What is Shakespeare's Sonnet XCIV (94) talking about?
There are several messages you can get from this sonnet, but I think I'll stick with the one that makes most sense to me.
In order to get an idea of what the sonnet means, we have to look directly at it. It is common to interpret this poem in terms of quatrains (groups of four lines) but that doesn't seem natural to me. To me, the poem must be read "from head to toe." That makes it harder to understand, but I think we'll manage alright. We'll just stop every few lines to check our understanding, okay?
"They that have power to hurt and will do none,
That do not do the thing they most do show,"
What the heck does this mean? It appears to be talking about people who have power over others, power that could be harmful. The second line implies that those in power do not exercise it to hurt others, even though they could and even though they look tough on the outside.
"Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,
Unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow,"
These people of power are able to influence others but themselves are not easily moved, do not display their feelings, and do not respond quickly to temptation.
"They rightly do inherit heaven's graces.
And husband nature's riches from expense;"
These people inherit grace from heaven, and are able to grow riches from the expense of energy required to remain uninfluenced and true to their values.
"They are the lords and owners of their faces,
Others but stewards of their excellence."
These people own their actions and control them. Other people, who do not, are only "stewards" (caretakers) of their emotions, not owners of them.
"The summer's flower is to the summer sweet,
Though to itself it only live and die,"
Now it switches images. We are not talking about people, but rather nature. A flower during summer smells sweet, but is not sweet to itself (the flower is indifferent to its own sweet smell.) The flower is "born" and it will "die," that's what it knows.
"But if that flower with base infection meet,
The basest weed outbraves his dignity:"
The flower is easily made sick...the weed, an ugly, stinky flower, will outlast it because it is...
(The entire section contains 2 answers and 773 words.)
check Approved by eNotes Editorial
Sonnet-94 , seems to me a criticism of society . There are two classes of people ,-the leaders and the laborers .The leaders are seasoned , they are cultivated from within ,and their activities are concerned to the common well-doing .They reign from the dictate of their strong conscience , and they lead people to execute a work a justified discrimination .
The commonplace people , bud , bloom and fade .They often fall victim to their natural impulses , and base instincts .They are the naturals .
Thus the comparison between stone and flower is apt and significant .