Sonnets 81–90

Sonnet 81
Or I shall live your epitaph to make,
Or you survive when I in earth am rotten;
From hence your memory death cannot take,
Although in me each part will be forgotten.
Your name from hence immortal life shall have,
Though I, once gone, to all the world must die:
The earth can yield me but a common grave,
When you entombed in men's eyes shall lie.
Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall o'er-read;
And tongues to be, your being shall rehearse,
When all the breathers of this world are dead;
     You still shall live,--such virtue hath my pen,--
     Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men.

Sonnet 82

I grant thou wert not married to my Muse,
And therefore mayst without attaint o'erlook
The dedicated words which writers use
Of their fair subject, blessing every book.
Thou art as fair in knowledge as in hue,
Finding thy worth a limit past my praise;
And therefore art enforced to seek anew
Some fresher stamp of the time-bettering days.
And do so, love; yet when they have devis'd,
What strained touches rhetoric can lend,
Thou truly fair, wert truly sympathiz'd
In true plain words, by thy true-telling friend;
     And their gross painting might be better us'd
     Where cheeks need blood; in thee it is abus'd.

Sonnet 83
I never saw that you did painting need,
And therefore to your fair no painting set;
I found, or thought I found, you did exceed
That barren tender of a poet's debt:
And therefore have I slept in your report,
That you yourself, being extant, well might show
How far a modern quill doth come too short,
Speaking of worth, what worth in you doth grow.
This silence for my sin you did impute,
Which shall be most my glory being dumb;
For I impair not beauty being mute,
When others would give life, and bring a tomb.
     There lives more life in one of your fair eyes
     Than both your poets can in praise devise.

Sonnet 84
Who is it that says most, which can say more,
Than this rich praise,--that you alone, are you?
In whose confine immured is the store
Which should example where your equal grew.
Lean penury within that pen doth dwell
That to his subject lends not some small glory;
But he that writes of you, if he can tell
That you are you, so dignifies his story,
Let him but copy what in you is writ,
Not making worse what nature made so clear,
And such a counterpart shall fame his wit,
Making his style admired every where.
     You to your beauteous blessings add a curse,
     Being fond on praise, which makes your praises worse.

Sonnet 85
My tongue-tied Muse in manners holds her still,
While comments of your praise richly compil'd,
Reserve their character with golden quill,
And precious phrase by all the Muses fil'd.
I think good thoughts, whilst others write good words,
And like unlettered clerk still cry 'Amen'
To every hymn that able spirit affords,
In polish'd form of well-refined pen.
Hearing you praised, I say ''tis so, 'tis true,'
And to the most of praise add something more;
But that is in my thought, whose love to you,
Though words come hindmost, holds his rank before.
     Then others, for the breath of words respect,
     Me for my dumb thoughts, speaking in effect.

Sonnet 86
Was it the proud full sail of his great verse,
Bound for the prize of all too precious you,
That did my ripe thoughts in my brain inhearse,
Making their tomb the womb wherein they grew?
Was it his spirit, by spirits taught to write,
Above a mortal pitch, that struck me dead?
No, neither he, nor his compeers by night
Giving him aid, my verse astonished.
He, nor that affable familiar ghost
Which nightly gulls him with intelligence,
As victors of my silence cannot boast;
I was not sick of any fear from thence:
     But when your countenance fill'd up his line,
     Then lacked I matter; that enfeebled mine.

Sonnet 87
Farewell! thou art too dear for my possessing,
And like enough thou know'st thy estimate,
The charter of thy worth gives thee releasing;
My bonds in thee are all determinate.
For how do I hold thee but by thy granting?
And for that riches where is my deserving?
The cause of this fair gift in me is wanting,
And so my patent back again is swerving.
Thy self thou gav'st, thy own worth then not knowing,
Or me to whom thou gav'st it, else mistaking;
So thy great gift, upon misprision growing,
Comes home again, on better judgement making.
     Thus have I had thee, as a dream doth flatter,
     In sleep a king, but waking no such matter.

Sonnet 88
When thou shalt be dispos'd to set me light,
And place my merit in the eye of scorn,
Upon thy side, against myself I'll fight,
And prove thee virtuous, though thou art forsworn.
With mine own weakness, being best acquainted,
Upon thy part I can set down a story
Of faults conceal'd, wherein I am attainted;
That thou in losing me shalt win much glory:
And I by this will be a gainer too;
For bending all my loving thoughts on thee,
The injuries that to myself I do,
Doing thee vantage, double-vantage me.
     Such is my love, to thee I so belong,
     That for thy right, myself will bear all wrong.

Sonnet 89
Say that thou didst forsake me for some fault,
And I will comment upon that offence:
Speak of my lameness, and I straight will halt,
Against thy reasons making no defence.
Thou canst not love disgrace me half so ill,
To set a form upon desired change,
As I'll myself disgrace; knowing thy will,
I will acquaintance strangle, and look strange;
Be absent from thy walks; and in my tongue
Thy sweet beloved name no more shall dwell,
Lest I, too much profane, should do it wrong,
And haply of our old acquaintance tell.
     For thee, against my self I'll vow debate,
     For I must ne'er love him whom thou dost hate.

Sonnet 90
Then hate me when thou wilt; if ever, now;
Now, while the world is bent my deeds to cross,
Join with the spite of fortune, make me bow,
And do not drop in for an after-loss:
Ah! do not, when my heart hath 'scap'd this sorrow,
Come in the rearward of a conquer'd woe;
Give not a windy night a rainy morrow,
To linger out a purpos'd overthrow.
If thou wilt leave me, do not leave me last,
When other petty griefs have done their spite,
But in the onset come: so shall I taste
At first the very worst of fortune's might;
     And other strains of woe, which now seem woe,
     Compar'd with loss of thee, will not seem so.


  1. 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.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. 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.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. 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.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. 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.”

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. 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.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. 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.”

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. 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.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. 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.

    — Marissa, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. 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.

    — Marissa, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. 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.

    — Marissa, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. 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.

    — Marissa, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. 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.

    — Marissa, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. 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.

    — Marissa, Owl Eyes Staff