens, thinking it was good. He further says that the evil potion that he drank, distilled in foul vessels, caused him to fear what he hoped for—and hope for what he feared. He was a mess, losing what he desired when he thought he would win it. He made serious mistakes at a time when he thought he was supremely blessed. And his eyes deceived him in his state of disorientation. But good can come from evil. Namely, love ruined by bad behavior can be rebuilt if one is willing to learn from his errors. The speaker concludes by saying that he has returned to the young man, chastened by mistakes. Because he has learned from his blunders, he is three times better than he was before.

Sonnet 120

Addressed to the Young Man

That you were once unkind befriends me now,   (See note about lines 1-6.)
And for that sorrow, which I then did feel,
Needs must I under my transgression bow,
Unless my nerves were brass or hammered steel.
For if you were by my unkindness shaken,
As I by yours, you've passed a hell of time;
And I, a tyrant, have no leisure taken
To weigh how once I suffered in your crime.
O! that our night of woe might have remembered
My deepest sense, how hard true sorrow hits,
And soon to you, as you to me, then tendered
The humble salve, which wounded bosoms fits!
   But that your trespass now becomes a fee;
   Mine ransoms yours, and yours must ransom me.

Notes

Lines 1-6: Apparently the speaker and his friend exchanged harsh words of criticism.
leisure: Time.
might have remembered: Helped me to remember.
My  . . . sense: In my deepest feelings.
tendered: Offered.
salve: Apology.
But that  . . . me: Our offenses neutralize each other.

Summary and Meaning

You were once unkind to me. But that unkindness now spurs me to acknowledge my transgressions toward you. I would need nerves of brass or steel not to feel guilty about my wrongful behavior. If you were as upset about my offenses as I was by yours, you have passed through a hell. After your unkindness toward me, I failed to take time to consider its full effect on me. I wish now that the bad feelings resulting from our falling out had prompted us to make amends sooner. However, consider that your trespass against me—and mine against you—have balanced each other out.

Sonnet 121

Observations of the Speaker

'Tis better to be vile than vile esteemed,
When not to be receives reproach of being;
And the just pleasure lost, which is so deemed
Not by our feeling, but by others' seeing:
For why should others' false adulterate eyes
Give salutation to my sportive blood?
Or on my frailties why are frailer spies,
Which in their wills count bad what I think good?
No, I am that I am, and they that level
At my abuses reckon up their own:
I may be straight though they themselves be bevel;
By their rank thoughts, my deeds must not be shown;
    Unless this general evil they maintain,
    All men are bad and in their badness reign.

Notes

'Tis . . . esteemed: It's better to be morally corrupt than to be falsely accused of being morally corrupt.
not to be . . . being: People accuse me of offenses that I did not commit.
just . . . lost: The pleasure of being morally upright is lost.
Give . . . to: Call attention to; point out; notice.
sportive: Amorous; playful.
reckon up: Reveal; exhibit; betray.
bevel: At an angle; dishonest or immoral.

Summary and Meaning

It's better to be a corrupt person than an upright person whom the morally debased perceive as corrupt. Normally, we take pride in our upright activity. However, when the morally debased think that our activity is corrupt, our pride is lost and we become upset. But why should corrupt people get to judge us in the first place? Why should they have a right to evaluate my frailties when they themselves are frailer morally than I am? Why should they have a right to regard my behavior as bad when I think it is good? I am what I am. Those who describe my behavior as bad are really calling attention to their own vile behavior. I am straight; they are the ones who are twisted. They should not evaluate me by making known their own rank thoughts—unless they believe that all men are bad and reign in their badness.

Sonnet 122

Addressed to the Young Man

Thy gift, thy tables, are within my brain
Full charactered with lasting memory,
Which shall above that idle rank remain,
Beyond all date, even to eternity:
Or, at the least, so long as brain and heart
Have faculty by nature to subsist;
Till each to razed oblivion yield his part
Of thee, thy record never can be missed.
That poor retention could not so much hold,
Nor need I tallies thy dear love to score;
Therefore to give them from me was I bold,
To trust those tables that receive thee more:
    To keep an adjunct to remember thee
    Were to import forgetfulness in me.

Notes

tables . . . brain: The tablet, or notebook, you gave me already exists in my brain, in a manner of speaking. It is the invisible thought process that records my feelings.
Full . . . memory: Filled in with words written into my memory.
idle rank: Other memories, which are unimportant and trivial compared with the memories of the young man.
razed oblivion: Death.
retention: The tablet intended for a written acount.
adjunct: Aid, such as the tablet.

Summary and Meaning

I have in my mind a book like the tablet you gave me as a gift. In this book (my memory, actually), I have written verses about you that will outlast the tablet. In fact, I will remember the verses forever—or at least as long as my heart and brain survive before oblivion stops them from functioning. That poor tablet could not hold what my mind can retain. Besides, I have no need to write in it an account of my love for you. Therefore, I gave the tablet away, deciding to rely on my memories of you. To keep the tablet to record my thoughts about you is to suggest that I am forgetful when it comes to you. (The ending implies that the young man means so much to the speaker that the latter cannot forget about him.)

Sonnet 123

Addressed to Time

No, Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change:
Thy pyramids built up with newer might
To me are nothing novel, nothing strange;
They are but dressings of a former sight.
Our dates are brief, and therefore we admire
What thou dost foist upon us that is old;
And rather make them born to our desire
Than think that we before have heard them told.
Thy registers and thee I both defy,
Not wondering at the present nor the past,
For thy records and what we see doth lie,
Made more or less by thy continual haste.
    This I do vow and this shall ever be;
    I will be true despite thy scythe and thee.

Notes

No, Time: The speaker addresses Time as a person.
pyramids . . . might: The pyramids of Egypt used as a metaphor for new buildings in London.
dressings: New versions.
dates: Years on earth.
born . . . desire: Seem new to arouse our desire to see something exotic and unusual.
registers: Historical records or accounts.

Summary and Meaning

No, Time, you shall not boast that I am aging even though I see new buildings (new versions of the pyramids, line 2) going up all around me. I do not think them anything unusual or novel. They are just imitations of older structures. Because we humans have a relatively short lifespan, we tend to admire the ancient relics that handed down to us. You make us think that they were intended for us. The fact is, though, that we have heard all the old stories about them. I defy your historical registers and you yourself, and I am not at all in awe of your works. Here's why: they lie. They do not tell us the truth about the passage of time but instead offer idealized or false images of history. Your works are not really all that important; what is important is love. That is the constant in this changing world. I therefore vow that I will always tell the real truth, about love, in spite of your machinations.

Sonnet 124

Addressed to the Young Man

If my dear love were but the child of state,
It might for Fortune's bastard be unfathered,
As subject to Time's love or to Time's hate,
Weeds among weeds, or flowers with flowers gathered.
No, it was builded far from accident;
It suffers not in smiling pomp, nor falls
Under the blow of thralled discontent,
Whereto th' inviting time our fashion calls:
It fears not policy, that heretic,
Which works on leases of short-number'd hours,
But all alone stands hugely politic,
That it nor grows with heat, nor drowns with showers.
    To this I witness call the fools of time,
    Which die for goodness, who have lived for crime.

Notes

child of state: Result occurring by chance or happenstance.
subject . . . gathered: Subject to whatever is in or out of fashion at the moment. One moment, it could be a weed; the next, a flower.
builded: Built.
It suffers . . . pomp: It is not influenced by the high and mighty.
nor falls  . . .  discontent: Is not forced by someone.
policy: Rules; etiquette; social or political manipulation.
stands . . . politic: Is true to itself; makes its own rules.

Summary and Meaning

If my love for you came about by happenstance—as if it were the child of an unmarried man and woman and thus a bastard without the privileges of a legitimate child—it might be discarded as unworthy. As a ward of the state, it then would be subject to the whims of circumstances, perhaps despised one moment like a lowly weed or loved in another moment like a beautiful flower. But my love for you was no accident. It does not depend on approving smiles; it is not forced. Moreover, it is not afraid of the political or social manipulation of people who come and go with the wind. Rather, my love stands alone, independent of the rules of others, as a constant that neither grows nor dwindles with the passions of the moment. I swear that what I am saying is true, calling as witnesses the fools who lived a corrupt life but repented at the moment of death.

Comment

What the speaker is saying here is that his love is constant and not subject to the whims of external circumstances or influences.

Sonnet 125

Addressed to the Young Man

Were't aught to me I bore the canopy,
With my extern the outward honouring,
Or laid great bases for eternity,
Which proves more short than waste or ruining?
Have I not seen dwellers on form and favour
Lose all and more by paying too much rent
For compound sweet, forgoing simple savour,
Pitiful thrivers, in their gazing spent?
No; let me be obsequious in thy heart,
And take thou my oblation, poor but free,
Which is not mixed with seconds, knows no art,
But mutual render, only me for thee.
    Hence, thou suborned informer! a true soul
    When most impeached stands least in thy control.

Notes

Were't aught: Were it anything.
canopy: Cloth covering held with poles over a monarch or another important person.
With . . . honouring: With my presence (that is, with my external appearance, or extern) gaining the approval of onlookers and the dignitary beneath the canopy because of the service I am performing.
laid . . . eternity: Erected impressive monuments that will last for all time.
compound sweet: That which is elaborate and ornate, such as furniture, clothing, and even a writing style.
let . . . heart: Let me demonstrate my love for you privately, by appealing to your heart, rather than bearing a canopy over you or erecting a monument to you.
oblation: Offered love.
Which . . . seconds: Which is pure.

Summary and Meaning

Would it mean anything to me if I had the privilege of helping to carry the canopy of a king or queen during a procession? Would it be an honor to erect monuments intended to last forever even though they eventually decay and crumble? (The implied meaning of the opening lines is that the speaker frowns on performing services for the sole purpose of gaining favor. He may even be downplaying his own verses if “great bases” refers to his sonnets as poetic structures that do not last. At any rate, carrying a canopy or erecting a monument is not the way to gain the favor, or love, of a person. Instead, the speaker says, the right way to win the love or approval of another is to use simplicity and honesty. Grand gestures put on for show won't do.) Have I not seen social climbers who lose everything when they reject the simple life in attempts to satisfy their appetites for wealth, power, and prestige? (The social climbers here are those who wish to ingratiate themselves with the young man through insincere behavior and pretended loyalty.) As for me, I am sincere in my love for you; let me be a humble lodger in your heart. Accept my worship, poor but freely given. It is undiluted and simple—you for me and me for you. Whoever lies about me, saying otherwise, is not to be believed. A true soul that stands accused is least vulnerable to the control of an accuser.

Sonnet 126

Last Sonnet Addressed to the Young Man

O thou, my lovely boy, who in thy power
Dost hold Time's fickle glass, his sickle, hour;
Who hast by waning grown, and therein showest
Thy lovers withering, as thy sweet self growest.
If Nature, sovereign mistress over wrack,
As thou goest onwards still will pluck thee back,
She keeps thee to this purpose, that her skill
May time disgrace and wretched minutes kill.
Yet fear her, O thou minion of her pleasure!
She may detain, but not still keep, her treasure:
Her audit (though delayed) answered must be,
And her quietus is to render thee.
    ( . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . )
   
( . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . )

Notes

glass: Mirror.
sickle: The image of a sickle (agricultural tool with a semicircular blade designed to cut grain) associates time with death—the Grim Reaper who uses a sickle to harvest humans.
hast by waning grown: The young man enhances his appearance as his age advances. Waning grown is an oxymoron, a figure of speech in which two words opposite in meaning appear side by side. Here, waning (decreasing, declining, becoming smaller) is placed next to grown.
wrack: Ruin; destruction.
minion: (1) Favored person; darling; (2) servant; subordinate.
quietus: Settlement of a debt.

Summary and Meaning

My lovely boy, you hold power over Time himself—his mirror, his hour. In fact, you have improved with age while others around you wither with the passing years. Nature, in effect, has kept you youthful and, in so doing, has embarrassed Time. Of course, Nature will eventually be called on to make things right
that is, she must advance your age and write wrinkles on your face. The way she’ll pay her debt to Time is with you.
Comment

Sonnet 126 is not really a sonnet. It has only twelve lines, not fourteen. Moreover, unlike the other poems in the collection, it contains six couplets. A couplet is a pair of rhyming lines. The other poems generally contain lines that rhyme alternately--line 1 with line 3, line 2 with line 4, and so on. The poem is the last in the collection to be addressed to the young man.

Sonnet 127

Observations About the Dark Lady

In the old age black was not counted fair,
Or if it were, it bore not beauty's name;
But now is black beauty's successive heir,
And beauty slandered with a bastard shame:
For since each hand hath put on Nature's power,
Fairing the foul with Art's false borrowed face,
Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bower,
But is profaned, if not lives in disgrace.
Therefore my mistress' eyes are raven black,
Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem
At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack,
Sland'ring creation with a false esteem:
    Yet so they mourn becoming of their woe,
    That every tongue says beauty should look so.

Notes

fair: Beautiful; attractive.
And  . . . shame: Women today bastardize their appearance with makeup in order to call themselves beautiful.
Fairing the foul: Making the ugly beautiful.
bower: A woman's bedroom or private chamber.
they: Her eyes.
Sland'ring . . . esteem: Putting on makeup to alter a plain or ugly face.

Summary and Meaning

There was a time when a dark complexion was not considered beautiful. Even when a woman with such a complexion was beautiful, people refused to acknowledge her beauty. Today, a dark complexion is admired. However, light complexions no longer fare so well because so many who have them use cosmetics to put on a false face that profanes nature and disgraces its wearer. My mistress, a dark lady, has raven eyes that seem to mourn for plain or ugly women who try to make themselves beautiful with artificial means. Her mourning eyes are so becoming that people now say everyone should look like her.

Sonnet 128

Addressed to the Dark Lady

How oft, when thou, my music, music play’st,
Upon that blesséd wood whose motion sounds
With thy sweet fingers when thou gently sway’st
The wiry concord that mine ear confounds,
Do I envy those jacks that nimble leap
To kiss the tender inward of thy hand,
Whilst my poor lips, which should that harvest reap,
At the wood’s boldness by thee blushing stand.
To be so tickled they would change their state
And situation with those dancing chips,
O’er whom thy fingers walk with gentle gait,
Making dead wood more blest than living lips.
    Since saucy jacks so happy are in this,
    Give them thy fingers, me thy lips to kiss.

Notes

my music: A reference to the dark lady
wood: Type of harpsichord called a virginal.
wiry concord: Strings of a harpsichord.
jacks: Long, fork-shaped strips of wood in a harpsichord. On the end of each jack is a plectrum, which is a piece of quill or bone. When the harpsichord player strikes a key, the jack rises and the plectrum plucks a string. In Sonnet 128, jacks is a metaphor for lips that jump at a chance to kiss the dark lady's hand.
harvest reap: Feel the touch of your hands; reap the harvest of your hands.
dancing chips: Keys that play the notes.

Summary and Meaning

You are my music. When you play music on the harpsichord, making beautiful sounds, I envy the keys which feel the kiss of your hands. It is I who should feel that kiss. But my lips remain untouched as your fingers walk gently over the keys, making the dead wood of the harpsichord more blest than my own lips. Since the harpsichord seems happy to know the touch of your fingers, then give it your fingers and give your lips to me. 

Sonnet 129

Observations of the Speaker

The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action: and till action, lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
Enjoyed no sooner but despised straight;
Past reason hunted; and no sooner had,
Past reason hated, as a swallowed bait,
On purpose laid to make the taker mad.
Mad in pursuit and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have extreme;
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind a dream.
    All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
    To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

Notes


spirit: Energy.
waste of shame: Shameful act.
Enjoyed . . .mad: After we indulge in lust, we despise what we did. We hunt down an opportunity for lust. Once we find one and satisfy ourselves, we hate lust as a bait that we swallowed, a bate that was placed on purpose in front of us to make us mad.
A bliss . . . woe
: A great pleasure in experiencing it but a great woe afterward.

Summary and Meaning

Lust is a shameful waste of energy. Before engaging in lust, people will lie, resort to violence, and commit other blameful deeds. Lust makes people “savage, extreme, rude, cruel” (line 4) and untrustworthy. As soon as they commit a lustful act, they despise it. People madly seek the pleasure of lust. But as soon as they find it and engage in it, swallowing the bait of tempation, they hate what they did. Everyone knows well what lust does to him, but no one has learned to shun that which could lead him to hell.

Comment

The speaker presents a general observation about lust—adultery, fornication, or any other form of forbidden sexual activity. For a moment of illicit sexual pleasure, he says, a person reaps guilt and risks eternal damnation.

Sonnet 130

Observations of the Speaker

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red, than her lips red:
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
    And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,
    As any she belied with false compare.

Notes


dun: Grayish brown.
damasked: Colored pink or grayish pink, like a damask rose.
go: Pass by.

Summary and Meaning

Sonnet 130 appears to criticize the looks of the speaker's mistress. Her features, he says, are plain and ordinary. Moreover, she has wiry hair and bad breath. But what the speaker is really doing is criticizing the love poems of other sonneteers. These poems glorify women unrealistically, giving them an angelic countenance with radiant eyes, ruby lips, milk-white skin, rosy cheeks, and soft, flowing tresses. To the speaker's tastes, apparently, these poems lavish praise ad nauseam. However, the speaker ends the poem with praise, calling his love “as rare” as any of the women falsely described in sonnets of others.

Sonnet 131

Addressed to the Dark Lady

Thou art as tyrannous, so as thou art,
As those whose beauties proudly make them cruel;
For well thou know’st to my dear doting heart
Thou art the fairest and most precious jewel.
Yet in good faith some say that thee behold
Thy face hath not the power to make love groan;
To say they err I dare not be so bold,
Although I swear it to myself alone.
And, to be sure that is not false I swear,
A thousand groans, but thinking on thy face,
One on another’s neck do witness bear
Thy black is fairest in my judgment’s place.
    In nothing art thou black save in thy deeds,
    And thence this slander as I think proceeds.

Notes

some . . . behold:
Some who look at you say that.
make love groan: Make men sigh with desire.
One . . . neck: When we are close.

Summary and Meaning

You are tyrannical, such as you are, like others whose beauty makes them cruel. You well know that, to me, you are the fairest and most precious jewel. Yet, in truth, some men who look at you say that your face does not have the power to make them sigh. I will not be so bold as to say that they are wrong, although I say that to myself when I'm alone. I know I am right about your beauty; the groans of desire I experience when I think of your face bear witness to this fact. Your dark beauty is the fairest kind, in my judgment. You are not black in anything except your reprehensible behavior, which I think is the reason that some men slander your physical beauty.

Sonnet 132

Addressed to the Dark Lady

Thine eyes I love, and they, as pitying me,
Knowing thy heart torments me with disdain,
Have put on black and loving mourners be,
Looking with pretty ruth upon my pain.
And truly not the morning sun of heaven
Better becomes the grey cheeks of the east,
Nor that full star that ushers in the even,
Doth half that glory to the sober west,
As those two mourning eyes become thy face:
O! let it then as well beseem thy heart
To mourn for me since mourning doth thee grace,
And suit thy pity like in every part.
   
Then will I swear beauty herself is black,
    And all they foul that thy complexion lack.

Notes


disdain: Scorn; ridicule.
Have . . . black: The lady has black eyes. She may be of black-African extraction.
ruth: Mercy; pity
even: Evening.

beseem: Befit; be right for.
And all they: All the white women.

Summary and Meaning


I love your shining black eyes. They seem to pity me even though your heart is cold toward me. Your eyes are more dazzling than the morning sun in the east and the evening star in the west. Oh, how I wish that your heart would treat me as your eyes do. In that case, I would swear that beauty is black, like you, and that all the fair-complexioned ladies are foul.

Sonnet 133

Addressed to the Dark Lady

Beshrew that heart that makes my heart to groan
For that deep wound it gives my friend and me!
Is't not enough to torture me alone,
But slave to slavery my sweet'st friend must be?
Me from myself thy cruel eye hath taken,
And my next self thou harder hast engrossed:
Of him, myself, and thee I am forsaken;
A torment thrice three-fold thus to be crossed.
Prison my heart in thy steel bosom's ward,
But then my friend's heart let my poor heart bail;
Whoe'er keeps me, let my heart be his guard;
Thou canst not then use rigour in my jail:
   And yet thou wilt; for I, being pent in thee,
   Perforce am thine, and all that is in me.

Notes

Beshrew: Curse.
my next self: My friend (the young man of the earlier sonnets).
engrossed: Enchanted; bewitched; charmed.
Prison: Imprison.
steel bosom: The woman is no cream puff.
ward: Care; watch.
bail: Save; rescue.
pent: Confined; pent up; closed in.
Perforce: By force; by circumstance.

Summary and Meaning

Curse the heart that hurts my friend and me. It is not enough for you to torture me but also to torture my friend, enslaving him to your charms. Your witchery has ensnared me, and I can no longer think straight. It has also ensnared my friend. Because you are trifling with him, you ignore me. Because he is fixed on you, he also ignores me. And because I am in turmoil, I am not myself. Thus, I have a triple woe to bear. Imprison my heart in your care. At the same time, release my poor friend's heart into my care. Which of you will turn toward me? Whoever does so will have my devotion. But you will still torture me, I realize, because I will still be bound to you in every way.

Sonnet 134

Addressed to the Dark Lady

So now I have confessed that he is thine,
And I my self am mortgaged to thy will,
Myself I'll forfeit, so that other mine
Thou wilt restore to be my comfort still:
But thou wilt not, nor he will not be free,
For thou art covetous, and he is kind;
He learned but surety-like to write for me,
Under that bond that him as fast doth bind.
The statute of thy beauty thou wilt take,
Thou usurer, that put'st forth all to use,
And sue a friend came debtor for my sake;
So him I lose through my unkind abuse.
   Him have I lost; thou hast both him and me:
   He pays the whole, and yet am I not free.

Notes

kind
: Generous.
surety-like: Like a pledge to pay a mortgage (line 2).
write: Underwrite; guarantee payment of the mortgage.
bond . . . bind: Pledge that binds the young man to the dark lady.
statute . . . take: You will use your beauty to keep the young man with you.
usurer: One who lends money at excessive interest. The dark lady lends her body to anyone for the right price (emotional, monetary, or otherwise).
sue: Legal term meaning to take action against someone. In this case, it means she is wooing or enticing the young man.
friend . . . debtor: My friend came to you as a debtor for my sake, as if he owed you his love.
unkind abuse: Unwise decision to allow the young man to see you.
He pays . . . free: The young man is paying off my mortgage to you, but I am still bound to you.

Summary and Meaning

So now I have confessed that the young man is under your power, as am I. I will forfeit myself to you in order to free my friend from bondage to you. But I realize you will not let him go because of your covetous nature—that is, you want what you are not supposed to have. Making matters worse is that he wishes to remain with you. When he started keeping company with you, his intention was to free me. But now he, too, is under your spell. You use your beauty to ensnare others. When my friend came to you for my sake, you didn't hesitate to entice him. So I am losing him to you because I am foolish enough to allow him to be with you. Now you have both of us. He's giving you all the pleasures your greedy self desires, but still you hold on to me. 

Comment

The speaker uses legal terminology relating to money—mortgaged, will, forfeit, surety, bond, statute, usurer, and debtor—to characterize his and the young man's relationships with the dark lady. It is as if the dark lady is a greedy prostitute of irresistible charm who deliberately runs her clients into debt.

Sonnet 135

Addressed to the Dark Lady

The speaker uses will thirteen times in this sonnet. This word (which this study boldfaced each time it occurs) can refer to a desire, an inclination, a sex organ, a person, a name; in other words, will is open to interpretation. The notes that follow the sonnet provide interpretations of will in particular and the sonnet in general.

Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy will,
And will to boot, and will in overplus.
More than enough am I that vex thee still,
To thy sweet will making addition thus.
Wilt thou, whose will is large and spacious,
Not once vouchsafe to hide my will in thine?
Shall will in others seem right gracious,
And in my will no fair acceptance shine?
The sea all water, yet receives rain still,
And in abundance addeth to his store;
So thou, being rich in will, add to thy will
One will of mine to make thy large will more.
    Let no unkind, no fair beseechers kill.
    Think all but one, and me in that one will.

Notes

Line 1: It doesn't matter what other women do to satisfy their desires. What you need to remember is that you have your will. (Will could be a reference to the young man in that the dark lady "wills" to have him.)
Line 2: Here, Shakespeare could be stepping out of his role as the speaker and referring directly to himself (Will Shakespeare).
Lines 3, 4: I who continually pester you am more than enough to satisfy your desires even though I realize I am just an addition to the man (or men) you already have.
Line 5: In this line, will can refer to sexual desire or appetite, sexual organ, heart, or generosity.
Line 6: Here, will can refer to sexual organ, love, or lust.
Lines 7, 8: Shall others be acceptable to you, but not me?
Lines 9-12: The sea consists of an infinite amount of water, yet it willingly receives rain and thereby adds to its store of water. Like the sea, you have abundance
—an abundance of admirers. I ask you to add me to your list of admirers.
Lines 13-14: Do not let any of your admirers persuade you to ignore me. Instead, think of all of your admirers as one person, and make me part of that person.

Sonnet 136

Addressed to the Dark Lady
As in the previous sonnet, Sonnet 136 sonnet uses will as a theme word.

If thy soul check thee that I come so near,
Swear to thy blind soul that I was thy Will,
And will, thy soul knows, is admitted there;
Thus far for love, my love-suit, sweet, fulfil.
Will, will fulfil the treasure of thy love,
Ay, fill it full with wills, and my will one.
In things of great receipt with ease we prove
Among a number one is reckoned none:
Then in the number let me pass untold,
Though in thy store's account I one must be;
For nothing hold me, so it please thee hold
That nothing me, a something sweet to thee:
    Make but my name thy love, and love that still,
    And then thou lovest me for my name is "Will."

Notes

check: Reproaches; restrains.
blind: Unaware that the speaker was hers.
my love-suit: My wooing of you.
treasure: One can interpret this as a metaphor/euphemism for the vagina.
great receipt: Great numbers.
Among . . . none: See "Summary and Meaning," below.

Summary and Meaning

If you have misgivings about allowing me to come so near, tell your soul that you wanted me to be near. Your soul knows that what you will is permissible. So be gracious enough, my sweet, to accept me. Will (the name of the speaker) will fulfill your longings. You can go ahead and satisfy your longings with as many men as you desire (or will), but I should be one of those that you desire. After all, in matters of great numbers ("great receipt," line 7) one is little more than none (line 8). So why not let me into your company uncounted even though you do not count me as none, but one? Although I am nothing, hold me—if it pleases you to do so. That nothing, me, may be sweet to you. Love my name. If you will to do so, you will love me, for my name is Will.

Sonnet 137

Addressed to Love

Thou blind fool, Love, what dost thou to mine eyes,
That they behold, and see not what they see?
They know what beauty is, see where it lies,
Yet what the best is take the worst to be.
If eyes, corrupt by over-partial looks,
Be anchored in the bay where all men ride,
Why of eyes' falsehood hast thou forged hooks,
Whereto the judgment of my heart is tied?
Why should my heart think that a several plot,
Which my heart knows the wide world's common place?
Or mine eyes, seeing this, say this is not,
To put fair truth upon so foul a face?
    In things right true my heart and eyes have erred,
    And to this false plague are they now transferred.

Notes

Thou . . . Love: The speaker addresses Love itself. When a poet addresses an abstraction, he is using a figure of speech known as apostrophe.
see . . . not see: Paradox. The speaker sees beauty in a woman he generally regards as unattractive.
bay: Reddish-brown horse.
that: That situation, that circumstance.
several: Distinct; single.
the wide . . . place: Many men keep company with the dark lady.
false plague: Dark lady.

Summary and Meaning

Love, why are you making me see beauty where there is no beauty? My eyes know what beauty is and where to find it, but they settle on the least-attractive woman. Perhaps by staring too long at this woman—who is like a horse willing to give every man a ride—I have begun to see what is not there. Why, Love, have you forged hooks that tie my emotions to this woman? Why does my heart think that she prefers just one man when it knows that she welcomes all men to her arms? Why do my eyes put beauty on so foul a face? Clearly, my eyes are mistaken, but they are now fixed on this this woman.

Sonnet 138

Observations About the Dark Lady

When my love swears that she is made of truth,
I do believe her though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutored youth,
Unlearned in the world's false subtleties.
Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
Although she knows my days are past the best,
Simply I credit her false-speaking tongue:
On both sides thus is simple truth suppressed:
But wherefore says she not she is unjust?
And wherefore say not I that I am old?
O! love's best habit is in seeming trust,
And age in love, loves not to have years told:
   Therefore I lie with her, and she with me,
   And in our faults by lies we flattered be.
Notes
is . . . truth: Tells the truth.
untutored: Naive; easily fooled because of youth and lack of experience.
my . . . best: I am no longer young.
wherefore: Why.
unjust: Untruthful.
seeming trust: Pretended trust.
I lie . . . me: Possibly a double meaning—namely, that the speaker tells lies and that he lies in bed with the dark lady.

Summary and Meaning

When my love swears that she is telling the truth, I tell her I believe her even though I know she is lying. I do so to suggest that I am naïve and unschooled in the ways of the world and thus younger than I really am. The truth is, though, she knows that my youthful days have passed. When she lies and I credit her with telling the truth, I make liars out of both of us. But why does she say she is not a liar? And why do I say that I am not old? O, the way of love is to pretend to trust—and not to reveal one's age. Therefore, we lie to each other (or lie with each other); in this way, we are flattered.

Sonnet 139

Addressed to the Dark Lady

O! call not me to justify the wrong
That thy unkindness lays upon my heart;
Wound me not with thine eye, but with thy tongue:
Use power with power, and slay me not by art,
Tell me thou lov'st elsewhere; but in my sight,
Dear heart, forbear to glance thine eye aside:
What need'st thou wound with cunning, when thy might
Is more than my o'erpressed defence can bide?
Let me excuse thee: ah! my love well knows
Her pretty looks have been mine enemies;
And therefore from my face she turns my foes,
That they elsewhere might dart their injuries:
    
Yet do not so; but since I am near slain,
    
Kill me outright with looks, and rid my pain.

Notes

call . . . justify: Don't ask me to excuse.
Wound . . . eye: Apparently, the Dark Lady enraptures the speaker with her eyes in one moment, then tortures him in another moment by turning her eyes away from him to glance at—and flirt with—other men.
Use power . . . art: Use the power of your words, but be straightforward and honest rather than artful and insincere.
might: Flirtatious behavior.
more . . . bide: More than I can endure.
looks: Her glances at other men.

Summary and Meaning

Don't ask me to excuse your unkindness to me. And don't hurt me with your eyes—which so often look away from me to gaze upon other men. Instead, wound me with your tongue by telling me directly how you feel. Do not mince words. If you love someone else, let me know. Don't play games with me—cunning games that hurt me. Why do you seem to relish hurting me when you know that I am already in deep distress over you? Ah, well, I guess I will excuse you after all even though your pretty looks—that is, the looks that you give other men—are my enemies. When your eyes turn upon those other men, perhaps you have in mind to injure them too. Oh, do not look at other men. I am dying for need of you. But if you feel you must hurt me, just kill me outright with your eyes to rid me of my pain.

Sonnet 140

Addressed to the Dark Lady

Be wise as thou art cruel; do not press
My tongue-tied patience with too much disdain;
Lest sorrow lend me words, and words express
The manner of my pity-wanting pain.
If I might teach thee wit, better it were,
Though not to love, yet, love to tell me so;
As testy sick men, when their deaths be near,
No news but health from their physicians know;
For, if I should despair, I should grow mad,
And in my madness might speak ill of thee;
Now this ill-wresting world is grown so bad,
Mad slanderers by mad ears believed be.
    That I may not be so, nor thou belied,
    Bear thine eyes straight, though thy proud heart go wide.

Notes

wit: Thoughtful behavior
Though . . . so: Though you would not love me, I would like to hear you say you do
ill-wresting: Taking up wrongful behavior.
Mad slanderers: Insane slanderers like me will be believed.

Summary and Meaning

Be just as wise as you are cruel. If you are wise, you will not test my patience with your contempt for. Engaging in contemptuous behavior makes me sad. Sadness, in turn, makes me talk about the pain you cause me and the pity that you do not give me.
I'd like to teach you how to behave more civilly toward me. Apparently, you don't love me, but I would love to hear you say that you do. In this respect, I am like a gravely ill man who, near death, likes to hear his doctor tell him his health is improving. Be aware that if I despair, I will become insane. In that state of mind, I will speak ill of you. As you well know, this world of ours has grown so bad that people would believe the slanderous stories I tell about you. So that I will not become a slanderer, do not allow your eyes to roam. Pay attention to me, even if your heart isn't in it.

Sonnet 141

Addressed to the Dark Lady

In faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes,
For they in thee a thousand errors note;
But ’tis my heart that loves what they despise,
Who in despite of view is pleased to dote.
Nor are mine ears with thy tongue’s tune delighted,
Nor tender feeling to base touches prone,
Nor taste, nor smell, desire to be invited
To any sensual feast with thee alone.
But my five wits nor my five senses can
Dissuade one foolish heart from serving thee,
Who leaves unswayed the likeness of a man,
Thy proud heart's slave and vassal wretch to be.
    Only my plague thus far I count my gain,
    That she that makes me sin awards me pain.

Notes

Who: The heart.
pleased to dote: Takes pleasure in your company.
But: Neither.
five wits:
The Norton Shakespeare identifies the five wits as “common sense, imagination, fancy, judgment, memory.”—Greenblatt, Stephen, general ed. The Norton Shakespeare. New York: W. W. Norton, 1997. Page 1997.
one . . . heart: The speaker's heart.
vassal: Servant.
That . . . awards me pain: Paradox.
The Norton Shakespeare suggests the following meaning of this line: The Dark Lady causes the author to sin. To erase the sin, he mortifies himself—that is, he does painful penance which lessens his guilt in the eyes of God and therefore enhances his chances of a favorable destiny in the afterlife.

Summary and Meaning

It is not my physical senses that make me love you. After all, my eyes, my ears, and the rest of my five senses perceive flaws in your body. Instead, it is my heart that loves you. But in spite of the way my physical senses see you, they cannot stop my heart from making myself your slave. In this regard, you rob me of self-control so that I have no choice but to serve you. Nevertheless, desiring you benefits me.

Sonnet 142

Addressed to the Dark Lady

Love is my sin, and thy dear virtue hate,
Hate of my sin, grounded on sinful loving:
O! but with mine compare thou thine own state,
And thou shalt find it merits not reproving;
Or, if it do, not from those lips of thine,
That have profaned their scarlet ornaments
And sealed false bonds of love as oft as mine,
Robbed others' beds' revenues of their rents.
Be it lawful I love thee, as thou lov'st those
Whom thine eyes woo as mine importune thee:
Root pity in thy heart, that, when it grows,
Thy pity may deserve to pitied be.
    If thou dost seek to have what thou dost hide,
    By self-example mayst thou be denied!

Notes

with mine . . . state: Compare my situation with yours.
it . . . reproving: It doesn't deserve your disapproval.
scarlet ornaments: Lips.
sealed . . . love: Told others that you loved them even though you did not.
Robbed . . . rents: Went to bed with men married to other women.
Be it lawful: Say it is all right that.
If thou  . . . denied: If you seek the kind of love that you will not give me (that is, love that you “dost hide,” line 13), you will set an example that may cause men to refuse to love you.

Summary and Meaning

Loving you is a sin, because I am not worthy of your love. Consequently, because I am unworthy, your hatred of me
that is, your refusal to become my loveris a virtue. However, compare my situation with yours, and you'll discover that it does not deserve condemnation. But even if it does deserve condemnation, you're not the one to do the condemning. After all, you have profaned your lips with false pledges of love to other men. You have robbed wives of their husbands, going from one bed to another. All the while, I have stood by and continued to love you. Because of my toleration of your promiscuity, I am a wretch. What kind of man would tolerate what you do? Because I tolerate your waywardness, I don't deserve to be loved by you. I am unworthy. Allow me to love you anyway—“Be it lawful I love thee” (line 9)—just as you “love” the many men you woo with your eyes as I woo you with mine. Pity me. As your pity for me grows, I—and perhaps others—will begin to pity you for what you are. Bear in mind, too, that when you seek the pleasures of love that you refuse to give to me, others might follow your example and refuse to give you the pleasures that you seek from them.

Sonnet 143

Addressed to the Dark Lady

Lo, as a careful housewife runs to catch
One of her feathered creatures broke away,
Sets down her babe, and makes all swift dispatch
In pursuit of the thing she would have stay;
Whilst her neglected child holds her in chase,
Cries to catch her whose busy care is bent
To follow that which flies before her face,
Not prizing her poor infant's discontent;
So runn'st thou after that which flies from thee,
Whilst I thy babe chase thee afar behind;
But if thou catch thy hope, turn back to me,
And play the mother's part, kiss me, be kind;
    So will I pray that thou mayst have thy "Will,"
    If thou turn back and my loud crying still.

Notes

Lo: Look! See! Behold! Lo is an interjection that attempts to attract attention.
careful: Example of verbal irony. The housewife is anything but careful, for she puts down and neglects her baby in order to catch a bird.
Will: Apparently a pun. Will can refer to the Dark Lady's desire to catch what is fleeing from her—or to the speaker.

Summary and Meaning

The speaker tells the dark lady a little story. A careful housewife sets down her baby and runs off to catch an escaped pet bird (or perhaps a barnyard chicken or turkey). The neglected child follows, crying, while the mother chases the bird (perhaps a symbol for the rival poet or another lover). She pays no heed to the baby. You are like this woman, the speaker tells the dark lady, and I am like the baby running after you. But if you catch what you are pursuing, turn back to me and, like a mother, kiss and be kind to me. I will pray that you will have your “Will” if you return to me and still my crying.

Sonnet 144

Observations of the Speaker

Two loves I have of comfort and despair,
Which like two spirits do suggest me still:
The better angel is a man right fair,
The worser spirit a woman coloured ill.
To win me soon to hell, my female evil,
Tempteth my better angel from my side,
And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,
Wooing his purity with her foul pride.
And whether that my angel be turned fiend,
Suspect I may, yet not directly tell;
But being both from me, both to each friend,
I guess one angel in another's hell:
    Yet this shall I ne'er know, but live in doubt,
    Till my bad angel fire my good one out.

Notes

do . . . still: Lead me this way and that.
To win  . . . to hell: (1) To corrupt me; to send me to hell; (2) to torture me; to make me anxious; to make me jealous.

Summary and Meaning

I have two loves. One is a young man whom I prize as a friend because of his intellectual and spiritual qualities. He is my better angel. The other is an evil woman whom I pursue as a mistress because of her physical qualities. She has the power to corrupt me and send me to hell. Moreover, she tempts my better angel and threatens to turn him into a devil. Whether she has in fact corrupted him I do not know. My best guess is that she has done so, but I cannot be sure. I must live in doubt until the day comes when my bad angel rejects or dismisses my good angel—or he runs away from her hell fire—and the details of their relationship become known.

Sonnet 145

Observations of the Speaker)

Those lips that Love's own hand did make,
Breathed forth the sound that said 'I hate',
To me that languished for her sake:
But when she saw my woeful state,
Straight in her heart did mercy come,
Chiding that tongue that ever sweet
Was used in giving gentle doom;
And taught it thus anew to greet;
'I hate' she altered with an end,
That followed it as gentle day,
Doth follow night, who like a fiend
From heaven to hell is flown away.
    "I hate," from hate away she threw,
    And saved my life, saying "not you."

Notes

Taught . . . greet: Taught herself to greet me more kindly.
“I hate” . . . end: She altered the meaning of the sentence by inserting “not you” (line 14) after “I hate.”

Summary and Meaning

The dark lady told me she hated me even though I pined for her love. However, when she saw how her words affected me, she softened and even scolded herself for what she said. She taught herself to be kinder to me and said she did not hate me after all. She spoke to me with a gentleness like day following night—which “like a fiend / From heaven to hell is flown away” (lines 11-12). Her change of heart saved my life.

Sonnet 146

Observations of the Speaker

Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth,
…........ these rebel powers that thee array
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? Is this thy body's end?
Then soul, live thou upon thy servant's loss,
And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more:
    So shall thou feed on Death, that feeds on men,
    And Death once dead, there's no more dying then.

Notes

Poor soul . . . earth: The speaker is addressing his own soul as the center of his sinful body.
…........: The periods represent a printer's mistake that resulted in the omission of a word or words at the beginning of this line. No one knows how the line begins.
dearth: Deprivation.
Painting  . . . gay: Wearing costly clothes on your body.
having . . . lease: Having so little time inside the body before it dies.
mansion: Body.
live . . . dross: Live upon riches that you withhold from the body; let the body pine for what it no longer gets. Use the riches to build up merit in heaven.

Summary and Meaning

Poor soul within me, you are the center of my sinful body, which surrounds you. Why do you lead such a depressing life of deprivation inside me while attiring my body—your outer walls—with expensive clothes and a happy appearance? Why spend so much time on me (a fading mansion, line 6) who—like all other human beings—will have a short life? Do you mind the fact that worms will eventually eat me in my grave, destroying the work you did for me? If that is the case, I recommend that you spend more time on yourself. Forget my body and concentrate on your own needs. For example, ingratiate yourself with the divine realm instead of spending so much time on the likes of me. Enrichen yourself; deprive my body. In so doing, you will cheat death. You will consume it! When you kill death, dying will end.

Comment

The speaker seems to be locked in a struggle between his spiritual and worldly life. He wants to be morally upright, but the temptations of the world—in particular the dark lady—make it difficult for him to do so. He verbalizes his feelings in this sonnet, saying that he ought to tend to the life of his soul while leading a spartan worldly life that ignores the cravings of the body. In so doing, he would be preparing his soul for a life of eternal happiness in heaven, where death no longer poses a threat. His earthly cravings will no longer dog him.

Sonnet 147

Addressed to the Dark Lady

My love is as a fever longing still,
For that which longer nurseth the disease;
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
The uncertain sickly appetite to please.
My reason, the physician to my love,
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
Hath left me, and I desperate now approve
Desire is death, which physic did except.
Past cure I am, now Reason is past care,
And frantic-mad with evermore unrest;
My thoughts and my discourse as madmen's are,
At random from the truth vainly expressed;
    For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,
    Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.

Notes

longing still . . . disease: A paradox. The speaker desires what makes him ill—namely, the dark lady.
appetite: Desire; lust.
My reason . . . kept: The speaker's reasoning powers, “angry” that he does not control his emotions, abandon him.
Desire . . . death: My desire is deadly to my soul and weakens my body.
Reason . . . care: The speaker uses personification, treating his reason as a person.

Summary and Meaning

My desire for you (the dark lady) burns like the fever of a disease. I long for you even though you are the cause of my disease. My reason
—angry that I do not follow its advice has abandoned me, allowing my emotions to take full control. My desire puts me in the clutches of death, which reason would have forbidden me to do. But I am beyond curing, and reason is beyond caring. As a result, I am frantic, mad, unable to get any rest. My thoughts and speech are like a madman's, expressing random ideas that are far from the truth. For I have sworn that you are fair and bright even though you are as black as a hellish shadow and dark as the darkest night. (The dark lady is spiritually—and perhaps physically—displeasing.)

Sonnet 148

Observations of the Speaker

O me! what eyes hath Love put in my head,
Which have no correspondence with true sight;
Or, if they have, where is my judgment fled,
That censures falsely what they see aright?
If that be fair whereon my false eyes dote,
What means the world to say it is not so?
If it be not, then love doth well denote
Love's eye is not so true as all men's: no,
How can it? O! how can Love's eye be true,
That is so vexed with watching and with tears?
No marvel then, though I mistake my view;
The sun itself sees not, till heaven clears.
    O cunning Love! with tears thou keep'st me blind,
    Lest eyes well-seeing thy foul faults should find.

Notes

censures falsely: Incorrectly criticizes.
that be fair: If the dark lady is beautiful.
No marvel: It is not surprising.
heaven: Clouds.
Love!: This can be interpreted as a reference to love itself or as a reference to the dark lady.

Summary and Meaning

My eyes do not see what is really there—either that or my perception is faulty. If I perceive you as beautiful, why does the world contradict me? If the world is right, then my eyesight or my perception is defective. Come to think of it, how can I see things correctly when I tax my eyes just looking at you and when I cry over you so often? It is no wonder that I “mistake my view” (line 11). The sun itself does not see when clouds are blocking its view. O Love, you keep me blind by keeping me in tears to obscure the faults that others see.

Sonnet 149

Addressed to the Dark Lady

Canst thou, O cruel! say I love thee not,
When I against myself with thee partake?
Do I not think on thee, when I forgot
Am of my self, all tyrant, for thy sake?
Who hateth thee that I do call my friend,
On whom frown'st thou that I do fawn upon,
Nay, if thou lour'st on me, do I not spend
Revenge upon myself with present moan?
What merit do I in my self respect,
That is so proud thy service to despise,
When all my best doth worship thy defect,
Commanded by the motion of thine eyes?
    But, love, hate on, for now I know thy mind,
    Those that can see thou lov'st, and I am blind.

Notes


O cruel: O cruel woman.
against myself: Against my better judgment; against my own self-interest.
when . . . sake: When I, forgotten by you, treat myself harshly (or, am a tyrant to myself) in trying to get your attention or measure up to your expectations of me.
lour'st . . . me: Scowl at me.
Spend . . . upon: Punish.

Summary and Meaning

Can you tell me that you don't love me even though, against my own better judgment, I take part in action to defend your reputation? Don't I think of you while treating myself cruelly, as a tyrant would, and neglecting my own well-being? Whoever hates you is not my friend. Whoever frowns on you is not worthy my attention. And if you lour at me, I scold myself. What reason of mine would make me proud enough to despise my service to you? All that is in me worships you in spite of any faults you have. I am ready to act on your behalf at the command of your eyes. But, woman, go ahead and hate me, for now I understand your ways. I am blinded by your love, yet you love those who are not affected as I am.

Sonnet 150

Addressed to the Dark Lady

O! from what power hast thou this powerful might,
With insufficiency my heart to sway?
To make me give the lie to my true sight,
And swear that brightness doth not grace the day?
Whence hast thou this becoming of things ill,
That in the very refuse of thy deeds
There is such strength and warrantise of skill,
That, in my mind, thy worst all best exceeds?
Who taught thee how to make me love thee more,
The more I hear and see just cause of hate?
O! though I love what others do abhor,
With others thou shouldst not abhor my state:
    If thy unworthiness raised love in me,
    More worthy I to be beloved of thee.

Notes

this . . . might: This hold on me.
Give . . . lie to: Misinterpret.
Whence: From what place.
Refuse (REF use): Foulness; unkindness; reprehensibility.
Warrantise: Authority; confidence.
Thy . . . exceeds: The worst in you is better than the best in others.

Summary and Meaning


From what source did you receive the power to manipulate my feelings, to cause me to perceive things incorrectly, and even to swear that the day is not bright? What is the origin your power to make me believe that the worst in
you is better than the best of any other? Who taught you how to make me love you with such intensity even though what you do seems hateful? Although I love you while others abhor you, you should not hate me when you are with others. If your faults make me love you, then I am more worthy of your love.

Sonnet 151

Addressed to the Dark Lady

Love is too young to know what conscience is
Yet who knows not conscience is born of love?
Then, gentle cheater, urge not my amiss,
Lest guilty of my faults thy sweet self prove;
For, thou betraying me, I do betray
My nobler part to my gross body’s treason.
My soul doth tell my body that he may
Triumph in love—flesh stays no father reason,
But, rising at thy name, doth point out thee
As his triumphant prize—proud of this pride,
He is contented thy poor drudge to be,
To stand in thy affairs, fall by thy side.
    No want of conscience hold it that I call
    Her “love” for whose dear love I rise and fall.

Notes

love: The poem uses love to refer to a relationship between a man and a woman. In this poem, the relationship between the speaker and the dark lady seems to be based on lust, not genuine love.
cheater: One who uses escheat. In English courts, escheat law forfeited property to the state in the absence of a legal heir or another claimant. Here “gentle cheater” means that the dark lady reverted her love to others in the absence of the speaker.
nobler part: Soul; intellect.
treason: Rebellion of the emotions against the dictates of the soul.
My soul . . . he: Personification. The speaker turns the soul and the body into persons.
flesh . . . reason: Flesh refuses to abide by what reasons says.
rising . . . name: One can interpret this phrase as a description of a penile erection. One can also interpret it as a description of an awakening or a realization.
drudge: Slave; servant. 

Summary and Meaning

The god of love, Cupid, is too young to understand what conscience is. However, everyone else knows that conscience comes from choosing to be faithful or unfaithful in an amorous relationship. With this in mind, you should refrain from reproaching me for unfaithfulness since you apparently are guilty of the same fault—that is, you betrayed me when you were pursuing fulfillment with others. Whenever you betray me, my emotions lay hold of me, overriding reason, and thus make me vulnerable to seeking satisfaction with others. However, when I think of your name, I realize I would be content to be your slave and be by your side. My conscience does not bother me when I call you my love. I would rise and fall for you.

Sonnet 152

Addressed to the Dark Lady

In loving thee thou know’st I am forsworn;
But thou art twice forsworn to me love swearing,
In act thy bed-vow broke and new faith torn,
In vowing new hate after new love bearing.
But why of two oaths' breach do I accuse thee,
When I break twenty? I am perjured most,
For all my vows are oaths but to misuse thee,
And all my honest faith in thee is lost;
For I have sworn deep oaths of thy deep kindness,
Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy,
And, to enlighten thee, gave eyes to blindness,
Or made them swear against the thing they see.
    For I have sworn thee fair: more perjured eye,
    To swear against the truth so foul a lie.

Notes

forsworn: Past participle of forswear, meaning to repudiate or renounce an oath.
to  . . .  swearing: Swearing to love me.
And all . . . lost: My experience with you has changed me from being honest and trusting to being cynical and suspicious.

Summary and Meaning

In loving you, I lied to you. You also lied. First, you lied to your husband when you vowed at your wedding to be faithful to him. Second, you broke a promise to me by swearing to love me, then hating me instead. But why do I reproach you for breaking promises when I am guilty of breaking twenty? The fact is that all my vows to you were lies, for I intended to use them to deceive you. For example, I swore to you that you were kind, loving, truthful, and faithful; but you proved to be unkind, hateful, untruthful, and unfaithful. Then, to make you seem more appealing, I allowed my eyes to see you as fair and desirable--a foul lie.

Comment

The tone of this poem is bitter and sarcastic, reflecting the speaker's dissatisfaction with the fickle conduct of the dark lady. He uses legal terms such as foresworn, oaths, breach, and perjured as if he is a witness or judge in a court proceeding against the dark lady.

Sonnet 153

The Lovesick Poet Tries a Spa
But Finds No Cure


Cupid laid by his brand and fell asleep.
A maid of Dian’s this advantage found,
And his love-kindling fire did quickly steep
In a cold valley-fountain of that ground,
Which borrow'd from this holy fire of Love
A dateless lively heat, still to endure,
And grew a seething bath, which yet men prove
Against strange maladies a sovereign cure.
But at my mistress’ eye Love’s brand new-fired,
The boy for trial needs would touch my breast;
I, sick withal, the help of bath desired
And thither hied, a sad distemper'd guest.
But found no cure. The bath for my help lies
Where Cupid got new fire
my mistress’ eyes.

Notes

Cupid . . . brand: Cupid put down his torch, which he used
to ignite love in human hearts. In ancient mythology, Cupid was the Roman name for the god of love. His Greek name was Eros.
Dian: Diana, Roman name for the goddess of the hunt and moon and protector of women. Her Greek name was Artemis.
Which borrow'd: Which took, which absorbed.
The boy: Cupid.
The bath for my help: The cure for my problem.

Summary and Meaning

Cupid put down the burning torch (or branding iron) that he often used to inflame the human heart with love. Then he fell asleep. One of the maidservants of Diana happened by. (In Roman mythology, Diana, a virgin, was the goddess of the hunt and of the moon. She was also a protector of women.) The mischievous maidservant stole the firebrand and plunged it into the cold water of a fountain. However, the fire did not go out. Instead, it continued to burn, causing the water to heat up and create a steamy bath in which men could immerse themselves and cure strange illnesses resulting from their romantic relationships. As for the speaker, well, he wishes the boy (Cupid) would use on him the fire he captured from the emotional fire in the eyes of the speaker's mistress. The speaker is sick with love for her, but when he tried out the bath he found no cure. So the only help for him is the warmth in his mistress's eyes.

Sonnet 154

Same Topic as Sonnet 153

The little Love-god lying once asleep,
Laid by his side his heart-inflaming brand,
Whilst many nymphs that vowed chaste life to keep
Came tripping by; but in her maiden hand
The fairest votary took up that fire
Which many legions of true hearts had warmed;
And so the General of hot desire
Was, sleeping, by a virgin hand disarmed.
This brand she quenched in a cool well by,
Which from Love's fire took heat perpetual,
Growing a bath and healthful remedy,
For men diseased; but I, my mistress' thrall,
    Came there for cure and this by that I prove,
    Love's fire heats water, water cools not love.

Notes

nymphs: Minor goddesses who inhabited forests, waterways, and other nature settings. Apparently, the nymphs in this sonnet served Diana (referred to in the previous sonnet as Dian), the Roman name for the goddess of the moon and the hunt. She was the protector of forests, waters, and wild animals and also served as the goddess of chastity. Her Greek name was Artemis.
votary: Devout follower of a cult or religion. The nymphs in this poem seemed to be followers of the cult of Diana.
General: Cupid.
thrall: Slave; one who is in moral, emotional, or intellectual bondage.

Summary and Meaning

While the little god of love (Cupid) was sleeping, the brand he sometimes used to inflame the human heart was lying at his side. Many nymphs who had vowed to remain virgins happened by. The fairest of the nymphs snatched the love-inducing brand, thus disarming Cupid, and dipped it in a nearby well. The fire went out but the water absorbed the heat, creating a bath that could cure diseased men. Then I, diseased by enslaving desire for my mistress (the dark lady), bathed in the water. Unfortunately, the remedy had no effect on me. 

About the Author

Michael J. Cummings, a native of Williamsport, Pa., was a public-school teacher, journalist, freelance writer, author, and college instructor before retiring and devoting his time to writing. He graduated from King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and undertook additional studies at Elmira (N.Y) College and Lycoming College in Williamsport. He also underwent training at the American Press Institute. Mr. Cummings is the author of five print books, seven e-books, and more than 2,500 newspaper and magazine articles. Among those he interviewed were actors Peter Ustinov and Dennis Weaver, Merrill-Lynch chairman William Schreyer, Indy race-car champion Rick Mears, and George W. Bush (while he was running for vice president on Ronald Reagan's ticket). Mr. Cummings continues to reside in his hometown. He welcomes feedback at mcum.mings@mail.com