Analysis Pages

Themes in Shakespeare's Sonnets

To learn more about the themes of the sonnets, visit our Guide to Shakespeare's Sonnets.

Themes Examples in Shakespeare's Sonnets:

Sonnets 1–10

🔒 8

"If the true concord of well-tuned sounds, By unions married, do offend thine ear, They do but sweetly chide thee, who confounds In singleness the parts that thou shouldst bear...."   (Sonnets 1–10)

The speaker uses diction associated with music throughout the sonnet to convey the idea that family life is like a musical performance. The fair youth does not like music, and the speaker claims it is because the call of family life is “chiding,” or scolding, him for remaining single. The speaker describes each “string” as being the “husband to another,” identifying a familial relationship between the different parts of a harmonious tune. Families create “one pleasing note” when they sing together, indicating domestic harmony. By contrast, the fair youth cannot enjoy music and will “prove none,” or produce no kin, if he remains single rather than allowing himself to enter into the harmony of fatherhood.

"unprovident..."   (Sonnets 1–10)

According to the speaker, in choosing not to have a child, the fair youth is “unprovident.” The word, which originates from the classical Latin improvidus, meaning “not foreseeing,” suggests that the fair youth has failed to account for the future by choosing not to procreate and share his beauty. To the speaker, the fair youth’s behavior is reckless. The fair youth “ruinate[s]” the “beauteous roof,” an image the speaker likens to the fair youth’s spoiled beauty.

"The world will be thy widow and still weep That thou no form of thee hast left behind,..."   (Sonnets 1–10)

Through an extended metaphor, the speaker equates the fair youth to a deceased husband who leaves his widow, and the rest of the world, abandoned and childless. He tries to appeal to the fair youth’s sense of pathos by asking in the opening line if he is so heartless as to “wet a widow’s eye.” According to the speaker, leaving behind a childless widow is akin to murder, encapsulated in the final couplet which caustically condemns the fair youth for his “murd’rous shame.” The widow, however, is a metaphor for the world, which the fair youth will harm by choosing not to marry and have children. Truly, the youth is in a double bind.

"Thou art thy mother's glass..."   (Sonnets 1–10)

The idea of children as mirrors in which parents can see their own reflections ties in with the cultural expectations of Elizabethan England surrounding parent-child relationships. Sons were expected to be dutiful and to follow in the footsteps of their fathers, inheriting their titles and continuing their legacies. The speaker takes this idea a step further and posits that the fair youth’s child will be a vessel for both his legacy and his beauty, preserving his youthfulness so long as his descendants continue to have children of their own.

"When forty winters shall besiege thy brow, And dig deep trenches in thy beauty's field,..."   (Sonnets 1–10)

The speaker employs words and images associated with war in order to establish a conflict between age and beauty. To “besiege” is to surround an enemy in order to capture them, implying that the fair youth’s face is a battleground and the “trenches” in the “field” are a metaphor for wrinkles caused by age. The youth wears “proud livery,” or a uniform, further evoking the idea that his youthful beauty is being attacked by time and aging. The trope of Time as an enemy is continuous throughout the sonnets and forms the basis for the speaker’s arguments encouraging the fair youth to have a child.

"So thou, thyself outgoing in thy noon:      Unlook'd, on diest unless thou get a son...."   (Sonnets 1–10)

The closing couplets of this sonnet take on a more menacing tone than the previous sonnets. Here, the speaker employs an extended metaphor that likens the fair youth to the sun. Specifically, the speaker says that as the sun rises, “mortals adore” it; when the sun “reeleth from the day,” people look away in search of other beauty. This final couplet warns the fair youth that if he does not have children—metaphorically, if he does not rise like the sun and spread his beauty—he will fade in the same way the sun sets.

"Ten times thy self were happier than thou art, If ten of thine ten times refigur'd thee: Then what could death do if thou shouldst depart, Leaving thee living in posterity?..."   (Sonnets 1–10)

The speaker employs repetitive language to arrive at the crux of his argument in the sixth of the “Fair Youth” sonnets. Here, the speaker beseeches the fair youth to procreate and have “ten times thy self,” meaning ten children. With the repetition of the word “ten,” the speaker fervently urges the fair youth to have children, saving him from losing his beauty by replicating it in posterity.

"with self-substantial fuel..."   (Sonnets 1–10)

In his encouragement for the fair youth to have a child, the speaker emphasizes the youth’s uniqueness by metaphorically comparing the youth’s inner beauty to a “light’s flame.” The phrase “self-substantial fuel” suggests the youth’s solitary stance—he refuses to marry or procreate and pass the metaphorical flame along. While the speaker hopes the fair youth might recapture his beauty and personality through a child, the fair youth ignores the speaker’s plea.

"And fortify your self in your decay With means more blessed than my barren rhyme?..."   (Sonnets 11–21)

The speaker shifts back to his procreation arguments here, describing his own ability to preserve the beauty of the fair youth through poetry as inadequate in comparison to the physical evidence that a child would provide. “Barren” typically refers to land that cannot be used to grow crops, but it is also a derogatory term used to describe infertility. In the context of his encouraging the fair youth to have a child, the speaker labels his verse barren, indicating that he is unable to successfully reproduce the beauty of the fair youth in his works.

"To change your day of youth to sullied night,..."   (Sonnets 11–21)

Notice the similarity in imagery between Sonnet 12 and Sonnet 15. Both poems invoke visual images of nature, specifically associating youth and beauty with daytime and aging and death with nighttime. They also share a similar structure, employing “when” clauses at the beginning of each quatrain and ending on a couplet that offers a way to defend against time. The main difference can be seen in the thematic shift that takes place in sonnet 15, with the emphasis moving away from the youth’s procreation to the speaker’s “war” against time. The speaker posits that even if time takes away his beloved’s beauty, the speaker’s poetry will preserve it.

" Or else of thee this I prognosticate:      Thy end is truth's and beauty's doom and date...."   (Sonnets 11–21)

The verb “prognosticate” means to foretell or prophesize. However, the speaker does not base his predictions on astronomy or religion, but rather on the feeling he has when looking into his beloved’s eyes. The speaker’s love for the fair youth has led him to believe that upon the death of his beloved, all that is beautiful and true will cease to exist. He uses this idea to bolster his argument that the fair youth needs to have a child. He raises the stakes by insinuating that it is not just the fair youth’s beauty that is at stake, but the very ideals of truth and beauty.

"Who lets so fair a house fall to decay,..."   (Sonnets 11–21)

The speaker employs a metaphor that compares the fair youth’s family lineage to a house. Family lines are often referred to as “houses,” especially amongst the nobility. The speaker extends this idea and compares the fair youth’s body to a house that needs upkeep. If the fair youth dies without a male heir, then his house will fall to decay since there will be no one to continue the legacy of his beauty. The specific reference to a son invokes the patrilineal nature of succession in Elizabethan England, where sons inherited the titles and wealth of their fathers, just as the speaker hopes the fair youth’s son will inherit his beauty.

" And nothing 'gainst Time's scythe can make defence      Save breed..."   (Sonnets 11–21)

Color imagery is prevalent in this sonnet, often in the context of decay. The “sable [black] curls” of youth turn to white with age, and the green foliage of summer is bundled up and stored away. Time is depicted as a destructive force which pushes away the “brave day” and ushers in the “hideous night.” The personification of Time also carries a “scythe,” a visual image associated with the figure of the grim reaper, a personification of death popularized in the 14th century during the outbreak of the Black Plague. This imagery makes the connection between the passage of time and mortality more explicit. The speaker reiterates that the only way to defend against “Time’s scythe” is to procreate.

"You should live twice..."   (Sonnets 11–21)

Sonnet 17 ends with a final appeal to the fair youth to have a child. It also marks the transition between the first 17 sonnets, which are often called the “Procreation Sonnets,” and the rest of the Fair Youth sequence, which extends to Sonnet 126. The speaker assures the fair youth that if he has a child, not only will his beauty live on and lend credence to the speaker’s verse, but he will also “live twice” after his death since both his child and the speaker’s poetry will preserve him.

"Thou shouldst print more, not let that copy die...."   (Sonnets 11–21)

The speaker continues to insist that the fair youth should have a child by crafting a metaphor that compares procreation to print publication and the youth to “nature’s seal.” In order to print a book on a Renaissance-era printing press, developed by Johannes Gutenberg in 1440, metal blocks were carved with letters and symbols, a process that could take hours or days, before being set into the press. Nature “carved” the fair youth so that he would go on to procreate, or “print more” copies of himself, adding an element of obligation to the speaker’s encouragement. It is no longer just the speaker that the fair youth must appease, but nature herself, who took care to “carve” him so beautifully.

"Nor shall death brag thou wander'st in his shade..."   (Sonnets 11–21)

The personification of death as a character who is proud of bringing about mortality is further explored in the sonnet [“Death Be Not Proud”] ( by John Donne, published in 1633. In Sonnet 18, and throughout the entire sonnet sequence, the speaker casts death and time as enemies who seek to destroy humans. Donne’s sonnet further explores this concept, with a specific focus on the ways that humans overcome death.

"prick'd..."   (Sonnets 11–21)

The speaker praises the fair youth as having all the beauty and gentleness of a woman, but none of the fickleness that the speaker attributes to them. He goes on to say that he believes his beloved was “first created” as a woman. However, Nature ended up “doting” on the fair youth and added an “addition” during his creation, which is implied to be male genitalia. Sonnet 20 is often contested in terms of the relationship between the speaker and his beloved. Some scholars interpret the speaker’s lament over Nature’s decision to make the fair youth male as an indication of a deep platonic affection. Others view the sonnet as a whole as an admission of the speaker’s homosexual interest in the youth.

"But I forbid thee one most heinous crime..."   (Sonnets 11–21)

Sonnet 19 establishes Time as a villainous force that destroys the body, plucking the teeth from a tiger and blunting the paws of a lion. The speaker tells Time to do what it will, but he “forbids” it to allow his love’s face to be spoiled by wrinkles or other signs of age. This sonnet is addressed directly to Time, contributing to the personification of the abstract concept as something tangible that can be reasoned with. The concept of time as a villain is a common theme. Andrew Marvell’s 1681 poem [“To His Coy Mistress”] ( is another famous example that portrays aging and time as the enemies of lovers.

"Yet eyes this cunning want to grace their art,      They draw but what they see, know not the heart...."   (Sonnets 21–30)

The speaker compares his own body to a painter’s studio, with his eyes painting the fair youth and storing the image in his heart. Since the speaker’s heart is filled with love for the fair youth, the fair youth’s visage is a “window” to the interiority of the speaker, evoking the classic conceit of the eyes being windows to the soul. However, there is also the idea that while the speaker is open about his feelings, the fair youth is closed off and simply reflects the speaker’s own feelings back to him. The final lines further emphasize this reality. The speaker admits that, while he has fallen for the beauty of the fair youth, he may not know the fair youth’s heart.

"So I, for fear of trust, forget to say The perfect ceremony of love's rite,..."   (Sonnets 21–30)

The speaker uses the metaphors of a forgetful actor and a raging beast to convey the state of being unable to portray his feelings accurately. He worries that the depth of his feelings cannot be communicated through words alone and beseeches his beloved to “hear with his eyes” and see the love in the way the speaker looks at him. This is a play on the metaphor that the eyes are the window to the soul, a metaphor found in literature dating back to Roman times. The speaker personifies his loving looks as messengers of his affection that seek out and “plead” with the fair youth. The speaker hopes for “recompense,” or reciprocal affection, from his beloved.

"So is it not with me as with that Muse, Stirr'd by a painted beauty to his verse,..."   (Sonnets 21–30)

The speaker derides the habits of other poets who he claims are “stirr’d by a painted beauty,” or inspired by artificial comparisons between their subjects and beautiful things. The speaker, despite engaging in this same sort of poetic comparison throughout the sonnet sequence, believes it is disingenuous to compare the beauty of the fair youth to celestial bodies and natural wonders. He claims that he is “true in love” and is not trying to “sell” anything, so he has no need to exaggerate. Human descriptions of his beloved are more genuine and beautiful than extravagant comparisons, since the fair youth is already beautiful in his unadorned state.

"vassalage..."   (Sonnets 21–30)

The word “vassalage” refers to the feudal system in which a peasant is protected by the lord on whose land he farms. Here, the speaker compares himself to the vassal who has sworn his loyalty to the “Lord of my love,” or the fair youth. Such a power dynamic—between the feudal lord and his servant—suggests that the speaker feels inferior or weak compared to his aristocratic love. The source of power is twofold: the youth controls the speaker’s affections and, as his patron, may control his livelihood as well.

"But day doth daily draw my sorrows longer,      And night doth nightly make grief's length seem stronger...."   (Sonnets 21–30)

In an attempt to demonstrate the effect of the fair youth’s unreciprocated love, the speaker explains that he is restless both day and night. He personifies day and night as misanthropic individuals who “consent” and “shake hands to torture” him. In the final couplet, the speaker emphasizes this theme through alliteration and the use of consonant-laden monosyllabic and disyllabic words, which draw the sentences out. With the repetition of the d, s, and l sounds in lines 13 and 14, readers must take pause and slow their reading speed, a process which mimics the speaker’s arduous and enduring grief.

"And weep afresh love's long since cancell'd woe, And moan the expense of many a vanish'd sight: Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,..."   (Sonnets 21–30)

The speaker’s plight, of being forced to relive painful experiences over and over again, resembles Macbeth’s conundrum in act V, scene III of Shakespeare’s 1623 play Macbeth, in which Macbeth asks the Doctor: "Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased, / Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow, / Raze out the written troubles of the brain, / And with some sweet oblivious antidote / Cleanse the stuff'd bosom of that perilous stuff / Which weighs upon the heart?" In both texts, Shakespeare reflects on the memories that can return to haunt and torment the soul.

"My glass ..."   (Sonnets 21–30)

The word "glass" refers to the speaker’s mirror. Throughout the sonnet, mirrors are a motif that signify aging and decay. Notice the disconnect between the speaker's perception of himself and the image he sees in the mirror of his aging self. This signifies his blindness in the face of Time, which in turn undermines his argument that he can halt decay with poetry and love.

"tenth Muse,..."   (Sonnets 31–40)

The nine muses of Greek mythology were goddesses believed to provide inspiration for artists, writers, and poets. Here, the speaker takes this allusion and inverts it by denouncing the nine muses and praising a hypothetical tenth, whom he likens to his beloved. Notice how the speaker places this allusion on lines nine and ten: line nine mentions the tenth Muse, while line ten dismisses the previous nine. By including this allusion, the speaker makes clear that his love for the fair youth transcends traditional, classical notions; instead, it is “eternal” and original.

"Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud: Clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun, And loathsome canker lives in sweetest bud. All men make faults,..."   (Sonnets 31–40)

In Sonnet 35, the speaker explains the misdeed the fair youth has commited, first mentioned in sonnet 33 at the start of the “estrangement sonnets.” Unlike the preceding sonnets, here the speaker takes on a more respectful and forgiving tone. Through nature-based imagery, the speaker says that human error is as natural as roses with thorns or trees with canker—a type of fungal disease that damages bark. He claims that since the fault has already been made, there is nothing he or the fair youth can do.

"tears are pearl..."   (Sonnets 31–40)

As in Sonnet 33, the speaker employs imagery of storm clouds blemishing the “beauteous” day to mirror how the fair youth’s fault has cast clouds over their relationship. Although the fair youth repents, the speaker continues to shed tears “of pearl.” Pearls often represent wisdom gained through experience. Here they symbolize a penance for the fair youth’s sin. The speaker believes that although the fair youth has caused him pain, that pain is “ransom[ed],” or redeemed, by the youth’s tears.

"Even so my sun one early morn did shine,..."   (Sonnets 31–40)

Throughout this sonnet, the speaker employs a conceit, or extended metaphor, by comparing the fair youth to the sun. Sonnets 33 through 36 are traditionally called the “estrangement” sonnets, for in them the speaker confronts a fault the fair youth has committed. In this sonnet’s conceit, the sun still shines despite the fair youth’s alleged actions, suggesting the possibility of absolution.

"whose shadow shadows doth make bright,..."   (Sonnets 41–50)

In a stark departure from the previous three sonnets, Sonnet 43 takes on a more lively and jubilant tone. Expressed through dichotomous imagery, the speaker dreams of the fair youth’s shadow, which makes his night as bright as day. The speaker expresses how “all days are nights” when he is alone, and how the fair youth’s shadow—which would normally darken the space around it—provides light, making “nights bright days.” The inversion of night and day, shadow and light, speak to the fair youth’s bright presence in the speaker’s nightly dreams, and the speaker’s anticipation about reuniting with his loved one.

"Which heavily he answers with a groan,..."   (Sonnets 41–50)

In Sonnet 50, the speaker’s dreaded separation from the fair youth has arrived, and the speaker travels forth reluctantly. His misery is so great that it is depicted as a physical presence weighing down his journey. As the speaker angrily digs his spurs into the horse, the beast’s pained groan reminds the speaker of the woe he feels from being so far from the fair youth. Both speaker and horse are depicted as beasts of burden, with the horse having to carry the literal weight of the speaker and the speaker having to carry the burden of love.

"Awakes my heart, to heart's and eye's delight...."   (Sonnets 41–50)

While Sonnet 46 deals with the battle waged between heart and eye, sonnet 47 describes their reconciliation. By the final lines in the sonnet, the heart and eye are equal: the eye can look at the fair youth’s image and the heart can reminisce on their relationship despite his love’s absence. No longer using legal jargon, the speaker instead employs words relating to lavishness, including words like “feast” and “banquet.” Such diction suggests that by working in “league,” or jointly, one uplifts the other.

"Mine eye and heart are at a mortal war,..."   (Sonnets 41–50)

The first line establishes the conceit of the next two sonnets: the speaker’s eye and heart are engaged in a metaphorical “war” in which both opponents are bent on conquering the fair youth. On the one hand, the eye “bars” the heart from looking at the image of the fair youth. On the other, the heart contends with the eye for the right to look. The theme of adversarial battle is furthered by the use of legal language, which is peppered throughout the sonnet in words like “right,” “plead,” and “verdict.”

"slight air, and purging fire..."   (Sonnets 41–50)

Sustaining the themes of corporeality from the previous sonnet, the speaker touches on the four elements of Aristotelian physics, a predominant paradigm during the Elizabethan era. Sonnet 44 discusses earth and water; Sonnet 45 takes up air and fire. Air comprises thought and fire desire, while the other two elements of earth and water represent a corporeal, physical relationship. Without the four working together, the speaker is left incomplete and he feels melancholic and lonely.

"For nimble thought can jump both sea and land,..."   (Sonnets 41–50)

Throughout this sonnet, the speaker contrasts the corporeal with the cerebral by personifying thought as someone or something capable of jumping across “sea and land.” Despite the physical distance between himself and the fair youth, his thoughts “leap” and “jump” to reach the fair youth. The physical marks of their separation—“earth and water wrought”—remain stagnant, manifesting in the form of “heavy tears” on both their parts.

"cross:..."   (Sonnets 41–50)

The word “cross” can refer to either the connecting link between the fair youth and the mistress, or the trouble and anguish the speaker feels as a result of the fair youth’s alleged transgression. The term has Christian connotations, as seen in the biblical verse Matthew 16:24, which states, "Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.'" In the context of Christian doctrine, the word “cross” suggests an affliction undertaken for Christ’s sake. Here, the speaker appeals to Christ to provide a sense of faith as he confronts the fair youth’s affair.

"     Hers by thy beauty tempting her to thee,      Thine by thy beauty being false to me...."   (Sonnets 41–50)

Sonnets 40, 41, and 42 deal with transgressions committed by the fair youth, namely sleeping with his mistress. The speaker, who often concludes his sonnets in a lighthearted and redemptive tone, ends this sonnet in a plaintive tone. In the final couplet the speaker, disheartened by his lover’s betrayal, laments that the fair youth has left him for the beauty of his mistress. The sentence structure parallels how the speaker has been deceived by the beauty of the fair youth.

" My grief lies onward, and my joy behind...."   (Sonnets 41–50)

The words “onward” and “behind” carry dual meanings in this line. “Onward” refers to the literal act of moving towards a destination, but it also refers to the passage of time. Similarly, “behind” refers to both the physical place the speaker is leaving and the past. The speaker’s past contains joyful memories of the fair youth, while the future, as explored in previous sonnets, contains his eventual abandonment.

"And this my hand, against my self uprear, To guard the lawful reasons on thy part:..."   (Sonnets 41–50)

The speaker predicts that the fair youth will eventually “desert” him. However, he preemptively offers forgiveness, employing legal language to showcase that he views the youth’s predicted actions as permissible. The speaker offers to “uprear,” or raise, his hand against himself, taking an oath as if he were a witness at a trial. The final lines evoke the idea of giving testimony in court, as the speaker vows to defend the youth against any allegations of wrongdoing. To “allege no cause” means to have no legal case. The speaker cannot justify why the youth would love him in the wake of time’s ravages and is therefore unable to resent the desertion.

"Against that time..."   (Sonnets 41–50)

Lines 1, 5, and 9 all begin with the phrase “against that time,” foregrounding the conflict between the speaker and Time. Lines 1-4 predict that the fair youth will eventually realize the speaker’s flaws. Lines 5-8 lament the eventual distance between the speaker and the youth, their intimacy fading until they become strangers. In line 9, the speaker explains that despite his premonition, he remains by the fair youth’s side and will defend the eventual desertion as justifiable. The repetition of the phrase “against that time” suggests that the speaker does not resent the fair youth for leaving and instead resents time for exposing his flaws to his beloved.

" And even thence thou wilt be stol'n I fear,      For truth proves thievish for a prize so dear...."   (Sonnets 41–50)

Sonnet 48 is built on metaphors of valuables and theft. The speaker expresses concern that someone will steal the fair youth while he is away. The fair youth is compared to a precious possession who makes jewels seem like “trifles.” The speaker laments that he cannot lock the youth away from “vulgar thieves,” instead relying on his affection to protect the youth within the “gentle closure” of his heart. However, the fair youth is such a tempting “prize” that the speaker fears the strength of his love will not be enough to ward off thieves.

"beguil'd,..."   (Sonnets 51–60)

The verb “to beguile” refers to the act of hoodwinking or duping someone. The first stanza introduces the notion of how people “beguile” themselves into thinking they have created something new. In this vein, the speaker questions the authenticity of his adoration for the fair youth. In the second stanza, the speaker holds the fair youth’s beauty up against the beauty of the “old world.” In the final couplet, the speaker puts his worries to rest, concluding that the fair youth outshines the beauty of “former days.”

"treasure,..."   (Sonnets 51–60)

In the continued absence of the fair youth, the speaker furthers his plea for reunification. In Sonnet 52, the speaker compares himself to a miser or penny-pincher who hoards his rich treasures like his “stones of worth,” “captain jewels,” and “robe,” which stand in metaphorically for the fair youth. As the final line of the sonnet indicates, despite his efforts to hoard his treasure, the speaker fails to unite with the fair youth and is left only with hope.

"Therefore desire, of perfect'st love being made, Shall neigh—no dull flesh—in his fiery race;..."   (Sonnets 51–60)

Sonnet 51 continues the conceit of journeying on horse begun in Sonnet 50. The speaker describes how his “desire” is faster than any horse. He desires so fervently to reach the fair youth, that it surpasses the speed of any “dull flesh.” This rapid quality is expressed through the repeated use of words relating to speed, including “swift,” “spir,” “mounted,” “motion,” and “pace.” Since his love is so fleeting, the speaker dismisses the horse in the final line, stating that he’ll run toward his love and “give [the horse] leave to go.”

"The imprison'd absence of your liberty;..."   (Sonnets 51–60)

Sonnet 58 represents a continuation of Sonnet 57. The speaker pardons the youth’s indiscretions and agrees to refrain from judging his behavior. However, the diction continues to produce contrasting messages. The fair youth is offered “liberty” and the right to “privilege” his time, but those words are surrounded by ones associated with captivity, such as “slave,” “suffer,” and “imprison’d.” By one reading, the cost of the fair youth’s freedom is the speaker’s suffering, for in such an arrangement he must watch the youth’s libertine indiscretions. However, the poem can also be read in the same disingenuous light as Sonnet 57, implying that the speaker actually expects his beloved to show the same devotion that he has.

"Being your slave what should I do but tend,..."   (Sonnets 51–60)

There is a conflict between the diction and argument of Sonnet 57. On the surface, the speaker professes his devotion to the fair youth by referring to himself as a slave and claiming to tend to the needs of his master. However, words like “bitterness,” “absence,” “sour,” “jealous,” and “fool” create a tone that is less devout and more resentful. The speaker has been faithful and good to the fair youth, at least in his own mind. The youth has responded to these affections with promiscuity and ungratefulness, leading the speaker to declare that love is foolish, blinding people to the negative actions of their loved ones.

"Sweet love, renew thy force;..."   (Sonnets 51–60)

In a sharp departure from the confidence the speaker has in Sonnet 55, Sonnet 56 describes a “sad interim” of estrangement from the fair youth. The speaker compares himself and the fair youth to people stranded on different shores, separated by the ocean, awaiting each other’s return each day. He also compares their period of estrangement to cold winter awaiting the return of warm summer. Both metaphors serve as hopeful pleas to the fair youth to reject his lustful “appetite” and renew his affections for the speaker so that “the spirit of love” may prove stronger than lust.

"Not marble, nor the gilded monuments..."   (Sonnets 51–60)

The speaker boasts that, unlike the “marble” and “gilded monuments” that will crumble in time, his poems will escape the ravages of time. Since, in the speaker’s eyes, the sonnets are immortal, so too is the speaker’s love for the fair youth whose memory will endure through these words.

"To thy fair flower add the rank smell of weeds:..."   (Sonnets 61–70)

The speaker contrasts how onlookers perceive the fair youth’s beauty. Outwardly, the “world’s eye” views the fair youth as beautiful and commendable. However, inwardly, they condemn him for having dubious morals. Through the metaphor of the “rank smell of weeds” permeating a “fair flower,” the speaker describes how perceived inward superficiality can corrupt one’s external appearance. Listening to these “tongues” of public opinion causes the fair youth to grow “common,” or like everyone else.

"And him as for a map doth Nature store,      To show false Art what beauty was of yore...."   (Sonnets 61–70)

In Sonnet 68, the speaker continues to address the fair youth with a detached tone. He uses the personal pronouns “him” and “his” as he compares the fair youth’s more natural, unadorned beauty to the artificiality of others. The speaker refers to cosmetics and wigs as “bastard signs of fair,” claiming that real beauty is becoming a relic of the past, preserved only in the “map” of the fair youth’s face. The sentiment of this sonnet echoes that of the procreation sonnets, specifically Sonnet 11, which postulates that “bankrupt” Nature has stored the last of her wealth in the fair youth. The youth is to act as a “map” for future generations so that they might understand the “beauty of yore.”

"The ornament of beauty is suspect, A crow that flies in heaven's sweetest air...."   (Sonnets 61–70)

The speaker again broaches the subject of slander, introduced in the previous sonnet. As Sonnet 69 discusses, the public accuses the fair youth of superficiality. The speaker counters this claim, stating that the public only makes this accusation because they are jealous of his beauty. Through metaphor, the speaker claims that the fair youth’s beauty is suspicious like “a crow that flies in heaven’s sweetest air.” Shakespeare frequently employs the imagery of the crow to describe an omen, as in Macbeth act III, scene II, when Macbeth foreshadows killing Banquo: “...the crow / Makes wing to th’ rooky wood; / Good things of day begin to droop and drowse, / Whiles night’s black agents to their preys do rouse.” The image of the crow often signals something ominous; in the sonnet, it heralds the speaker’s warning to beware false accusations.

"To tie up envy, evermore enlarg'd,..."   (Sonnets 61–70)

The speaker denounces envy, personifying it as a savage beast which needs to be tied up and constrained. In contrast to the somber tone of the previous sonnet, the final couplet ends Sonnet 70 on a more hopeful note. The speaker suggests that if envy were abolished, the fair youth would be praised by “kingdoms of hearts.”

"exchequer..."   (Sonnets 61–70)

The word “exchequer” refers to a treasury office which deals with money collected by the department of revenue. In this sonnet, the speaker uses this word to emphasize the theme of degeneration in nature. Referring to nature as “she,” he laments that nature has become “bankrupt”; her only remaining source of beauty is the fair youth, which she stores to demonstrate her previous “wealth.” This elaborate metaphor pins the beauty of the youth against the slow deterioration of time and nature.

"Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,..."   (Sonnets 61–70)

Through a series of questions, the speaker asks how beauty will survive the inevitable passing of time, especially if it is not as strong as “brass,” “earth,” “stone,” or “sea,” objects which exemplify stability, resistance, and endurance. His hopeful answer, which arrives toward the end of the sonnet, is that he will preserve and immortalize his love—the fair youth—through his poetry, whose “black ink” he envisions will “shine bright” in perpetuity.

"Beated and chopp'd with tanned antiquity, Mine own self-love quite contrary I read; Self so self-loving were iniquity...."   (Sonnets 61–70)

These lines provide the revelation of the sonnet. The speaker looks into the “glass” or mirror, and recognizes that he has grown old with “tanned antiquity.” He has become wicked and corrupt because of his narcissistic behavior, perhaps bolstered by the jealousy he displays in the previous three sonnets. His egotistical behavior, however, is not primarily his fault. Rather, as he writes in the last two lines, his behavior is a result of his love for the fair youth. In other words, as he reveres the fair youth, so he praises himself.

"Is it thy will, thy image should keep open My heavy eyelids to the weary night?..."   (Sonnets 61–70)

Sonnet 61 is comprised of three questions which provide a glimpse into the speaker’s state of mind. In the first question, the speakers asks the fair youth whether he intends for his image to keep the speaker awake at night. The second asks whether the fair youth means to disturb the speaker’s sleep. The third asks whether the fair youth, driven by jealousy, sends his spirit to surveil the speaker in his every movement. These questions provide readers a sense of the speaker’s paranoia as he feels watched by the jealous youth. At the volta, the poem takes a drastic turn. The speaker answers his own questions with “Oh, no!” before revealing that he himself is actually the jealous one, not the fair youth. He watches his own actions “for thy sake” while harboring feelings of jealousy for the youth who is “far off, with others all too near.”

"   This thought is as a death which cannot choose      But weep to have, that which it fears to lose...."   (Sonnets 61–70)

The cruelty of time continues to haunt the speaker as he ruminates on images of decay. “Rich-proud cost of outworn buried age” refers to elaborate burial structures and emphasizes that even the monuments people build to preserve their memories are subject to the ravages of time. The ocean is presented as “hungry” as it advances on the “kingdom of the shore,” conjuring images of an advancing army or siege. Unlike the previous sonnet, in which the speaker fights against Time with his poetry, this sonnet ends on a more pessimistic note. The speaker knows that Time will take his love away and that his poetry, like the burial monuments, is just as susceptible to decay as anything else.

"His beauty shall in these black lines be seen,..."   (Sonnets 61–70)

The word “lines” is used in two ways in this sonnet. In line 4, “lines” refer to wrinkles and aging. In line 13, “lines” refers to the speaker’s writing. This sonnet marks a shift away from the theme of jealousy and returns to the speaker’s war with Time. However, as opposed to the more universal explorations of the evils of mortality, this sonnet and the two following it personalize the loss of “sweet love’s beauty.” Time is no longer just robbing individuals of their youth; it is stealing away the joys of lovers as well. However, even if time attempts to fill the youth’s brow with lines, the speaker vows to preserve the youth with lines of his own.

"My saucy bark, inferior far to his, On your broad main doth wilfully appear. Your shallowest help will hold me up afloat, Whilst he upon your soundless deep doth ride;..."   (Sonnets 71–80)

Sonnet 80 incorporates a nautical metaphor to further the rival poet theme. The speaker compares himself to a “saucy bark”—a small, frivolous boat—that is subordinate to the stately and grandiose ship of the rival poet. Both ships sail on the “broad main,” or sea, which represents the fair youth—the source of inspiration for both poets’ works. The speaker believes that his love for the fair youth will inspire him to write, just as the sea will keep his small boat afloat. However, the final couplet takes on a darker tone as the speaker describes his personal shipwreck. Metaphorically speaking, the sea which has kept him afloat also destroys him. The fair youth causes the speaker to “decay” by choosing to support the rival poet.

"gracious numbers ..."   (Sonnets 71–80)

During the Elizabethan era, the word “numbers” was often used to refer to the metrical pattern of poetic feet. The speaker grapples with the loss of his “Muse,” the fair youth, who has apparently left him for the rival poet. He laments the loss of the fair youth’s “gentle grace,” which has rendered his poetry obsolete and the previously “gracious” meter of his poetry “decay’d.”

"But thou art all my art, and dost advance      As high as learning, my rude ignorance...."   (Sonnets 71–80)

Sonnet 78 begins the set of sonnets known as the “Rival Poet” sonnets, which span sonnets 78 to 86. These sonnets deal with the speaker’s jealousy towards an unnamed rival poet who vies for the fair youth’s attention. Here, the rival poet is introduced as an “alien pen” who uses the fair youth as inspiration to “mend [his] style.” The poet exposes his jealousy by claiming hold of the fair youth as his one true muse who heightens his “rude ignorance.”

"Time's thievish progress to eternity...."   (Sonnets 71–80)

In Sonnet 77, one of the final sonnets from the decay and time sequence, the speaker despairs about the deterioration of time, memory, and beauty. Here, he personifies “Time” as a thief who bores on stealthily and incessantly. In the following line, he laments the fallibility of memory to capture human experience. These lines contribute to the sonnet’s theme of the fleeting nature of humanity as time inevitably progresses.

"     For as the sun is daily new and old,      So is my love still telling what is told...."   (Sonnets 71–80)

Perhaps in preparation for the “Rival Poet” sequence in sonnets 78-86, the speaker reaffirms his undying and perpetual love for the fair youth. The volta in line nine culminates in a declaration of the speaker’s love for the fair youth, who provides unyielding inspiration for his poetry. Through the final two lines in the sonnet, the speaker metaphorically compares his love for the fair youth to the sun, which seems new each time it emerges and yet is constant in its cycles. The speaker asserts his love, claiming that he will continue to retell his constant love for the fair youth in each new sonnet.

"what thy memory cannot contain, Commit to these waste blanks, and thou shalt find Those children nursed, deliver'd from thy brain,..."   (Sonnets 71–80)

Reflective journaling was a common practice among the nobility in Elizabethan England. In Sonnet 77, the speaker gives the youth a book and encourages him to “commit” his thoughts to “waste blanks”—to write his thoughts down on blank sheets of paper. There is an echo of the procreation sonnets, particularly when the speaker compares the youth’s thoughts to “children.” Rather than encourage the youth to have a child, the speaker tells the youth to write down his thoughts so that the youth might “profit,” or benefit, from them later. The speaker values the ability of words to immortalize a person, so perhaps he is inducing the youth to preserve himself with the journal.

"But..."   (Sonnets 71–80)

Sonnet 74 is a direct continuation of Sonnet 73. The speaker puts an optimistic spin on his own eventual death, which he ruminates on in Sonnet 73. In opposition to the more self-deprecating language of Sonnets 71 and 72, wherein the speaker encourages the fair youth to forget about him, in Sonnet 74 the speaker reassures the youth that his “spirit” will remain even after his body is gone. Rather than just preserving the youth and beauty of his beloved in writing, the speaker now asserts that his own spirit will be preserved through poetry as well. As long as the fair youth remembers him and reads his poems, his spirit will live on.

"   For I am shamed by that which I bring forth,..."   (Sonnets 71–80)

In a continuation of the sentiments of Sonnet 71, the speaker expresses shame at the thought of being remembered fondly after his death. He encourages the fair youth to forget about him when he dies and refrain from glorifying his memory. The speaker’s poetry—that which he “bring[s] forth”—is cast as a source of shame for both the poet and the fair youth. Sonnets 71 and 72 represent another instance of the speaker’s apparent insecurity over his poetic talent surfacing. The inconsistency of the speaker’s tone and attitude throughout the entire sonnet sequence serves to make him a complex and nuanced voice. It also also serves as a reminder that the sonnets may have been compiled without Shakespeare’s consent or input regarding their format or order.

"That time of year thou mayst in me behold..."   (Sonnets 71–80)

Each of the three quatrains in this sonnet contains a metaphor for old age. In the first quatrain, the poet compares the point he is at in life to late fall, when the trees are almost totally bare. In the second quatrain, he compares his age to twilight, a time when the sun has set but a little light remains in the sky, with the coming of night representing death. In the third quatrain he compares his age to the glowing remains of a fire being consumed by its own ashes. The closing couplet asserts that the fair youth is better able to love the speaker because the fleeting nature of existence inspires deeper emotional engagement.

"misprision..."   (Sonnets 81–90)

The word “misprision” refers to a wrongful act or misdemeanor. Although the fair youth has committed misprision, the speaker attributes his loss of the fair youth to his own failures. Using financial language, the speaker explains that his inability to hold bonds and maintain patents, for example, are among the reasons he has lost his love. This jargon touches on themes of possession, reflecting that the speaker is not worthy or deserving enough to possess this love.

"Farewell! ..."   (Sonnets 81–90)

By opening Sonnet 87 with an interjection, the speaker readily establishes the main theme of the sonnet: the speaker has relinquished the fair youth to the rival poet. This interjection marks a transition from the “Rival Poet” sequence to the “Fickle Youth” sequence, in which the speaker professes his troubled love for the fair youth, whose mercurial actions and affections bedevil the speaker.

"Was it the proud full sail of his great verse,..."   (Sonnets 81–90)

In Sonnet 86, the speaker maintains the same subtle mockery of the previous sonnet. He hyperbolically claims that the rival poet’s verses trample over his own like a fleet of ships and render his poetry “inhearse[d]” in his brain. The speaker negatively associates the rival poet’s success with the supernatural, writing that “spirits” and a “ghost” inspired his verse. The final line suggests that the rival poet’s writing has “enfeebled” the speaker’s literary capabilities—a notion undercut by the poetic acuity of the sonnet itself.

"Me for my dumb thoughts, speaking in effect...."   (Sonnets 81–90)

In Sonnet 85, the speaker subtly mocks the rival poet. On the surface, it seems that the speaker is praising the rival poet for his ability to capture the fair youth’s beauty through eloquent language. However, readers may notice the subtle derision in the speaker’s words. Hearing the rival poet praised for his poem about the fair youth, the speaker mockingly agrees, saying “‘tis so, ‘tis true.’” While the rival poet praises the fair youth with empty and hollow words, the speaker remains “dumb,” unable to speak. Nevertheless, his thoughts are the most eloquent expression of love; they supersede the rival poet’s false praise by “speaking in effect.”

"devise...."   (Sonnets 81–90)

The verb “to devise” refers to the act of inventing or imagining. In his continuing appeal to the fair youth, the speaker claims that any language poets devise will never do justice to his natural perfection. He is more beautiful and lifelike than anything poets can conceive—any attempt to characterize him through language is ultimately futile.

"I never saw that you did painting need, And therefore to your fair no painting set;..."   (Sonnets 81–90)

In Sonnet 83, the speaker sustains the theme of the previous sonnet: the rival poet’s excessive embellishment of the fair youth’s beauty. In Sonnet 82, the speaker warned the fair youth about these dangers. Here, he provides assurance that he would never speak falsely or emptily in his sonnets since the fair youth has never required “painting.”

"     And their gross painting might be better us'd      Where cheeks need blood; in thee it is abus'd...."   (Sonnets 81–90)

In Sonnet 82, the speaker warns the fair youth to heed the rival poet’s flattery. Although the youth is not bound to the speaker’s “Muse” by marriage, the speaker still feels responsible to the youth. He wishes to protect the fair youth from those who can only capture his beauty through superficial language. The final lines provide the fair youth an urgent warning, stating that rival poets will try to “paint” or embellish his beauty. The speaker states that any sort of superficial or fawning language would be an abuse to the fair youth’s pure and sufficient beauty.

"the very worst of fortune's might;..."   (Sonnets 81–90)

Rather than Time or Death, Fortune has become the speaker’s adversary. In Elizabethan England, Fortune was viewed as an all-powerful and fickle force. The speaker urges his beloved to “join with the spite of fortune,” personifying fortune as a force actively working against the speaker’s happiness. Though the sonnet is addressed to the fair youth, and the woe the speaker predicts is due to the loss of the youth’s affections, it is still fortune that the speaker blames for his misery. Losing his beloved is “the very worst of fortune’s might,” implying that there is an external force working against the speaker and the fair youth. Even as he pleads with the youth for a swift desertion, the speaker still attributes the abandonment itself to an external entity.

"Then hate me when thou wilt..."   (Sonnets 81–90)

In a direct continuation of Sonnet 89, the speaker requests that, if the fair youth plans to leave, he do it now rather than prolong the speaker’s misery. In the speaker’s eyes, the youth’s departure is the worst possible misery he could suffer. Any other misfortunes to come after that abandonment would seem small in comparison. “Hate” here contrasts with the “love” the speaker associates with his beloved throughout the rest of the fair youth sequence. The declaration of self-sacrificial devotion from the previous sonnet is followed by an invitation of hatred, indicating that the speaker sees desertion as an inevitability. He wants his love to be returned, but his insecurity does not allow him to believe he deserves it.

"For thee, against my self I'll vow debate,      For I must ne'er love him whom thou dost hate...."   (Sonnets 81–90)

In Sonnet 89, the speaker continues his sentiments from the previous sonnet and promises to embody whatever “faults” the youth accuses him of having. The speaker takes his self-deprecation to an extreme when he promises to “debate,” or argue, against himself should the fair youth ever “forsake” him. The speaker’s devotion has led him to forsake his own identity and needs in favor of the youth’s interests, even if the price is public defamation. The speaker is incapable of acting in his own self interest, and if the youth ever comes to hate the speaker, the speaker must hate himself as well.

"That for thy right, myself will bear all wrong...."   (Sonnets 81–90)

Sonnet 88 returns to the sentiment of Sonnet 49, wherein the speaker offered to bear witness against his own flaws in order to justify the youth’s abandonment of him. In this sonnet, he promises to go along with anything the youth says, whether it is true or not. The speaker asserts that making the youth look virtuous will benefit him as well, since he wants his beloved to thrive. In the speaker’s eyes, he and the youth are interconnected to the point that the youth’s joy is the speaker’s joy. However, it would appear that this connection does not flow both ways, since the youth does not appear to share in the speaker’s woe over their eventual parting and has shown favor for the rival poet.

"You to your beauteous blessings add a curse,      Being fond on praise, which makes your praises worse...."   (Sonnets 81–90)

In Sonnet 84, the speaker responds to the flattery of the rival poet, insisting that embellishing the fair youth’s beauty diminishes it. The highest compliment the fair youth can receive is to be described simply as he is. The speaker warns against allowing his beauty to be “cursed” by superficial renderings, since showing favor to flatterers like the rival poet will encourage further empty praise rather than truthful depictions. The line “to your beauteous blessings add a curse” can also be read as a warning against the cardinal sin of pride. Nature has blessed the fair youth with good looks and many virtues, but if he allows himself to be swayed by false praises, he will tarnish the goodness of his soul.

"Or I shall live your epitaph to make, Or you survive when I in earth am rotten;..."   (Sonnets 81–90)

Sonnet 81 breaks the flow of the rival roet sequence and once again looks ahead to the eventual deaths of the speaker and his beloved. The word “shall” is used seven times, emphasizing that the speaker is speculating about the future. The futures he envisions for himself and the youth are contrasted through a series of alternating statements in the first six lines. Notice the claim that the youth will be preserved through poetry while the speaker himself “to all the world must die.” While this is not inconsistent with the speaker’s self-deprecating tendencies, it is also not accurate. Though it is the youth whose glories will persist in “the mouths of men,” it is the speaker's words that documented those glories. One can even claim that the words themselves have had a more lasting impact than their ostensible subject—the fair youth.

"     How like Eve's apple doth thy beauty grow,      If thy sweet virtue answer not thy show!..."   (Sonnets 91–100)

Dwelling further on the dual pleasure and pain of love, the speaker alludes to the biblical story in Genesis of Adam and Eve. In the story, a serpent convinces Eve to eat from the Tree of Life, despite God’s forbiddance to do so. She eats the fruit, generally considered an apple, and God drives her and Adam out of the Garden of Eden. In the sonnet, the apple demonstrates outward beauty—”thy beauty grow”—and inward rottenness—“if thy sweet virtue answer not thy show!” The allusion touches on the hypocrisy of the fair youth whose outward beauty perhaps covers an underlying malignancy.

"Saturn ..."   (Sonnets 91–100)

In astrology, the planet Saturn, which takes about thirty years to orbit the sun, represents melancholic humor and old age. Although the speaker imbues the majority of Sonnet 98 with youthful imagery of summer, the allusion to Saturn reminds readers of the speaker’s preoccupation with winter and aging in the fair youth’s absence. The allusion to Saturn reestablishes the dichotomy between youth and old age, winter and summer.

"like a canker in the fragrant rose,..."   (Sonnets 91–100)

Drawing on the line “But what's so blessed-fair that fears no blot?” from Sonnet 92, the speaker draws on the same imagery of blotting and staining to demonstrate how lascivious or adulterous behavior on the fair youth’s part results in the decay of their love. The simile of a canker, or fungal disease, destroying the “fragrant rose” expresses how the fair youth’s behavior tarnishes their relationship. Despite his admonishments, the speaker maintains hope in the final couplet, simply warning himself to “take heed.”

"Happy to have thy love, happy to die!..."   (Sonnets 91–100)

In Sonnet 92, the speaker returns the notion of betrayal from the previous sonnet. Here, the thought of betrayal has transformed into a hypothetical scenario that torments the speaker. Sonnets 91 and 92 reconcile the duality of love—the ecstasy as well as the peril—encapsulated through the phrase “happy to have thy love, happy to die!” Like in previous sonnets dealing with betrayal, as in Sonnet 35 when the speaker admits “all men make faults,” he acknowledges the possibility for error and the fallibility of love.

"Some glory in their birth, some in their skill, Some in their wealth, some in their body's force,..."   (Sonnets 91–100)

The first stanza of Sonnet 91 is built on anaphora, a literary device whereby the speaker repeats the same word at the beginning of successive clauses. Here, the speaker distinguishes himself from those—or “some”—who find pleasure in material things like clothes or horses. Unlike “some” people, the speaker derives his joy from the love he shares with the fair youth. In the second and third stanzas, the speaker disparages their material obsessions. However, the sonnet takes on a more menacing tone in the final couplet. His love for the fair youth, unlike material love, is easily retractable. The fair youth, as readers may observe in the “Rival Poet” sequence, can easily “take” his love away.

"Return forgetful Muse,..."   (Sonnets 91–100)

The speaker externalizes and personifies his inspiration in the form of a “Muse,” one of the goddesses of artistic inspiration from Greek mythology. His Muse has been “forgetful” and “resty,” meaning that the speaker has not had the will or inspiration to write about the youth. This sonnet is addressed directly to the “forgetful Muse” as the speaker chides her for focusing on “worthless” subjects rather than his beloved fair youth. The dramatic and impassioned language of previous sonnets fades as the speaker adopts a more detached and dutiful tone. Rather than being overcome by despair at the thought of the youth’s beauty fading, he simply asks his Muse to help him preserve it before Time catches up.

"like prayers divine,..."   (Sonnets 101–110)

In Sonnet 108, the speaker admits that he has run out of ways to describe the fair youth. However, “like prayers divine,” he feels compelled to continue repeating the same praises. By comparing his glorification of the youth to prayer, the speaker attributes a sense of divinity to the youth, despite his claim in Sonnet 105 that he does not view the youth as an idol. The speaker also strives to keep the love between the fair youth and him “fresh” through repeated praise. If he continues to praise the youth as he did when they first met, then the “wrinkles” that have marred the youth’s “outward form” can be ignored in favor of recalling his initial perfection.

"'Fair, kind, and true,..."   (Sonnets 101–110)

Although the speaker purports not to worship the fair youth as an idol, he employs religious language to raise the status of the fair youth to that of a deity. For example, the speaker’s mention of “three themes in one” and the repetition of the refrain “‘fair, kind, and true’” three times resembles the language of the Holy Trinity. This Christian doctrine divides God into three parts: father, son, and holy spirit.

"To me, fair friend, you never can be old,..."   (Sonnets 101–110)

Referring to the fair youth as his “fair friend,” the speaker praises the fair youth for the youthfulness he has maintained despite the decaying force of time. Over the three-year period they have known one another, the fair youth’s beauty has remained “green” and “fresh.” However, at the volta, the tone of the sonnet shifts dramatically. The speaker admits to the depreciation of the youth’s beauty, which he likens to the movement of a dial or clock hand. Even the fair youth’s “sweet hue,” admits the speaker, “hath motion” and will eventually perish.

"A god in love..."   (Sonnets 101–110)

Continuing the theme of idolatry from Sonnets 105 and 108, the speaker rekindles the association between the fair youth and divinity. The speaker makes the connection more explicit by calling him “a god in love.” Just as a repentant sinner is welcomed back into the graces of God, so too does the speaker ask to be invited back into the “most loving breast” of the youth. The idea of sin staining the soul is part of Christian theology; the speaker has fittingly vowed to cleanse himself of the stain wrought by his infidelity. He reaffirms that his love “shall have no end” and that he will be “confin’d” to his love for the youth going forward, since the fair youth is the closest thing to heaven.

"These blenches gave my heart another youth,..."   (Sonnets 101–110)

The speaker continues to apologize for his dalliances. However, even though he was unfaithful, his “blenches,” or moments of infidelity, have made him realize that the fair youth is his “best” love. His heart has been given “another youth,” meaning that the speaker’s love for the fair youth has been made new again by exposure to lesser loves. It also implies that perhaps the speaker’s affairs were the product of his insecurity about his age, and that being desired by others has allowed him to experience “another youth” in the sense of a personal revivification.

"if I have rang'd, Like him that travels, I return again;..."   (Sonnets 101–110)

The speaker admits to having had affairs with others while he was away from the youth. Their separation cooled the flames of the speaker’s passion, though he asserts that his heart was always with the fair youth. This sonnet represents an apology to the fair youth. The speaker promises to wash away the stain that infidelity has left on their relationship. Though lust overcame him while they were apart, the speaker would never truly leave the “sum of good” that is his relationship with the youth, since all other relationships are “nothing” compared to theirs.

"and Death to me subscribes, Since, spite of him, I'll live in this poor rime,..."   (Sonnets 101–110)

The speaker decides to stand firm in his love instead of worrying about whether the youth will abandon him. He reaffirms his love for the youth and states that he will be true to his feelings regardless of what his fears or prophecies tell him. He also claims ownership of his “poor rime.” He suggests that even if poetry is insufficient to capture the full beauty of the fair youth, it may be enough to commemorate the two of them and escape death’s oblivion. The fair youth will be preserved in the poems and the speaker will be preserved along with him, one of the few occasions in which the speaker treats himself as a unique entity when discussing immortality.

"sad augurs..."   (Sonnets 101–110)

The noun “augurs” refers to fortune tellers, specifically those who interpret natural signs and omens such as bird migrations. In Act V, Scene II of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Hamlet responds to his friend Horatio’s concerns over his upcoming duel by saying, “Not a whit, we defy augury; there’s a special / Providence in the fall of a sparrow.” The “sad augurs” of Sonnet 107 echo and reflect this dismissal of omens and fortune. Even if the omens prove true, the speaker believes there is still merit in the pursuit of love.

"  And more, much more, than in my verse can sit,      Your own glass shows you when you look in it. ..."   (Sonnets 101–110)

The speaker continues to excuse his silence by stating that it would be pointless for him to attempt to describe the fair youth. He claims his poetic skills are not enough to add anything worthwhile. If the fair youth wishes to be flattered, he would be better off looking in the mirror than trying to find meaningful descriptions in the speaker’s verse.Throughout the rest of the sonnet sequence, the fair youth served as inspiration for the speaker. Now, his Muse has become lazy, forgetful, and impoverished. Though the speaker claims it is an intentional show of restraint on his part, the condition of the Muse reflects the state of the relationship between the speaker and the youth—diminished.

" Therefore like her, I sometime hold my tongue:      Because I would not dull you with my song...."   (Sonnets 101–110)

The speaker continues to showcase his altered attitude towards the fair youth. He insists that refraining from writing poetry about his beloved is a sign of increased love. Rather than maintaining the stance that it is his responsibility to write the fair youth’s beauty into verse, the poet instead focuses on personal aspects of their relationship. He does not wish to overwhelm his beloved with praises because he worries that the verse will grow “dull” if overdone. However, seeing as Sonnet 102 is surrounded by pleas to the Muse for inspiration, these sentiments may represent more of an excuse for his previously lamented silence than a genuine maturation of affection.

"Philomel..."   (Sonnets 101–110)

Philomel is a tragic figure from Greek mythology. After taking revenge on a man who assaulted her, Philomel was turned into a nightingale, a species of bird known for its beautiful song. In this instance, the speaker seems to be using “Philomel” as a stand-in for literal nightingales. Nightingales sing as they search for their mates during “summer’s front,” or spring, and stop singing once summer comes. This simile indicates that the speaker’s apparent silence is not due to a lack of love but rather the deepening of it. Just as nightingales stop singing once they find their mates, so too has the speaker stopped trying to woo his beloved with lavish verse.

"Because he needs no praise, wilt thou be dumb?..."   (Sonnets 101–110)

The speaker continues to chide his “truant Muse” for refusing to provide him with inspiration to write about the fair youth. He mockingly recalls the sentiments he expressed about the rival poet, asking his Muse if it has given up because it knows the youth’s beauty cannot be captured in verse. Sonnets 100-103 recall sentiments the speaker expressed passionately in earlier parts of the sequence, recasting them in a more irreverent light. As he mocks the source of his inspiration for its “dumb” silence, he recalls the arguments he made about how the youth’s beauty was tarnished by praise. When placed in the mouth of the Muse, such arguments become “dumb,” highlighting the speaker’s altered attitude.

"     But that your trespass now becomes a fee;      Mine ransoms yours, and yours must ransom me...."   (Sonnets 111–120)

Sonnet 120 extends the speaker’s written defense for his conduct. However, unlike the previous sonnet in which he places the blame on himself, the speaker reiterates the fair youth’s misconduct as recompense for his own actions. As the final couplet shows, the speaker brings up the fair youth’s infidelity in order to cancel out his own. The speaker’s “trespass” is balanced out by the fair youth’s “fee,” much in the way debts are repaid. Through parallel structure, the final line of the sonnet demonstrates how the speaker’s transgression “ransoms,” or releases, the fair youth, while the fair youth’s transgression releases his.

"Those lines that I before have writ do lie, Even those that said I could not love you dearer: Yet then my judgment knew no reason why My most full flame should afterwards burn clearer...."   (Sonnets 111–120)

In the opening lines of Sonnet 115, the speaker admits that all of the previous sonnets have been insufficient portrayals of his true love to the fair youth. His flame, a representation of desirous love, “burn[s] clearer” now than ever before. The sonnet goes on to decry the tyrannical nature of Time, which “creep[s]” in to decay and efface beauty. However, at the volta, the tone of the sonnet shifts as the speaker reins in his fear, asking why he has ever doubted love. Time is irrelevant since love continues to grow indefinitely like a “babe.”

"O! 'tis the first, 'tis flattery in my seeing,..."   (Sonnets 111–120)

In Sonnet 113, the speaker grappled with his deceptive vision. Here at the volta of Sonnet 114, he learns to accept it. Although his mind might be poisoned with false images, he nonetheless learns that his ability to transform monsters to cherubins through the fair youth’s image is a form of flattery.

"For if it see the rud'st or gentlest sight, The most sweet favour or deformed'st creature, The mountain or the sea, the day or night: The crow, or dove, it shapes them to your feature...."   (Sonnets 111–120)

The speaker’s eyes deceive him now that he and the fair youth are physically apart. Authentic images of birds and flowers cannot take hold in his mind. Meanwhile, objects both of beauty and deformity—beasts, mountains, seas, day, night, crows, and doves—transform into the image of the fair youth. The speaker is so tortured by the fair youth’s absence that his image begins to permeate and and subsume everything he sees.

"all-the-world..."   (Sonnets 111–120)

In Sonnet 112, the speaker claims that any of his shame or “vulgar scandals” are overshadowed by the fair youth’s “praises.” Echoing Sonnet 31, in which the speaker states “And thou—all they—hast all the all of me,” the speaker states that the fair youth is his “all-the-world.” This phrase suggests the speaker’s all-encompassing and blind devotion to the fair youth. The second half of the sonet demonstrates the extent of the speaker’s faithfulness and allegiance to the fair youth: all others’ opinions may as well be thrown into an abyss and the rest of the world may as well be dead.

" But thence I learn and find the lesson true,      Drugs poison him that so fell sick of you...."   (Sonnets 111–120)

At the volta, the speaker accepts that his actions were ultimately an ineffective medicine. The speaker has spent so much time ruminating on the potential ills of the relationship that he has now introduced the very “maladies” he was so worried about. The final line also holds a potential double meaning. It can be read as referring to “lovesickness,” such that the speaker has been “poisoned” by his chosen medicine because he was unfaithful to the person he loved. However, it can also indicate that the speaker has grown tired of the youth and has “poisoned” himself with drugs in the attempt to rekindle the lost affection.

"We sicken to shun sickness ..."   (Sonnets 111–120)

In Elizabethan England, people would take medicines prior to getting sick as a preventative measure. Many of these preventive medicines were designed to induce vomiting in order to “purge” the system of toxins, causing people to feel ill. The speaker uses this extended simile to imply that he sought out new lovers in order to prevent himself from growing sick of the “ne’er cloying” sweetness of the fair youth. Furthermore, despite describing the youth’s sweetness as “ne’er cloying,” his sweetness is what led the speaker to require the “bitter sauces” of new company. In the context of the medical conceit, “bitter sauces” conjures images of unpleasant, but necessary, medicines.

" Since my appeal says I did strive to prove      The constancy and virtue of your love...."   (Sonnets 111–120)

In a reversal of the situation from sonnets 40, 41, and 42, it is now the speaker who must defend his own infidelity. In those earlier sonnets, the speaker denounces the fair youth for betraying him, accusing him of being “false” before ultimately pardoning him. In Sonnet 117, it appears that those accusations have now been turned on the speaker. He comes to his own defense by saying that his transgressions were designed to test whether the fair youth truly loved him. The speaker calls upon the fair youth to prove his love, and since the speaker excused the youth’s transgressions, he now expects the youth to forgive his.

"The guilty goddess of my harmful deeds..."   (Sonnets 111–120)

By referring to Fortune as the “guilty goddess,” the poet suggests that his dire financial state forced him to enter into lower-class work—what he calls “public means.” Indeed, Fortune is not on the speaker’s side; he lives in modesty, instead of the aristocratic life he desires.

"suborned informer!..."   (Sonnets 121–130)

In the final couplet of Sonnet 125, the speaker addresses a “suborned informer”—“suborned” meaning bribed and “informer” meaning accuser. By one reading, the “suborned informer” is someone who has accused the speaker of being one of the “pitiful thievers” who has attached himself to the youth for personal gain. By another interpretation, the couplet is a final address to Time, with the speaker insisting that Time will never be able to destroy his love since he has a “true soul” that defies Time’s control. Yet another explanation is that the “suborned informer” is the fair youth. By this reading, the fair youth has accused the speaker of infidelity or declining affections. In response, the speaker implores the youth to banish those doubts and instead recognize the fidelity of the speaker’s soul.

"  Give them thy fingers, me thy lips to kiss...."   (Sonnets 121–130)

Whereas the speaker’s relationship with the fair youth was emotional and often spiritual, his relationship with the dark lady is sensual. As he watches her play music, he personifies the instrument and grows jealous of it. The jacks “leap to kiss the tender inward of [her] hand” and the speaker envies the fact that the instrument receives her touch rather than him. There was minimal tactile and sensuous imagery in the fair youth sequence, reflecting the chaste and loving nature of that relationship in contrast to the far more physical one between the speaker and the dark lady. The playful, yearning tone of Sonnet 128 contrasts with the grief and shame that consume the speaker in Sonnet 129.

"beauty slander'd with a bastard shame:..."   (Sonnets 121–130)

Sonnet 127 marks the start of the sequence of sonnets addressed to the “Dark Lady.” The dark lady sequence adopts a very different attitude towards its subject than the fair youth sequence. From the start, the speaker insists that his mistress is not beautiful by traditional standards. However, he admires her authenticity as she refuses to wear a “borrowed face,” attaining beauty because she does not try to cover up her lack of it. Sonnet 127 recalls the sentiments expressed in Sonnet 68 about cosmetics and how they “slander” true beauty. The mistress’s eyes, which are “raven black,” are dressed like “mourners,” emphasizing the death of beauty—in terms of societal standards and, perhaps, the speaker’s departure from the fair youth. The dark lady is the opposite of the youth, but the speaker cannot help but be drawn to her.

"Her audit (though delayed) answered must be,      And her quietus is to render thee...."   (Sonnets 121–130)

In Elizabethan England, the phrase “Quietus Est” would be written on receipts of debts that had been paid. In Sonnet 126, the speaker compliments the youth on having aged well while also reminding him that Nature cannot preserve him forever. Though Nature considers the fair youth her “treasure,” she will eventually be forced to settle her debt with Time and Death and hand him over to their ravages. The tone of this sonnet is tender and wistful, with the speaker having made peace with the fact that the youth will someday die. Rather than continuing to fight against Time, the speaker instead reminds the youth of the reality of aging, urging him to live well while he is still youthful.

"Sonnet 126..."   (Sonnets 121–130)

Sonnet 126 marks the end of the fair youth sequence and is often regarded as an envoi—a section at the end of a poem or sequence for closing statements. Many of the themes from the sonnet sequence are brought up in Sonnet 126, including mortality, beauty, the casting of the fair youth as Nature’s beloved, and the fickleness of Time, Death, and Nature. It is also structurally divergent from the rest of the sequence, featuring 12 lines made up of couplets. The absence of the final couplet can be read in various ways. The missing ending may represent a kind of intermission, a ghostly pause between the fair youth and dark lady sequences. It may be that, rather than using the final two lines to end on an optimistic note about how Time can be defeated, the conclusion of Sonnet 126 represents a concession to the reality of Time’s onslaught and a final farewell to the beloved fair youth.

"Which is not mix'd with seconds, knows no art, But mutual render, only me for thee...."   (Sonnets 121–130)

The first two quatrains of Sonnet 125 detail the actions of those “pitiful thievers” who strive for fame, fortune, or other earthly pleasures at the cost of achieving anything truly eternal. The volta shifts the poem into a final address to the fair youth as the poet offers himself completely to the youth. He urges a “mutual render[ing],” or mutual exchange of love, with no cunning or impure intentions. Despite their mutual transgressions, infidelities, and aged visages, the speaker and the youth share an eternal and unbreakable bond.

" To this I witness call the fools of time,      Which die for goodness, who have lived for crime...."   (Sonnets 121–130)

The meaning of the final couplet of Sonnet 124 has been heavily debated. By a straightforward reading, this line recalls Sonnet 116, in which the speaker intoned that “Love’s not Time’s fool.” The “fools of time” are those who have been duped into fickleness by Time and who “die for goodness” by repenting their sins on their deathbed, despite having “lived for crime.” This may also be a reference to the rival poet, who was fooled by time into pursuing the temporary pleasures of money and fame rather than true love, which the speaker claims is eternal. However, many scholars believe that these lines, and Sonnet 124 as a whole, are a more specific reference to a contemporary political event, such as Essex’s Rebellion (1601) or the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, with the “fools of time” being those who were led to seek glory after Time duped them into believing that they were on the side of “goodness.”

"No, it was builded far from accident;..."   (Sonnets 121–130)

Continuing from Sonnet 123, Sonnet 124 asserts the constancy of the speaker’s love for the fair youth. His love is not a “child of state,” or product of circumstance, but rather something sturdy and “far from accident[al].” No political changes, momentary passions, or fluctuations of fortune can alter the steadfast nature of the speaker’s love. The speaker sees his love for the youth as the pinnacle of what love should be: steadfast and eternal, not subject to “Time’s love or Time’s hate” as the more fickle feelings of others are.

"This I do vow and this shall ever be;      I will be true despite thy scythe and thee...."   (Sonnets 121–130)

Though the relationship between the speaker and the youth has deteriorated, sonnets 123 to 126, the last four poems in the fair youth sequence, represent the speaker’s final affirmation of devotion and eternal love to the fair youth. In Sonnet 123 the speaker addresses Time, denouncing its effects on love and aging. He notes that because human existence is so fleeting, people value what is old because it has withstood the ravages of Time. Rather than allow his love for the fair youth to fade into history, the speaker vows to “be true” and defy Time’s attempts to undermine his love. The phrase “this shall ever be” adds an element of timelessness to the statement, emphasizing that the speaker wants his love for the youth to be eternal.

"Therefore to give them from me was I bold, To trust those tables that receive thee more:..."   (Sonnets 121–130)

Sonnet 122 sees the speaker admitting to having given away a “table,” or notebook, a gift from the youth. In Sonnet 77, the speaker gifted the youth just such a notebook to record what his “memory cannot contain” and encouraged him to “enrich” the book and “profit” from the reflections it could offer him. Now, in Sonnet 122, the speaker has discarded a similar gift on account of it being unnecessary, since his memory is more “lasting” and better equipped to hold his love for the youth. That the speaker willingly discarded a gift from the youth suggests that their relationship may be increasingly diminishing.

"The expense of spirit in a waste of shame..."   (Sonnets 121–130)

This sonnet expresses the speaker’s disillusionment with love, sexuality, and the act of sex. He associates sex with “lust in action,” “a heaven that leads men to hell,” an “expense of spirit,” and a “waste of shame.” The over-zealous pursuit of love, for the speaker, has transformed lust into empty loathing.

"'Tis better to be vile than vile esteem'd,..."   (Sonnets 121–130)

Throughout this sonnet, the speaker criticizes hypocrisy. He believes that it is better to act poorly than to act righteously in order to please others. By asking “why should others’ false adulterate eyes / Give salutation to my sportive blood?”, the speaker condemns those who act in order to be deemed good in the eyes of others. The speaker concludes that if others consider his character or actions to be vile, their judgments reflect their own vile characters and “rank thoughts.”

"Past reason hated, as a swallow'd bait,..."   (Sonnets 121–130)

The dominant image throughout the sonnet equates love to “swallow’d bait.” This comparison suggests that like rats and other lowly creature, lovers motivated by uncontrolled lust are driven mad by primal urges.

"And then thou lov'st me for my name is 'Will.'..."   (Sonnets 131–140)

Sonnet 136 has been used by scholars to cast the sonnet sequence as autobiographical, since the speaker implies his name is Will. The speaker is also playing on the variety of meanings of “will”—including genitalia and lovers—in order to comment on the lady’s promiscuity. The speaker also draws on the other meanings of “will” to associate himself with the sexual satisfaction he believes the dark lady craves. If it is sex that she wants, then she must love him, because his name itself contains and suggests those amorous activities.

"For nothing hold me, so it please thee hold That nothing me, a something sweet to thee:..."   (Sonnets 131–140)

In Sonnet 136, the speaker continues to play with the word “will” as he implores the dark lady to accept him back into her graces. The speaker extends the suggestion that since the dark lady has many lovers, the addition of the speaker would be inconsequential. The conceit of numbers and quantities leads into a double entendre in the final four lines. In Elizabethan England, “nothing” and “something” were slang terms for genitals. On the surface, the speaker encourages the dark lady to view him as inconsequential, but by referring to himself as “nothing me” who is “a something sweet to thee,” he adds a sexual context to his humble advances.

"thy cruel eye hath taken, And my next self thou harder hast engross'd:..."   (Sonnets 131–140)

In contrast to the praised “mourning eyes” from the previous sonnet, the mistress’ eyes have now become “cruel” due to her affair with the speaker’s “next self,” a close friend of his who is often interpreted to be the fair youth. Her cruelty is thus twofold in that she has infatuated both the speaker and the fair youth. Prior to the affair, the speaker could look at the youth as an ideal of purity. Furthermore, since the speaker views the youth as an extension of his own soul, the youth could guard what was left of the speaker’s sense of personal innocence while indulging his lust with the dark lady. However, now that the youth is also involved with the dark lady, the speaker’s purity has been entirely forsaken.

"As testy sick men, when their deaths be near, No news but health from their physicians know;--..."   (Sonnets 131–140)

In Sonnet 140, the speaker resorts to threatening the dark lady with public slander unless she pretends to love him. The diction of Sonnet 140 features words related to health, such as “sick,” “death,” “physician,” “madness,” and “ill.” This serves to characterize love as a sickness that has deteriorated the speaker’s mental state. Just as “testy sick men” only want good news from their doctors, the speaker only wants to hear faithful and loving things from the dark lady. Even if she doesn't actually love him, the speaker asks that she pretend that she does. Otherwise he will “speak ill” of her in his madness, which he claims is wrought by her “disdain.”

"O! call not me to justify the wrong..."   (Sonnets 131–140)

Sonnet 139 opens with the speaker’s refusal to defend the dark lady’s actions. However, he relents in the third quatrain and excuses her indiscretions by saying that she looks at other men in order to spare the speaker from the “injuries” caused by her “pretty looks.” The speaker’s defences are “o’erpressed’d,” or overburdened, and cannot withstand the “might” of the lady, adding a violent valence to their relationship as the lady lays siege to the speaker’s emotions. The lady’s infidelity continually “wounds” the speaker, so rather than continuing to make a show of looking at other men in his presence, he urges her to “kill [him] outright” by admitting to her affairs.

"Thou blind fool, Love,..."   (Sonnets 131–140)

The Roman God of love, Cupid, was often depicted wearing a blindfold. The metaphor of love being blind has endured throughout the years, expressing how lovers often don’t see the flaws in their loved ones—at least not at first. However, the speaker has never pretended that his mistress was beautiful or good. In his case, he was willfully blind, overlooking her flaws in favor of indulging his lust. Now that she has apparently rejected him, he questions whether it was his eyes or his heart that led him to ignore her poor character. In Sonnets 46 and 47, the speaker describes his eyes and heart as being at “mortal war,” eventually reconciling to become partners in love. However, in Sonnet 137, both become objects of blame instead.

"'Will,' ..."   (Sonnets 131–140)

The word “will” is used thirteen times in Sonnet 135, opening the poem up to a layered interpretation due to the multiple potential meanings of “will.” “Will” can mean desire, determination, or lust. It can also refer to the genitals of any gender. “Will” is also a shortening of the name William, Shakespeare’s own name. Sonnet 135 is most often read as a lover’s plea, with an alternate interpretation as an unflattering mockery of the lady’s promiscuity. The speaker beseeches the dark lady to allow him back into her graces, referring to the multiple “wills” in her possession, which likely refer to either her other lovers or her sexual insatiability, or both. The speaker asks why a woman with such a large “will” and with so many other “wills” at her disposal cannot accept one more—the speaker’s own.

"Him have I lost; thou hast both him and me:      He pays the whole, and yet am I not free...."   (Sonnets 131–140)

Sonnet 134 is a continuation of Sonnet 133. The speaker employs a combination of legal and financial diction to give the love between himself, the lady, and the youth a transactional cast. The dark lady is described as a “usurer,” or moneylender, whose currency is sexual in nature. When paired with the idea of a mortgage, the speaker’s offer to “forfeit” himself refers to the act of signing himself over to the lady to pay the youth’s debts. However, the speaker knows the lady will not give up the youth and laments his involvement. The closing couplet takes on a despairing tone: the fair youth is paying both his own debts and the speaker’s, leaving the speaker free from obligation but not from his attraction to the lady.

"for I, being pent in thee,      Perforce am thine, and all that is in me...."   (Sonnets 131–140)

Sonnets 40 to 42 and Sonnets 133 and 134 are thought by many to discuss the same situation as Sonnet 133, wherein the fair youth and the dark lady become entangled, leaving the speaker estranged from both of them. Notice that in both sets of poems, the speaker prioritizes the loss of the youth over the loss of the mistress. In order to protect the heart of the youth, the speaker offers to let himself be imprisoned in the “steal bosom” of his mistress so long as he is allowed to “guard” the youth. However, the speaker admits that the mistress controls him completely and that his heart makes a poor guard for the youth, since she owns both him and “all that is in” him.

"ruth..."   (Sonnets 131–140)

The noun “ruth” refers to feelings of pity or distress. Pity from a mistress, usually expressed in the form of physical intimacy, was a common request in the sonnet tradition. Male speakers with aloof mistresses would bemoan the lack of reciprocity for their passions, urging their mistresses to take pity on them and engage in amorous activities. However, as opposed to the aloof beauties of the sonnet tradition, the speaker’s dark mistress lacks conventional beauty. She is made attractive by her “mourning eyes” and “pity” for the speaker, perhaps implying that her willingness to engage in physical intimacy is what draws the speaker to her.

"Thine eyes ..."   (Sonnets 131–140)

Eyes are commonly depicted as the medium through which love flows. In Act II, Scene II of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, as Bassanio attempts to solve Portia’s riddle, she sings about where love is born from, and the answer is that “it is engendered in the eyes.” Sonnet 132 echoes Sonnet 127 when it praises the lady’s eyes as “black and loving mourners.” Notice the repetition of the theme of “mourning.” In Sonnet 127, the eyes were mourning the death of beauty, but in Sonnet 132 they seem to be mourning the speaker himself.

"And to be sure that is not false I swear, A thousand groans, but thinking on thy face, One on another's neck, do witness bear Thy black is fairest in my judgment's place...."   (Sonnets 131–140)

In Sonnet 131, the speaker rejects the notion that the dark lady is not beautiful enough to inspire love. He puts forward his “thousand groans” as proof that she has captured his “dear doting heart.” Groaning is commonly used in literature to represent lover’s pain, so the fact that the dark lady has inspired so many groans proves that she is beautiful enough to inspire love. For the groans to be “one on another’s neck” means that they are continuous, indicating that the speaker is able to think of little else but the lady. However, even if the speaker finds beauty in her looks, her “deeds” are less fair and, at least according to the speaker, lead to the “slander” about her appearance.

"When my love swears that she is made of truth, I do believe her though I know she lies..."   (Sonnets 131–140)

Sonnet 138 deals with the common literary trope of transgression and lying. The speaker readily admits in the first line that he knows his lover is lying, but he stays quiet and the “truth [remains] suppressed.” However, he admits that he is lying as well. At the end of the sonnet, the speaker employs a double entendre to highlight how he and his love “lie” together and therefore feel mutually “flatter’d” despite their obvious faults.

"For, thou betraying me, I do betray My nobler part to my gross body's treason..."   (Sonnets 141–154)

Sonnet 151 compares the noble love of the soul with the lust of the flesh. The speaker values the love from the soul as “nobler,” however, due to the lady’s seduction, the speaker has fallen victim to the “treason of the body”—sex and lust. His “gross body” betrays the soul by being “contented” by the dark lady. He uses these comparisons as a condemnation of bodily desire. In the speaker’s eyes, a true love is one of the soul, not the flesh.

"To make me give the lie to my true sight..."   (Sonnets 141–154)

This line demonstrates the power of beauty to deceive. The speaker has been so manipulated that he is unable to use his true senses. Here, it is not love creating the veil over the speaker’s eyes, but the speaker’s own dishonesty. He is able to see all the dark lady’s flaws, but her beauty has made it impossible for the speaker to be honest with himself. The speaker is in total denial of his situation.

"Canst thou, O cruel! say I love thee not, When I against myself with thee partake?..."   (Sonnets 141–154)

This sonnet provides insight into the characters of the speaker and the dark lady. She has manipulated him so greatly that he will defend her before himself. Her cruelty is embodied by her lack of reciprocation. Although addressing the dark lady, the speaker never explicitly says who he’s addressing, referring to her as “cruel,” “tyrant” or, finally, “love.” The choice to use these words instead of a more specific address connects to the theme of the cruel and manipulative nature of love. The speaker’s anger toward the dark lady is one and the same with his anger toward Love.

"Lest eyes well-seeing thy foul faults should find..."   (Sonnets 141–154)

The speaker states that he would be able to see his lover’s faults were it not for the deceptive power of love. As usual, he is fully aware of the deception working upon him. He acknowledges the “tears” that “keep’st me blind.” The tears act as a screen through which the speaker is forced to see his lover. Other than masking the “foul faults” of his lover, the speaker offers no other purpose for the deception. The speaker is becoming increasingly disillusioned with the idea of love and increasingly aware of the power it has over him.

"Love's eye is not so true as all men's..."   (Sonnets 141–154)

Sonnet 148 is primarily about the deceptive power of love. The speaker confesses his confusion regarding public opinions about the dark lady, which clash with his own views. Because his love has made him blind to the faults of the dark lady, the speaker is unable to see her the way that the rest of the world sees her. However, the use of “true” indicates that the speaker knows that his perception is being manipulated. The speaker is aware of the manipulation and deceit, but powerless against it.

" For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,      Who art as black as hell, as dark as night...."   (Sonnets 141–154)

This sonnet ends with a spiteful couplet that expresses one of the larger themes of the dark lady series. The deceptive beauty of the dark lady has corrupted not only the speaker, but also his perception of love. What once was full of joy is now “black as hell, and dark as night.” The speaker’s beliefs about the power of love in this sonnet are completely different from his initial, more optimistic beliefs at the start of the collection of sonnets. In the hands of the dark lady, love has turned into a deceptive and corruptive force, something to be scorned rather than celebrated.

"Desire is death, which physic did except. Past cure I am, now Reason is past care..."   (Sonnets 141–154)

In Sonnet 147 the speaker explains the extent to which the dark lady has ruined his life. Using medical metaphors—likening his “love” and “reason” to “a fever” and “the physician,” respectively—he acknowledges that his desire has brought him to a place from which there is no return. His reason and logic, which have thus far kept his desires from consuming him, fail at their duty. The metaphor that “desire is death” is complicated. It can be read as a condemnation of desire, playing on the theme that desire and lust lead to one’s downfall. However, considering the medical conceit of this sonnet, “desire is death” could also be a final diagnosis. Where reason is the physician and love is the illness, unrestrained desire is the illness gone to its fullest and most lethal stage.

"The little Love-god lying once asleep, Laid by his side his heart-inflaming brand,..."   (Sonnets 141–154)

Sonnet 154 is the final poem in Shakespeare’s sequence and is nearly identical to Sonnet 153 in theme and narrative. The “little Love-god” who loses his “brand” to a virginal nymph is the Roman love god Cupid, who loses his brand to one of Diana’s maidens in the prior poem. Once again, the nymph plunges the brand into “a cool well,” producing a healing bath warmed by “Love’s fire.” The conclusion is also familiar. The speaker comes to the bath to be cured of his immense, sickening desire for his mistress. He finds no cure there, learning that while “Love’s fire heats water, water cools not love.” The moral of Sonnet 154 serves as a fitting final note to Shakespeare’s entire sequence of tumultuous love poems: there is no cure for the painful passions of eros.

"Cupid laid by his brand and fell asleep:..."   (Sonnets 141–154)

Sonnets 153 and 154 bear no narrative relation to the rest of the sequence. Their inclusion and placement in the sequence was the choice of Thomas Thorpe, who compiled and published the collection. These final two sonnets are written in a mode popular in Shakespeare’s time: lively meditations built on tales from classical mythology. In Sonnet 153, the octave tells a story about Cupid, the Roman god of love and lust. Cupid falls asleep and has his “brand”—the arrow that sparks human desire—stolen by one of Diana’s nymphs, who plunges it into a “cold valley-fountain.” The valley spring, charged with “lively heat,” becomes a healing place for men afflicted with “strange maladies.” In the sestet, the speaker claims that the spring cannot cure his love-sickness, only a gaze from the very source of his woes—“my mistress’ eyes.”

"The better angel is a man right fair, The worser spirit a woman colour'd ill. To win me soon to hell, my female evil, Tempteth my better angel from my side, And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,..."   (Sonnets 141–154)

The conceit of angels and devils guiding humans in opposing moral directions originated during the 1st century CE. The playwright Christopher Marlowe, a contemporary of Shakespeare’s, employs the same conceit in his 1593 tragedy Doctor Faustus. In Sonnet 144, the fair youth is the angel, a being of purity and comfort. The dark lady is the “worser spirit,” who is so seductive that she has not only tempted the speaker to sin, but is now tempting his “angel” as well. Note that the battle between the angel and the devil plays out as the speaker watches on the sidelines. He has already been condemned to hell in the afterlife for lusting after the “female evil.” Now he is condemned to hell on earth since he has been abandoned by both of his loves.

"In loving thee thou know'st I am forsworn,..."   (Sonnets 141–154)

In Sonnet 152, the final sonnet of the dark lady sequence, the speaker accuses the dark lady of being unfaithful and turning against their shared love. While the speaker admits he has “forsworn,” or renounced, loving the dark lady, he claims that she has committed two such forswearances. Not only has she ceased to love the speaker, she has also “thy bed-vow broke”—she has broken their vow of fidelity. In the second stanza, the speaker pivots in his perspective. He admits to having broken twenty oaths, and so he recognizes the hypocrisy in accusing the dark lady “of two oaths’ breach.” It is a recognition of mutual wrongdoing, for the speaker acknowledges both the wretchedness of his own oaths—which are “but to misuse thee”—and of those of the dark lady—“all my honest faith in thee is lost.”

"So shall thou feed on Death, that feeds on men,      And Death once dead, there's no more dying then...."   (Sonnets 141–154)

After the volta, the speaker develops a solution to the soul’s problem. Acknowledging the inevitable decay of the body—the “servant’s loss”—the speaker encourages his soul to transform physical loss into spiritual growth, to “within be fed.” In the final couplet, the speaker seeks to transform Death itself in this ravening, expansive process of soul. The logic is strange but coherent: if the soul feeds on decay, then it may “feed on Death”; if the soul continues to do so, Death itself will eventually die, at which point “there’s no more dying.” As a result, the soul’s problem is seemingly solved, allowing it to make a claim on eternity.

"Poor soul..."   (Sonnets 141–154)

Sonnet 146 opens with the poet addressing his soul, asking it a series of questions about why it pursues earthly pleasures rather than caring for its own purity. The sonnet develops an extended metaphor of the body as a mansion, which the soul has “so short a lease” on. Rather than focusing on the state of the soul that lives within the mansion, the speaker has spent “so large [a] cost” on painting the outside and excessively indulging in physical pleasures. The body is on “lease” from Nature, but the soul is eternal, so the speaker beseeches his soul to take the wealth that has been spent on the body and instead store it “within,” so that the soul can “be fed.”

"Two loves I have of comfort and despair,..."   (Sonnets 141–154)

At the root of the speaker’s conflict are the contrasting types of love he has for the fair youth and the dark lady. His love for the youth is emotional and selfless, sometimes verging on idolatry. In contrast, the speaker’s love for the dark lady is sensual and shameful, built on lust. In light of this, the first quatrain of Sonnet 144 can be read in two different ways. By one interpretation, the “better angel,” the fair youth, gives comfort while the “worser spirit,” the dark lady, gives despair. However, this line can also be read as saying that both of the speaker’s loves give him comfort and despair, a reading supported by his tortured reactions to the infidelity of both of his lovers.

"Lo, as a careful housewife runs to catch One of her feather'd creatures broke away, Sets down her babe, and makes all swift dispatch In pursuit of the thing she would have stay;..."   (Sonnets 141–154)

Sonnet 143 employs an extended simile that compares the dark lady’s neglect of the speaker in favor of pursuing other men to a housewife’s neglect of her baby in favor of pursuing a runaway chicken. The implication is that, rather than spend time nurturing their relationship, she is chasing after other men. However, it also portrays the speaker in a rather pitiful light. He urges the lady to “play the mother’s part,” casting himself as a man who is needy and dependent on the dark lady for maternal affection. The closing couplet concedes that even if she must chase after other men, the speaker hopes that she will return to him when she is through.

"Love is my sin, and thy dear virtue hate,..."   (Sonnets 141–154)

Notice the contrasts established between “loving sin” and “virtu[ous] hate.” The nature of love is a common theme in the sonnet tradition, which abounds with frustrated lovers bemoaning their lack of physical satisfaction. Typically, passionate speakers begin sonnets by expressing their devotion for their beloveds, only to be rebuffed in the name of virtue. The cold, beautiful beloveds were considered hateful for their chastity. The speaker parodies this tradition by casting the dark lady in the role of the chaste maiden who virtuously rejects her suitor. The inaccuracy of the comparison is cemented as the speaker accuses the dark lady of hypocrisy, telling her that they are both lustful adulterers and that his love for her is no less “lawful” than her “false bonds of love.” He urges her to take “pity” on him, emotionally and sexually, lest she end up alone and rejected by her other lovers.

" That she that makes me sin awards me pain...."   (Sonnets 141–154)

On the surface, the final line of Sonnet 141 refers tothe lady’s rejections and infidelities, which cause the speaker “pain” because he loves her. However, the use of the phrase “awards me pain” adds a potential religious context. It is a common conceit in the sonnet tradition for love to considered “sinful,” since it encourages amorous and unchaste thoughts. In orthodox Christian doctrine, sins needed to be confessed and repented. Though uncommon in practice, pain, whether self-inflicted or administered by others, was considered a way in which sinners could pay penance. By the logic of penance, the “pain” the dark lady “awards” becomes the speaker’s “gain.”

"Nor are mine ears with thy tongue's tune delighted; Nor tender feeling, to base touches prone, Nor taste, nor smell, desire to be invited..."   (Sonnets 141–154)

Sonnet 141 reprises the sentiments of Sonnet 130, exploring the sensory experience of the dark lady. The ongoing conflict between the eyes and the heart continues, with the other senses joining the argument as well.The use of anaphora in lines 5-7 serves to emphasize that the dark lady is not pleasing to any of the speaker’s senses through the repetition of the negative conjunction “nor.” However, neither the speaker’s “five wits” nor his “five senses” can dissuade his “foolish heart” from loving her anyways. Love, the “blind fool,” has also proved itself deaf and otherwise insensate.

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