Discuss "Sonnet 14" by William Shakespeare. [tone, form, theme, summary]

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The first half of Shakespeare’s sonnets were written for a young man with whom Shakespeare had a powerful relationship.  Some of these first seventeen sonnets try to convince the young man to marry and have children.  “Sonnet 14” addresses this subject.

The form of “Sonnet 14” is typical of the Shakespearean sonnets. It has fourteen  lines which can be divided into three quatrains with a rhyming couplet at the end.  The rhyme scheme follows the set pattern of ABABCDCDEFEFGG. The ninth line usually changes the focus of the sonnet. 

The tone of the poem displays a love and admiration for the young man.  The poet's reverence for this him  extends to comparing his eyes to the stars in the sky.  This love encompasses the idea that  the poet desires that the young man have a child in order to continue his beauty through his offspring.

Thematically, the first part of the sonnet speaks to the limitations of the poet.  He is unable to predict the future; however, he does believe that he knows astronomy. During the Elizabethan era, people believed the stars had an important and direct impact on the life of humans, both on individuals and on social institutions.

However, this knowledge does him no good since he cannot tell when sickness or storms or good or back luck will happen.  The poet also mentions the plague which was a current problem of the time.  The plague referred to the bubonic plague which killed thousands of people in London during Shakepeare’s life.

And yet methinks I have astronomy,

But not to tell of good or evil luck,

Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons' quality;

Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell,

 Pointing to each his thunder, rain, and wind 

Line nine of the poem begins the second half of the sonnet which addresses the young man specifically

But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive,

The poet does not need astrology or the stars.  The eyes of his young man are all he needs to foretell the future. From looking into his eyes, the poet is able to understand art, truth and beauty and how they flourish together.

The next line of the poem asks the young man to turn his attentionfrom himself and consider going along with Nature and reproducing in order to preserve a part of himself.  If the he does not procreate, the poet predicts that when he dies, truth and beauty will die with him.

from thyself to store thou wouldst con

Or else of thee this I prognostic

Thy end is truth’s and beauty’s doom and date.