Sonnets 41–50

Sonnet 41
Those pretty wrongs that liberty commits,
When I am sometime absent from thy heart,
Thy beauty, and thy years full well befits,
For still temptation follows where thou art.
Gentle thou art, and therefore to be won,
Beauteous thou art, therefore to be assail'd;
And when a woman woos, what woman's son
Will sourly leave her till he have prevail'd?
Ay me! but yet thou mightst my seat forbear,
And chide thy beauty and thy straying youth,
Who lead thee in their riot even there
Where thou art forced to break a twofold truth:—
     Hers by thy beauty tempting her to thee,
     Thine by thy beauty being false to me.

Sonnet 42
That thou hast her it is not all my grief,
And yet it may be said I loved her dearly;
That she hath thee is of my wailing chief,
A loss in love that touches me more nearly.
Loving offenders thus I will excuse ye:
Thou dost love her, because thou know'st I love her;
And for my sake even so doth she abuse me,
Suffering my friend for my sake to approve her.
If I lose thee, my loss is my love's gain,
And losing her, my friend hath found that loss;
Both find each other, and I lose both twain,
And both for my sake lay on me this cross:
     But here's the joy; my friend and I are one;
     Sweet flattery! then she loves but me alone.

Sonnet 43
When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see,
For all the day they view things unrespected;
But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee,
And darkly bright, are bright in dark directed.
Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright,
How would thy shadow's form form happy show
To the clear day with thy much clearer light,
When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so!
How would, I say, mine eyes be blessed made
By looking on thee in the living day,
When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade
Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay!
     All days are nights to see till I see thee,
     And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.

Sonnet 44
If the dull substance of my flesh were thought,
Injurious distance should not stop my way;
For then despite of space I would be brought,
From limits far remote, where thou dost stay.
No matter then although my foot did stand
Upon the farthest earth remov'd from thee;
For nimble thought can jump both sea and land,
As soon as think the place where he would be.
But, ah! thought kills me that I am not thought,
To leap large lengths of miles when thou art gone,
But that so much of earth and water wrought,
I must attend, time's leisure with my moan;
     Receiving nought by elements so slow
     But heavy tears, badges of either's woe.

Sonnet 45
The other two, slight air, and purging fire
Are both with thee, wherever I abide;
The first my thought, the other my desire,
These present-absent with swift motion slide.
For when these quicker elements are gone
In tender embassy of love to thee,
My life, being made of four, with two alone
Sinks down to death, oppress'd with melancholy;
Until life's composition be recur'd
By those swift messengers return'd from thee,
Who even but now come back again, assur'd,
Of thy fair health, recounting it to me:
     This told, I joy; but then no longer glad,
     I send them back again, and straight grow sad.

Sonnet 46
Mine eye and heart are at a mortal war,
How to divide the conquest of thy sight;
Mine eye my heart thy picture's sight would bar,
My heart mine eye the freedom of that right.
My heart doth plead that thou in him dost lie,--
A closet never pierc'd with crystal eyes--
But the defendant doth that plea deny,
And says in him thy fair appearance lies.
To side this title is impannelled
A quest of thoughts, all tenants to the heart;
And by their verdict is determined
The clear eye's moiety, and the dear heart's part:
     As thus; mine eye's due is thy outward part,
     And my heart's right, thy inward love of heart.

Sonnet 47
Betwixt mine eye and heart a league is took,
And each doth good turns now unto the other:
When that mine eye is famish'd for a look,
Or heart in love with sighs himself doth smother,
With my love's picture then my eye doth feast,
And to the painted banquet bids my heart;
Another time mine eye is my heart's guest,
And in his thoughts of love doth share a part:
So, either by thy picture or my love,
Thy self away, art present still with me;
For thou not farther than my thoughts canst move,
And I am still with them, and they with thee;
     Or, if they sleep, thy picture in my sight
     Awakes my heart, to heart's and eye's delight.

Sonnet 48
How careful was I when I took my way,
Each trifle under truest bars to thrust,
That to my use it might unused stay
From hands of falsehood, in sure wards of trust!
But thou, to whom my jewels trifles are,
Most worthy comfort, now my greatest grief,
Thou best of dearest, and mine only care,
Art left the prey of every vulgar thief.
Thee have I not lock'd up in any chest,
Save where thou art not, though I feel thou art,
Within the gentle closure of my breast,
From whence at pleasure thou mayst come and part;
     And even thence thou wilt be stol'n I fear,
     For truth proves thievish for a prize so dear.

Sonnet 49
Against that time, if ever that time come,
When I shall see thee frown on my defects,
When as thy love hath cast his utmost sum,
Call'd to that audit by advis'd respects;
Against that time when thou shalt strangely pass,
And scarcely greet me with that sun, thine eye,
When love, converted from the thing it was,
Shall reasons find of settled gravity;
Against that time do I ensconce me here,
Within the knowledge of mine own desert,
And this my hand, against my self uprear,
To guard the lawful reasons on thy part:
     To leave poor me thou hast the strength of laws,
     Since why to love I can allege no cause.

Sonnet 50
How heavy do I journey on the way,
When what I seek, my weary travel's end,
Doth teach that ease and that repose to say,
'Thus far the miles are measured from thy friend!'
The beast that bears me, tired with my woe,
Plods dully on, to bear that weight in me,
As if by some instinct the wretch did know
His rider lov'd not speed, being made from thee:
The bloody spur cannot provoke him on,
That sometimes anger thrusts into his hide,
Which heavily he answers with a groan,
More sharp to me than spurring to his side;
     For that same groan doth put this in my mind,
     My grief lies onward, and my joy behind.


  1. 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.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. 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.

    — Marissa, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. 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.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. 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.”

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. 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.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. 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.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. 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.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. 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.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. 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.

    — Marissa, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. 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.

    — Marissa, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. 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.

    — Marissa, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. 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.

    — Marissa, Owl Eyes Staff