Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The principal metaphor of the sonnet equates words with coins that the poet counts out, or spends, as he writes verse. Line 2 suggests that the poet’s verse is unacceptable as currency, “far fromquick change.” In line seven, “tell” plays on the idea of counting out the poet’s name as if it were coin. The metaphor of spending continues in line 12 and concludes in the last line, where the twin actions of counting out (“telling”) and being spent (“told”) are brought together. Because “telling” also means revealing, the poet conducts a simultaneous argument, that to write verse is to reveal his love to the world, and he ends with a pun on “told,” which conflates these two meanings and conclusively demonstrates the poet’s skill in both writing and “spending,” for he brings his argument to a close at the very point where it and his love are “told”—summed up, counted out, and revealed.

The idea that lovers should not let others know their secret runs through the puns already mentioned, especially the use of “tell,” which suggests revealing a secret and hints at verbal indiscretion. The last line plays on this notion by asserting that the poet’s “love,” represented by this poem, continues to reveal publicly—so long as it is read—the fact of his love and its valued substance, which is already reckoned and revealed (“told”). If his verse is as repetitious as the sun, it is also as visible as the sun.


(The entire section is 496 words.)