Sonnets 91–100

Sonnet 91
Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,
Some in their wealth, some in their body's force,
Some in their garments though new-fangled ill;
Some in their hawks and hounds, some in their horse;
And every humour hath his adjunct pleasure,
Wherein it finds a joy above the rest:
But these particulars are not my measure,
All these I better in one general best.
Thy love is better than high birth to me,
Richer than wealth, prouder than garments' costs,
Of more delight than hawks and horses be;
And having thee, of all men's pride I boast:
     Wretched in this alone, that thou mayst take
     All this away, and me most wretched make.

Sonnet 92
But do thy worst to steal thyself away,
For term of life thou art assured mine;
And life no longer than thy love will stay,
For it depends upon that love of thine.
Then need I not to fear the worst of wrongs,
When in the least of them my life hath end.
I see a better state to me belongs
Than that which on thy humour doth depend:
Thou canst not vex me with inconstant mind,
Since that my life on thy revolt doth lie.
O! what a happy title do I find,
Happy to have thy love, happy to die!
     But what's so blessed-fair that fears no blot?
     Thou mayst be false, and yet I know it not.

Sonnet 93
So shall I live, supposing thou art true,
Like a deceived husband; so love's face
May still seem love to me, though alter'd new;
Thy looks with me, thy heart in other place:
For there can live no hatred in thine eye,
Therefore in that I cannot know thy change.
In many's looks, the false heart's history
Is writ in moods, and frowns, and wrinkles strange.
But heaven in thy creation did decree
That in thy face sweet love should ever dwell;
Whate'er thy thoughts, or thy heart's workings be,
Thy looks should nothing thence, but sweetness tell.
     How like Eve's apple doth thy beauty grow,
     If thy sweet virtue answer not thy show!

Sonnet 94
They that have power to hurt, and will do none,
That do not do the thing they most do show,
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,
Unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow;
They rightly do inherit heaven's graces,
And husband nature's riches from expense;
They are the lords and owners of their faces,
Others, but stewards of their excellence.
The summer's flower is to the summer sweet,
Though to itself, it only live and die,
But if that flower with base infection meet,
The basest weed outbraves his dignity:
     For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
     Lilies that fester, smell far worse than weeds.

Sonnet 95
How sweet and lovely dost thou make the shame
Which, like a canker in the fragrant rose,
Doth spot the beauty of thy budding name!
O! in what sweets dost thou thy sins enclose.
That tongue that tells the story of thy days,
Making lascivious comments on thy sport,
Cannot dispraise, but in a kind of praise;
Naming thy name, blesses an ill report.
O! what a mansion have those vices got
Which for their habitation chose out thee,
Where beauty's veil doth cover every blot
And all things turns to fair that eyes can see!
     Take heed, dear heart, of this large privilege;
     The hardest knife ill-us'd doth lose his edge.

Sonnet 96
Some say thy fault is youth, some wantonness;
Some say thy grace is youth and gentle sport;
Both grace and faults are lov'd of more and less:
Thou mak'st faults graces that to thee resort.
As on the finger of a throned queen
The basest jewel will be well esteem'd,
So are those errors that in thee are seen
To truths translated, and for true things deem'd.
How many lambs might the stern wolf betray,
If like a lamb he could his looks translate!
How many gazers mightst thou lead away,
if thou wouldst use the strength of all thy state!
     But do not so; I love thee in such sort,
     As, thou being mine, mine is thy good report.

Sonnet 97
How like a winter hath my absence been
From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!
What old December's bareness everywhere!
And yet this time removed was summer's time;
The teeming autumn, big with rich increase,
Bearing the wanton burden of the prime,
Like widow'd wombs after their lords' decease:
Yet this abundant issue seem'd to me
But hope of orphans, and unfather'd fruit;
For summer and his pleasures wait on thee,
And, thou away, the very birds are mute:
     Or, if they sing, 'tis with so dull a cheer,
     That leaves look pale, dreading the winter's near.

Sonnet 98

From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April, dress'd in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing,
That heavy Saturn laugh'd and leap'd with him.
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odour and in hue,
Could make me any summer's story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew:
Nor did I wonder at the lily's white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
     Yet seem'd it winter still, and you away,
     As with your shadow I with these did play.

Sonnet 99
The forward violet thus did I chide:
Sweet thief, whence didst thou steal thy sweet that smells,
If not from my love's breath? The purple pride
Which on thy soft cheek for complexion dwells
In my love's veins thou hast too grossly dy'd.
The lily I condemned for thy hand,
And buds of marjoram had stol'n thy hair;
The roses fearfully on thorns did stand,
One blushing shame, another white despair;
A third, nor red nor white, had stol'n of both,
And to his robbery had annex'd thy breath;
But, for his theft, in pride of all his growth
A vengeful canker eat him up to death.
     More flowers I noted, yet I none could see,
     But sweet, or colour it had stol'n from thee.

Sonnet 100

Where art thou Muse that thou forget'st so long,
To speak of that which gives thee all thy might?
Spend'st thou thy fury on some worthless song,
Darkening thy power to lend base subjects light?
Return forgetful Muse, and straight redeem,
In gentle numbers time so idly spent;
Sing to the ear that doth thy lays esteem
And gives thy pen both skill and argument.
Rise, resty Muse, my love's sweet face survey,
If Time have any wrinkle graven there;
If any, be a satire to decay,
And make time's spoils despised every where.
     Give my love fame faster than Time wastes life,
     So thou prevent'st his scythe and crooked knife.


  1. 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.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. In a continuation of Sonnets 97 and 98, Sonnet 99 associates the fair youth with the natural beauty of various flowers. Throughout the sonnet, the speaker alleges that the violet, personified as a “sweet thief,” has dipped its petals into the fair youth’s veins and stolen his color and vitality. Unlike the previous sonnets, however, Sonnet 99 stands out for its 15-line structure. The sonnet opens with a quintain, or five line stanza, thus forming a fifteen line sonnet. Readers and scholars can only conjecture for the reason behind this anomaly.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. 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.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. First attributed to Shakespeare, the word “proud-pied” means splendidly colored. The former adjective, “proud,” is generally associated with lavish clothing and the latter, “pied,” means variegated. Personifying April as someone lavishly and colorfully clothed, the speaker incorporates olfactory imagery of the “sweet smell of flowers” and the visual imagery of the redness of the rose and the whiteness of the lily flower. Summertime, according to the speaker, is bright and radiant.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. Through dichotomous imagery, the speaker describes a period of separation from the fair youth. Although it is summer, the speaker experiences the frigidity of winter in the fair youth’s absence. He likens this separation to the barrenness if a widow’s womb, the quietude of mute birds, and the paleness of winter leaves. Contrasted against the “teeming” and “rich” fecundity of summer, the atmosphere of emptiness and hollowness during wintertime provides a glimpse into the speaker’s state of mind.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. Through the lamb and wolf metaphor, the speaker likens the fair youth’s beauty to the wolf which leads lambs “away,” or to slaughter. The speaker fears that the fair youth’s promiscuity might tarnish his reputation and, in turn, his own reputation as well, since he and the fair youth are one in love.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. In order to bookend Sonnets 91-96, which deal with the fair youth’s faults, the speaker employs the same literary device used at the beginning of the sequence: anaphora with the repetition of the word “some” at the beginning of successive clauses. This literary device demonstrates society’s perception of the fair youth as someone who is sexually immodest.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. 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.”

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. 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.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. 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.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. 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.

    — Marissa, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. For in-depth look at “Sonnet 94,” read our expert analysis on its own page.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor