What does the verse "it is the star to every wandering bark" mean in Sonnet 116?

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In William Shakespeare's "Sonnet 116," the verse "it is the star to every wandering bark" metaphorically refers to love as the guiding star for every lost ship. This draws a parallel to the North Star, a fixed point used for navigation by wandering ships, representing love as a constant and unchanging force that provides direction and purpose. This comparison emphasizes the poet's belief in love's enduring and unalterable nature, regardless of time or circumstances.

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In "Sonnet 116" by William Shakespeare, one of the most famous and often-quoted of the sonnets, the poet reflects upon what real love is. He emphasizes that there should be no impediments, or blockages, to two people who are in love. Real love is permanent and fixed; it cannot be changed or removed. Love is an "ever-fixed mark" that is not even shaken by storms.

In light of this fixed permanence of love, Shakespeare makes the comparison that it is "the star to every wandering bark." According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a bark is "a small sailing ship." The star that the poet refers to is the North Star, also known as the Pole Star or Polaris. Because this star appears to remain fixed above the North Pole, ships used it in Shakespeare's time for celestial navigation. A "wandering bark" would be a small ship that has lost its way. The poet is saying that just as lost ships can look to the North Star to be able to find direction, lost souls can look to true love as a fixed permanent point from which to find direction and purpose in their lives.

Shakespeare goes on to write that love endures even beyond the "rosy lips and cheeks" of youth into old age, when the attractive appearances of youth dissipate. Love is not bound by time or even by death. The poet concludes by exclaiming that if what he has written is not true, he would never have known love and would never have been able to write the words at all. But of course, because he has written the sonnet, by implication the truth of his words is self-evident.

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