Sonnets 51–60

Sonnet 51
Thus can my love excuse the slow offence
Of my dull bearer when from thee I speed:
From where thou art why should I haste me thence?
Till I return, of posting is no need.
O! what excuse will my poor beast then find,
When swift extremity can seem but slow?
Then should I spur, though mounted on the wind,
In winged speed no motion shall I know,
Then can no horse with my desire keep pace;
Therefore desire, of perfect'st love being made,
Shall neigh—no dull flesh—in his fiery race;
But love, for love, thus shall excuse my jade,—
     'Since from thee going, he went wilful-slow,
     Towards thee I'll run, and give him leave to go.'

Sonnet 52
So am I as the rich, whose blessed key,
Can bring him to his sweet up-locked treasure,
The which he will not every hour survey,
For blunting the fine point of seldom pleasure.
Therefore are feasts so solemn and so rare,
Since, seldom coming in that long year set,
Like stones of worth they thinly placed are,
Or captain jewels in the carcanet.
So is the time that keeps you as my chest,
Or as the wardrobe which the robe doth hide,
To make some special instant special-blest,
By new unfolding his imprison'd pride.
     Blessed are you whose worthiness gives scope,
     Being had, to triumph; being lacked, to hope.

Sonnet 53
What is your substance, whereof are you made,
That millions of strange shadows on you tend?
Since every one, hath every one, one shade,
And you but one, can every shadow lend.
Describe Adonis, and the counterfeit
Is poorly imitated after you;
On Helen's cheek all art of beauty set,
And you in Grecian tires are painted new:
Speak of the spring, and foison of the year,
The one doth shadow of your beauty show,
The other as your bounty doth appear;
And you in every blessed shape we know.
     In all external grace you have some part,
     But you like none, none you, for constant heart.

Sonnet 54
O! how much more doth beauty beauteous seem
By that sweet ornament which truth doth give.
The rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem
For that sweet odour, which doth in it live.
The canker blooms have full as deep a dye
As the perfumed tincture of the roses.
Hang on such thorns, and play as wantonly
When summer's breath their masked buds discloses:
But, for their virtue only is their show,
They live unwoo'd, and unrespected fade;
Die to themselves. Sweet roses do not so;
Of their sweet deaths, are sweetest odours made:
     And so of you, beauteous and lovely youth,
     When that shall vade, by verse distills your truth.

Sonnet 56
Sweet love, renew thy force; be it not said
Thy edge should blunter be than appetite,
Which but to-day by feeding is allay'd,
To-morrow sharpened in his former might:
So, love, be thou, although to-day thou fill
Thy hungry eyes, even till they wink with fulness,
To-morrow see again, and do not kill
The spirit of love, with a perpetual dulness.
Let this sad interim like the ocean be
Which parts the shore, where two contracted new
Come daily to the banks, that when they see
Return of love, more blest may be the view;
     Or call it winter, which being full of care,
     Makes summer's welcome, thrice more wished, more rare.

Sonnet 57

Being your slave what should I do but tend,
Upon the hours, and times of your desire?
I have no precious time at all to spend;
Nor services to do, till you require.
Nor dare I chide the world-without-end hour,
Whilst I, my sovereign, watch the clock for you,
Nor think the bitterness of absence sour,
When you have bid your servant once adieu;
Nor dare I question with my jealous thought
Where you may be, or your affairs suppose,
But, like a sad slave, stay and think of nought
Save, where you are, how happy you make those.
     So true a fool is love, that in your will,
     Though you do anything, he thinks no ill.

Sonnet 58
That god forbid, that made me first your slave,
I should in thought control your times of pleasure,
Or at your hand the account of hours to crave,
Being your vassal, bound to stay your leisure!
O! let me suffer, being at your beck,
The imprison'd absence of your liberty;
And patience, tame to sufferance, bide each check,
Without accusing you of injury.
Be where you list, your charter is so strong
That you yourself may privilage your time
To what you will; to you it doth belong
Yourself to pardon of self-doing crime.
     I am to wait, though waiting so be hell,
     Not blame your pleasure be it ill or well.

Sonnet 59
If there be nothing new, but that which is
Hath been before, how are our brains beguil'd,
Which labouring for invention bear amiss
The second burthen of a former child!
O! that record could with a backward look,
Even of five hundred courses of the sun,
Show me your image in some antique book,
Since mind at first in character was done!
That I might see what the old world could say
To this composed wonder of your frame;
Wh'r we are mended, or wh'r better they,
Or whether revolution be the same.
     O! sure I am the wits of former days,
     To subjects worse have given admiring praise.

Sonnet 60
Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown'd,
Crooked eclipses 'gainst his glory fight,
And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth
And delves the parallels in beauty's brow,
Feeds on the rarities of nature's truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow:
     And yet to times in hope, my verse shall stand.
     Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.


  1. 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.”

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. Returning to a motif established in Sonnet 1, the speaker compares the fair youth to a rose. The speaker contemplates the fair youth’s inward and outward beauty, likening him to a rose, which not only “looks fair,” it also has a “sweet odour.” Roses without sweet odors are like those with superficial, outward beauty; roses with sweet odours are like those who possess a sincere, inward beauty.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. In his efforts to describe the beauty of the fair youth, the speaker draws on Greek mythology. Specifically, he alludes to Adonis, the god of beauty and desire who was the lover of Aphrodite. Helen of Troy, another allusion mentioned later in the sonnet, refers to the wife to King Menelaus who was kidnapped by Paris, and who was allegedly the most beautiful woman in the world. Scholars believe the comparison to both male and female figures highlights the androgynous beauty of the fair youth. Alternately, the comparison may demonstrate how the fair youth’s beauty surpasses all earthly and celestial realms.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. 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.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. 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.”

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. 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.

    — Marissa, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. 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.

    — Marissa, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. 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.

    — Marissa, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. For in-depth look at “Sonnet 60,” read our expert analysis on its own page.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. For in-depth look at “Sonnet 55,” read our expert analysis on its own page.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. 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.

    — Sarah, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. Shakespeare sets this sonnet in a graveyard. This suggests that he is addressing someone who has just died. If so, the deceased would appear to be a person with whom the speaker has been in love. Shakespeare wrote many sonnets in which he boasts that his poetry is immortal. He was right, of course. This sonnet is still being read four hundred years after his own death.

    — William Delaney