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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
..C Compiled by Michael J. Cummings... 2003, 2008, 2013

Sonnet 26 (Addressed to the Unidentified 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.
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.

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 Unidentified 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.

Note

For then . . . to thee: While lying in bed, far from the physical presence of the young man, the speaker 

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 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 Unidentified 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

the other . . . . from thee: Night complains that the speaker continues to think about the young man at a time when he should be sleeping. The complaints annoy the speaker.
swart-complexion'd: Dark-complexioned.
twire: Twinkle, gleam. 


Meaning

Sonnet 28 continues the theme of Sonnet 27: that the speaker is losing sleep over his concern about the young man. In a metaphor and personification, he 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, telling the day that he is bright and the night that he gilds the evening when the stars do not shine. But his tactics fail. Both day and night intensify their campaign against him.

Sonnet 29
(Addressed to the Unidentified 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

bootless: futile; having no effect.
art: Skill; know-how; winning manner or demeanor.
scope: breadth of intellect, ability, insight, etc.
haply: By chance; luckily.

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 Unidentified 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.
friends . . . night: Dead friends.
weep . . . woe: Cry again about the love I knew, opening old wounds.
expense: Loss.
foregone: Previous; in the past.
tell o'er: Relive.

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 Unidentified 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.
obsequious: Attentive to others; compliant.

Meaning

You were dear to friends of mine whom I presume are dead because I haven't seen them in a long time. But their love for you has not died; it lives on in their buried hearts. I cried many holy and respectful tears for these lost 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 Unidentified 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.
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.

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, since my death would prevent me from gaining the wisdom to become a poet superior to other poets, vow that your read my poetry for the love it expresses—and other poets for their style.

Sonnet 33 (Addressed to the Unidentified 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 on.
heavenly alchemy: Reflected sunlight; dancing sunbeams.
Anon . . . basest: But soon the morning permits the darkest.
rack: Mass of drifting clouds.
visage: face.
Stealing . . . disgrace: Moving westward above the cloud cover.
my sun: The young man.
did shine: looked (on me) favorably.
alack: Alas.
region . . . mask'd: 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. 
.

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 poet 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 Unidentified 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) these beverages are beer (not beers); (3) those fabrics are cotton (not cottons).

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 of 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 Unidentified 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.
sensual fault: Perhaps lust.
bring in sense: Bring reason, common sense.

Meaning

Do not fret over your offense (which is not specified). After all, nothing is perfect. 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 the 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 Unidentified 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.

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 Unidentified 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:
   This 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.
And by . . . live: By appreciating your outstanding qualities, I have become part of them—and you—and therefore share in your glory.

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 Unidentified 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: Anything.
invention: Creativity.
light: Inspiration.
tenth Muse: See muse.
rhymers: Poets.
invocate: Call upon for inspiration. 


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 Unidentified 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.
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.

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 Unidentified 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 speaker is offended that the young man is apparently seeing his mistress. 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.

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 (an oxymoron referring to the young man), 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 Unidentified 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: You (the young man), who think you are free to pursue my mistress behind my back.
assailed: Wooed; pursued.
my seat: My place. The speaker is accusing the young man of taking his (the speaker's) place with his mistress. 

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 people 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 Unidentified Young Man, Chiding Him for Stealing the Poet's Female Companion)

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

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 my friend to have an affair with her.
If I . . .  gain: The loss of my friend is the woman's gain.
losing . . . loss:
The loss of my friend is the woman's gain
twain: Together.
But here's . . . one: M
y friend and I are the same person—that is, united in love.

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 Unidentified 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.
shadow . . . bright: The young man's shadow is bright compared with the other shadows.


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 would 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. However, in my dream 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.

Comment

Shakespeare relies on paradox and oxymoron to make his point in this sonnet. Here are examples:

Paradox
  • When most I wink [sleep], then do mine eyes best see
  • whose shadow shadows doth make bright
  • to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so
  • All days are nights
  • nights [are] bright days
  • thy fair imperfect shade / . . . sightless eyes doth stay

Oxymoron
  • darkly bright
 
Sonnet 44 (Addressed to the Unidentified 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

Injurious: Wearying.
As . . . think: As soon as thought learns.
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.

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 Unidentified 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.

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 Unidentified 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.
closet: The heart; an enclosed place; a walled-in sanctuary.
defendant: Eyes; vision.
'cide: Decide.
impannelled: Summoned for service on a jury.
moiety: Share; portion. 

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 behold the love we share.

Sonnet 47 (Addressed to the Unidentified 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.

Notes

Betwixt: Between.
league: Alliance; agreement.
painted banquet: Painting; portrait.

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 Unidentified 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: Under 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.

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 from there, truth, honesty, integrity—call it what you will—would become a thief for so great a prize.

Sonnet 49 (Addressed to the Unidentified 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
advis'd respects: By your observance of me.
strangely pass: Walk by like a strangely.
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.

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.

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 the horse, for they remind him that his ride is taking him away from his beloved friend.