Sonnets 21–30

Sonnet 21
So is it not with me as with that Muse,
Stirr'd by a painted beauty to his verse,
Who heaven itself for ornament doth use
And every fair with his fair doth rehearse,
Making a couplement of proud compare'
With sun and moon, with earth and sea's rich gems,
With April's first-born flowers, and all things rare,
That heaven's air in this huge rondure hems.
O! let me, true in love, but truly write,
And then believe me, my love is as fair
As any mother's child, though not so bright
As those gold candles fix'd in heaven's air:
     Let them say more that like of hearsay well;
     I will not praise that purpose not to sell.

Sonnet 22
My glass shall not persuade me I am old,
So long as youth and thou are of one date;
But when in thee time's furrows I behold,
Then look I death my days should expiate.
For all that beauty that doth cover thee,
Is but the seemly raiment of my heart,
Which in thy breast doth live, as thine in me:
How can I then be elder than thou art?
O! therefore love, be of thyself so wary
As I, not for myself, but for thee will;
Bearing thy heart, which I will keep so chary
As tender nurse her babe from faring ill.
     Presume not on thy heart when mine is slain,
     Thou gav'st me thine not to give back again.

Sonnet 23
As an unperfect actor on the stage,
Who with his fear is put beside his part,
Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage,
Whose strength's abundance weakens his own heart;
So I, for fear of trust, forget to say
The perfect ceremony of love's rite,
And in mine own love's strength seem to decay,
O'ercharg'd with burthen of mine own love's might.
O! let my looks be then the eloquence
And dumb presagers of my speaking breast,
Who plead for love, and look for recompense,
More than that tongue that more hath more express'd.
     O! learn to read what silent love hath writ:
     To hear with eyes belongs to love's fine wit.

Sonnet 24
Mine eye hath play'd the painter and hath stell'd,
Thy beauty's form in table of my heart;
My body is the frame wherein 'tis held,
And perspective it is best painter's art.
For through the painter must you see his skill,
To find where your true image pictur'd lies,
Which in my bosom's shop is hanging still,
That hath his windows glazed with thine eyes.
Now see what good turns eyes for eyes have done:
Mine eyes have drawn thy shape, and thine for me
Are windows to my breast, where-through the sun
Delights to peep, to gaze therein on thee;
     Yet eyes this cunning want to grace their art,
     They draw but what they see, know not the heart.

Sonnet 25
Let those who are in favour with their stars
Of public honour and proud titles boast,
Whilst I, whom fortune of such triumph bars
Unlook'd for joy in that I honour most.
Great princes' favourites their fair leaves spread
But as the marigold at the sun's eye,
And in themselves their pride lies buried,
For at a frown they in their glory die.
The painful warrior famoused for fight,
After a thousand victories once foil'd,
Is from the book of honour razed quite,
And all the rest forgot for which he toil'd:
     Then happy I, that love and am belov'd,
     Where I may not remove nor be remov'd.

Sonnet 26
Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage
Thy merit hath my duty strongly knit,
To thee I send this written embassage,
To witness duty, not to show my wit:
Duty so great, which wit so poor as mine
May make seem bare, in wanting words to show it,
But that I hope some good conceit of thine
In thy soul's thought, all naked, will bestow it:
Till whatsoever star that guides my moving,
Points on me graciously with fair aspect,
And puts apparel on my tatter'd loving,
To show me worthy of thy sweet respect:
     Then may I dare to boast how I do love thee;
     Till then, not show my head where thou mayst prove me.

Sonnet 27
Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear respose for limbs with travel tir'd;
But then begins a journey in my head
To work my mind, when body's work's expired:
For then my thoughts--from far where I abide--
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see:
Save that my soul's imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel (hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous, and her old face new.
     Lo! thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
     For thee, and for myself, no quiet find.

Sonnet 28
How can I then return in happy plight,
That am debarre'd the benefit of rest?
When day's oppression is not eas'd by night,
But day by night and night by day oppress'd,
And each, though enemies to either's reign,
Do in consent shake hands to torture me,
The one by toil, the other to complain
How far I toil, still farther off from thee.
I tell the day, to please him thou art bright,
And dost him grace when clouds do blot the heaven:
So flatter I the swart-complexion'd night,
When sparkling stars twire not thou gild'st the even.
     But day doth daily draw my sorrows longer,
     And night doth nightly make grief's length seem stronger.

Sonnet 29
When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur'd like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts my self almost despising,
Haply I think on thee,-- and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate,;
     For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings
     That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Sonnet 30
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death's dateless night,
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,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
     But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
     All losses are restor'd and sorrows end.


  1. 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.

    — Marissa, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. 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.

    — Marissa, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. 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.

    — Marissa, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. In a likely allusion to the stories of Greek authors and biographers Homer and Plutarch, the speaker contemplates the warrior who, although victorious in thousands of battles, loses his honor after one defeat. The speaker argues that unlike these warriors, his “honour” will never be “razed quite” from history books, because the fair youth loves him unconditionally.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. 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.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. 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.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. For in-depth look at “Sonnet 29,” read our expert analysis on its own page.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. 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.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. Throughout the first line, specifically the phrase “sessions of sweet silent thought,” the speaker employs alliteration of the s sounds. This consonance is continued throughout the following three lines in words like “summon,” “remembrance,” “things,” “past,” “sigh,” “sought,” woes,” “time’s,” and “waste.” This literary device creates a wistful, seemingly nostalgic mood of solitude and reflection.

    — William Delaney
  11. This line as well as the next eight lines are littered with “o” vowel sounds in words like “woe,” “fore,” “foregone,” “drown,” and “fore-bemoaned moan.” The subtle use of this sound evokes the wails or moans one might release during the mourning process.

    — William Delaney
  12. Through this metaphor, Shakespeare compares the pains we initially suffer to a bill that needs to be paid. Regardless of how many times the speaker pays it, the bill returns again and again for payment. The speaker laments the grief he cannot seem to relinquish and the emotional toll of continually recalling past sorrows.

    — William Delaney
  13. Although Shakespeare's sonnets are all predominantly in iambic pentameter, he frequently breaks the iambic rhythm to emphasize a particular thought or highlight a change of mood. The first words of these two lines, "Wishing" and "Featur'd,” substitute the typical iambs with trochees, metrical feet which place the stress on the first rather than the second syllable. In turn, the speaker changes the tone from one of disillusionment to one of hope and reconciliation.

    — William Delaney
  14. A lark is a type of ground-dwelling songbird. To signify rejuvenation and renewal, the speaker offers a stark shift from the gloomy and morbid language used throughout the sonnet by introducing the simile of a lark singing at daybreak. Notice as well how the repetition of s sounds in words such as “sullen,” “sings,” “hymns,” “heaven’s” suggests the lark’s call. The use of the word “sweet” in the following line serves as an echo to the sound of the singing lark.

    — William Delaney
  15. Pronounced with four syllables to satisfy the iambic pentameter rhythm, the word “fore-bemoaned” describes an expression of deep grief. The prefix “fore” means “previously” and suggests the many “moans” the speaker has already experienced throughout his life and which return to haunt him again.

    — William Delaney
  16. The metaphor of death having a “dateless night” suggests that death cannot be divided into days, weeks, or months. Death, as the speaker intimates, is at once perpetual and eternal and yet also empty of time’s flow, standing as it does outside the chronologies of mortal life.

    — William Delaney
  17. Scottish writer, F. K. Scott Moncrieff, borrowed the phrase “remembrance of things past” for the title of his translation of Marcel’s Proust’s seven-volume novel À la Recherche du Temps Perdu.

    — William Delaney
  18. In a metaphor characteristic of Shakespeare, the speaker draws on a universal human experience. Here, the speaker conjures a terrifying moment of waking up in the middle of the night in a strange, pitch-dark room. The speaker is overcome with a metaphorical blindness even though his eyes are “open wide.”

    — William Delaney