The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Sonnet 130 is a blazon, a lyric poem cataloging the physical characteristics and virtues of the beloved, in typical English or Shakespearean sonnet form—three quatrains and a couplet in iambic pentameter rhymed abab, cdcd, efef, gg. The first-person voice of the poem should be understood as that of a dramatic persona; even if William Shakespeare means it to represent himself, he nevertheless has to create a distinct personality in the language, and from this distance, the reader has no way of knowing how accurately this might describe the man. The speaker describes his beloved in comparison with, or rather in contrast to, natural phenomena. In the love poem tradition, as it emerged in English poetry in imitation of the sonnets of fourteenth century Italian poet Petrarch, poets often compare their beloveds to the elements of nature. In this sonnet, Shakespeare takes the opposite tack by describing his beloved as “nothing like” the beautiful productions of nature or art.

Her eyes, the poet begins, do not shine like the sun; nor are her lips as red as coral. When compared to the whiteness of snow, his beloved’s breasts seem “dun,” a dull gray. The “wires” of line 4 refer to gold spun into golden thread, and his beloved’s hair, if the metaphoric description of hairs as golden wires is valid, can only be seen as black, or tarnished beyond all recognition.

The damasked roses of the fifth line are...

(The entire section is 504 words.)