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Shakespeare's Sonnets
With Summaries and Annotations
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1-25     26-50     51-75     76-101     102-127     128-154
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Compiled by Michael J. Cummings...© 2003, 2008, 2013

Sonnet 128 (Addressed to the Dark Lady)

How oft, when thou, my music, music play’st,
Upon that blessèd 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

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, 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 plays the notes.

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 (Addressed to the Readers)

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.

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
(Addressed to the Readers)

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.

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

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 Shakespeare 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.

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. Apparently, she is of black-African extraction.
ruth: Mercy; pity.
beseem: Befit; be right for.
And all they: All the white women.

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.

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, I do not enjoy your attention. Because he is fixed on you, I do not enjoy his attention either. 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 younbg 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.

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)


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

will:
(1) Wish, inclination, desire; (2) Shakespeare's nickname.
will: Passion; carnality.
More . . . still: There is plenty of me to go around, although I realize I bother you.
To thy . . . thus: I can fulfill your desire
will: Possibly a reference to her vagina.
will: Possibly a reference to the poet's penis.
will in others: The desires of others.
being . . . will: Rich with the attention that I (Will Shakespeare) give you.
Let . . . kill: Do not refuse (kill) me, for I am kind.

Meaning

Whoever has the attention of the Dark Lady has his own wish fulfilled and also has Will Shakespeare—in fact, an excess of Will Shakespeare, since my own will, my own desire, is centered in her. I am ever ready to add more of myself to you, dear Dark Lady, to please your will (desire), which is "large and spacious." Please put my will in your will—that is, desire me the way I desire you. (When Shakespeare speaks of the Dark Lady's "large and spacious" will and then of hiding his will "in thine," he may be alluding to sexual relations.) Does it seem right to accept the will of others while rejecting my will? True, you already have all of me. I am like a sea that fills you up. But the sea, though full, receives rain and therefore becomes more full. Do the same for me. Although you are already rich in 'Will'—me—receive more of me so that I become an even bigger 'Will' in you.


Sonnet 136 (Addressed to the Dark Lady)

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 I was thy Will” (line 2).
my love-suit: My wooing of you.
treasure: One can interpret this as a metaphor/euphemism for the vagina, the tract between the vulva and the cervix in females.
great receipt: Great numbers.
Among . . . none: See "Meaning," below.

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 (Will Shakespeare) 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. 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.

In Sonnet 135, William Shakespeare also repeatedly uses "will" and "Will" to refer to willpower or desire and, apparently, to himself. For additional information, see "Meaning," Sonnet 135.

Sonnet 137
(Addressed to Love as an Abstraction)

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.

Thou . . . Love: The speaker addresses Love itself. When a poet addresses an abraction, 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: Single.
the wide . . . place: Many men keep company with the dark lady.
false plague: Dark lady.

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.

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.

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; 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.

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: To take up wrongful behavior.
Mad slanderers: Insane slanderers like me will be believed.

Meaning

.......Be just as wise as you are cruel. If you are wise, you will not test my patience with your contempt of me, your scorn. Engaging in contemptuous behavior makes me sad. Sadness, in turn, makes me to 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 hearts 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 poet'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.

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 (who leaves unswayed) 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  . . . hide: If you seek the kind of love that you will not give me (that is, love that you “dost hide,” line 13)
By . . . denied: You will set an example that may cause men to refuse to love you.

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 lover--is 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 poet, Will Shakespeare.

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. The neglected child follows, crying, while the mother chases the bird (perhaps a symbol for the rival poet). 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: To torture me; to make me anxious; to make me jealous.

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.”

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)

Unlike the other sonnets, which are in iambic pentameter, this sonnet is in iambic tetrameter.

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.

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 (Observations of the Speaker in Which He Addresses the Last Two Lines 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.

Meaning

My desire for the dark lady burns like the fever of a disease. I long for her even though she is 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 (Speaker's Observations About His Desire for the Dark Lady)

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.

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.

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.

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.

Can you tell me that you don't love me when, 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.

this . . . might: This hold on me.
Give . . . 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.

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. 

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.
thy . . . constancy: Repetition of thy constitutes a figure of speech known as anaphora.

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 ended up hating me. 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: Roman named for the go
d of love, who used a brand to ignite love in human hearts. 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.

Meaning

Cupid put down the burning torch he often used (in place of his arrows) 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.

Meaning

While the little god of love (Cupid) was sleeping, the torch 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 torch, 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.