20 Sonnets Analyzed

Sonnet 1—From fairest creatures we desire increase

From fairest creatures we desire increase,
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.

...

(The entire section is 494 words.)

Sonnet 6—Then let not winter's ragged hand deface

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.

...

(The entire section is 468 words.)

Sonnet 18—Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?

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...

(The entire section is 377 words.)

Sonnet 19—Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion's paws

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-liv'd 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...

(The entire section is 382 words.)

Sonnet 29—When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes

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...

(The entire section is 342 words.)

Sonnet 30—When to the sessions of sweet silent thought

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 cancell'd woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanish'd 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.

...

(The entire section is 347 words.)

Sonnet 35—No more be grieved at that which thou hast done

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.

...

(The entire section is 323 words.)

Sonnet 38—How can my muse want subject to invent

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....

(The entire section is 356 words.)

Sonnet 55—Not marble, nor the gilded monuments

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....

(The entire section is 308 words.)

Sonnet 60—Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore

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 crowned,
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....

(The entire section is 308 words.)

Sonnet 66—Tired with all these, for restful death I cry

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 misplac'd,
And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,
And right perfection wrongfully disgrac'd,
And strength by limping sway disabled
And art made tongue-tied by authority,
And folly, doctor-like, controlling skill,
And simple truth miscall'd simplicity,
And captive good attending captain ill:
Tir'd with all these, from these would I be gone,
Save that, to die, I leave my love alone.

Shakespeare's sonnets...

(The entire section is 323 words.)

Sonnet 73—That time of year thou mayst in me behold

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 ruined 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,
Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by.
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou...

(The entire section is 386 words.)

Sonnet 76—Why is my verse so barren of new pride

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.

The structure...

(The entire section is 344 words.)

Sonnet 79—Whilst I alone did call upon thy aid

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 an other 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 behaviour; 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.

...

(The entire section is 336 words.)

Sonnet 91—Some glory in their birth, some in their skill

Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,
Some in their wealth, some in their body's 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' costs,
Of more delight than hawks and 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...

(The entire section is 351 words.)

Sonnet 106—When in the chronicle of wasted time

When in the chronicle of wasted time
I see descriptions of the fairest wights,
And beauty making beautiful old rime,
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 express'd
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.

...

(The entire section is 337 words.)

Sonnet 116—Let me not to the marriage of true minds

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-fixed 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.

The...

(The entire section is 355 words.)

Sonnet 130—My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun

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.

...

(The entire section is 299 words.)

Sonnet 138—When my love swears that she is made of truth

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....

(The entire section is 282 words.)

Sonnet 147—My love is as a fever longing still

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.

...

(The entire section is 294 words.)

Shakespeare's Sonnets Exemplary Sonnets

Serving as the most-often cited example of the 154 verse poems that appear in Shakespeare's sonnets, Sonnet 18 is widely acknowledged as among the finest of the Bard's poems. Its fourteen lines read:

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,
...

(The entire section is 1105 words.)

Shakespeare's Sonnets Sonnets

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Shakespeare was the most unconventional of the Elizabethan sonneteers. The typical lovesick sonneteer, imitating the Italian Petrarch, idealized his fair lady in highly wrought, artificial language featuring metaphor and oxymoron. Shakespeare not only poked fun at this conventional language (see Sonnet 130) but also declared his love for a younger man and a rather sluttish “dark lady.” He also used a simplified sonnet form, three quatrains and a rhyming couplet.

Sonnets 1-126 address the young man, whom Shakespeare idealizes but also advises and corrects. The first seventeen urge the young man to marry and procreate, but the main group develops Shakespeare’s own emotional relationship with the young man, who also becomes involved with Shakespeare’s mistress and a rival poet. Sonnets 127-154 treat Shakespeare’s relationship with his unfaithful mistress, the dark lady.

Can the speaker of these poems be identified in every particular with William Shakespeare, the man? Critics continue to disagree about this question. The publication of the sonnets in Shakespeare’s time caused no scandal, and no one has definitely identified either the young man or the dark lady.

All such questions aside, Shakespeare’s sonnets deserve their fame for their unsurpassed expression of life’s transience, moral ambiguities, and entanglements.

Bibliography:

Crossman, Robert. “Making Love out of Nothing at All: The Issue of Story in Shakespeare’s Procreation Sonnets.” Shakespeare Quarterly 41, no. 4 (Winter, 1990): 470-488. Argues that a consistent story line unifies many of the sonnets, focusing especially on Sonnets 1 through 17. In this group, Crossman traces the progress of the sonnet speaker’s friendship and warm affection for a fair young man.

Green, Martin. Wriothesley’s Roses: In Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Poems, and Plays. Baltimore: Clevendon Books, 1993. Links historical records with poetic context in various sonnets in an interesting attempt to establish the identities of Shakespeare’s fair young man and of the rival poet who seems to compete with Shakespeare’s speaker for the affections of the Dark Lady. Provides a good historical background.

Landry, Hilton. Interpretation in Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963. Despite numerous more recent studies, this book remains an excellent introduction to the thematic analysis and interpretation of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

Ramsey, Paul. The Fickle Glass: A Study of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. New York: AMS Press, 1979. A clearly written scholarly examination of critical problems, poetic techniques, and meaning in the sonnets. Explores questions of authorship, order, and date of composition. Excellent discussion of metrical rules and Elizabethan rhetoric in the sonnets.

Smith, Hallet. The Tension of the Lyre: Poetry in Shakespeare’s Sonnets. San Marino, Calif.: Huntington Library, 1981. General discussion of the sonnets, beginning with an exploration of poetic voice and audience, and including an overview of Shakespeare’s world as it is reflected in the sonnets.

Weiser, David K. Mind in Character: Shakespeare’s Speaker in the Sonnets. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1987. Thorough explication of the sonnets. Useful appendix classifies the sonnets by modes of address.

Shakespeare's Sonnets Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Cosmos

Cosmos. Natural phenomena of heaven and Earth are compared to human activities. The universe is like a huge stage, on which each natural element performs at its peak of perfection then declines and dies; likewise, a youth experiences a moment of perfection that does not last. An astrologer predicts the future by reading the stars, but the speaker looks into his lover’s eyes for truth and beauty. Fate bestows fame on military heroes and the prince’s favorites, who will soon wilt like marigolds.

Time and season

Time and season. Many of Shakespeare’s sonnets compare stages of life to time passing from dawn to midday to sunset, and from spring to summer to fall and winter. Youth is like a blazing sunrise, maturing at high noon, declining in old age, and dying at sunset. The rising sun kisses earth’s mountaintops, meadows, and streams, but clouds of disgrace sometimes emerge to hide its brilliance. Time turns youthful black curls silver, and green meadows fall to the scythe. Time is a tyrant that drives summer onward to winter and death, leaving behind the fragrance of summer flowers. A lover’s absence seems bleak like winter, even though it may be spring, and Nature is reproducing so extravagantly that the gloomy planet Saturn laughs.

Gardens

Gardens. Several sonnets compare a lover’s faults to flaws in nature: thorns on roses, mud in silver fountains, clouds and eclipses that hide the Sun and the Moon, and the worm inside a rosebud. Except for their thorns, wild roses are as colorful and smell as sweet as cultivated roses. Cold, unemotional people are like stones, while lovers are like lilies. If lilies become infected, they smell worse than weeds that choke them out. The speaker accuses flowers (other lovers) of stealing color and scent from the youth’s cheeks and breath, white from his hand, gold from his hair, roses from his blush, and white from his low spirits. In retaliation, worms soon steal life from the flowers.

Familiar settings

Familiar settings. Familiar Elizabethan settings appear in many sonnets. For example, one speaker compares his stage of life to ruins of a deserted chapel, where trees are bare and no birds sing, to twilight after sunset, and to the dying embers of a once-glowing fire. In another, a family’s heritage is like a house needing constant repair—through its heirs—so it can withstand storms of misfortune and death. Lawyers in a courtroom argue over whether a lover belongs to the defendant or to the plaintiff; the jury decides in the defendant’s favor.

In another sonnet, two men are imprisoned in the steel cell of a woman’s heart; the speaker begs the woman to release his friend and in return promises to remain her prisoner. Elsewhere, a mirror reflects a speaker’s aging face; a clock reminds him of time wasted, and blank pages in his journal reflect his lack of creativity. While a woman plays a spinet, admirers wish they were the wooden keys being caressed by her fingers; they kiss her hand, but the speaker wishes to kiss her lips. Although marble monuments may be overturned during wars, and memorial stones in church floors may be effaced, the poet claims his verse will last until Judgment Day.

Shakespeare's Sonnets Historical Background

Sonnets are rhymed poems consisting of fourteen lines, the first eight making up the octet and the last six lines being the sestet. The Shakespearean sonnet—which differs slightly from the Italian (or Petrarchian) sonnet and the Spenserian sonnet—ends with a rhymed couplet and follows the rhyme scheme abab cdcd efef gg. Thus, the octet/sestet structure can be alternatively divided into three quatrains (sets of four lines) with alternating rhymes concluding in a rhymed couplet. With the lone exception of Sonnet 145, the meter of Shakespeare's sonnets is iambic pentameter, each line being comprised of five double-syllable iambic feet. Of all poetic meters, iambic pentameter comes closest to conversational English; the...

(The entire section is 874 words.)

Shakespeare's Sonnets Narrative

Shakespeare's sonnets do not describe or enact a clear sequence of events, nor do they follow a straightforwardly logical or chronological...

(The entire section is 525 words.)

Shakespeare's Sonnets Bibliography and Further Reading

Booth, Stephen. An Essay on Shakespeare's Sonnets. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1969.

Calvert, Hugh....

(The entire section is 151 words.)

Shakespeare's Sonnets Bibliography

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Atkins, Carl D., ed. Shakespeare’s Sonnets: With Three Hundred Years of Commentary. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson, 2007. This well-researched edition offers commentary on Shakespeare’s poems using editions of the poetry that date back to 1710. It also includes a discussion of the metrical features of each poem along with a bibliography, an index, and three appendixes.

Cheney, Patrick. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare’s Poetry. Cambridge University Press, 2007. A collection of essays offering literary, historical, and cultural information on Shakespeare’s poetry. Bibliographies and suggestions for further reading make this an invaluable source for those interest in Shakespeare.

Crossman, Robert. “Making Love out of Nothing at All: The Issue of Story in Shakespeare’s Procreation Sonnets.” Shakespeare Quarterly 41, no. 4 (Winter, 1990): 470-488. Argues that a consistent story line unifies many of the sonnets, focusing especially on Sonnets 1 through 17. In this group, Crossman traces the progress of the sonnet speaker’s friendship and warm affection for a fair young man.

Green, Martin. Wriothesley’s Roses: In Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Poems, and Plays. Baltimore: Clevendon Books, 1993. Links historical records with poetic context in various sonnets in an interesting attempt to establish the identities of Shakespeare’s fair young man and of the rival poet who seems to compete with Shakespeare’s speaker for the affections of the Dark Lady. Provides a good historical background.

Landry, Hilton. Interpretation in Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963. Despite numerous more recent studies, this book remains an excellent introduction to the thematic analysis and interpretation of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

Ramsey, Paul. The Fickle Glass: A Study of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. New York: AMS Press, 1979. A clearly written scholarly examination of critical problems, poetic techniques, and meaning in the sonnets. Explores questions of authorship, order, and date of composition. Excellent discussion of metrical rules and Elizabethan rhetoric in the sonnets.

Smith, Hallet. The Tension of the Lyre: Poetry in Shakespeare’s Sonnets. San Marino, Calif.: Huntington Library, 1981. General discussion of the sonnets, beginning with an exploration of poetic voice and audience, and including an overview of Shakespeare’s world as it is reflected in the sonnets.

Weiser, David K. Mind in Character: Shakespeare’s Speaker in the Sonnets. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1987. Thorough explication of the sonnets. Useful appendix classifies the sonnets by modes of address.