The topic of Sonnet 116 is love. The poem is a rumination on love, if you will. Stanza by stanza, here's a paraphrase:
- Don't let me consider anything that would get in the way of a marriage between true minds. Love does not change when its object's appearance or affections change, or if a lover turns or looks elsewhere, or if a lover is absent.
- Love is like a star that guides a ship, a star that stays steady during great storms. Love is the star that guides every wandering ship, a star whose value, quality, true nature is unknown even though its measure is taken to determine the location of a ship.
- Love is not made a mockery of by time. Love is not a fool or clown. Love lasts until the judgment day, resisting even the grim reaper.
- If my thoughts above are incorrect and it's proven to me, I've never written and no man has ever loved.
The first three stanzas are quatrains of four lines each. The last two lines are a rhyming couplet.
In this poem, the first quatrain opens by saying that people who are in love should get married. Then it goes no to start talking about what love really is. It says that love does not really change according to the circumstances.
In the second quatrain, the speaker continues in this theme. He says that love is like a lighthouse that does not move. He also says that love is not something that you can put a value on -- it is beyond that.
In the last quatrain, the speaker finishes up by saying that love does not change over time.
In the couplet, he says that if he is wrong about this stuff, he will take back everything he has ever written and he will believe that no man has ever loved anyone.