Sonnet 130

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun; 
Coral is far more red than her lips' red; 
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun; 
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head. 
I have seen roses damasked, red and white, 
But no such roses see I in her cheeks; 
And in some perfumes is there more delight 
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks. 
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know 
That music hath a far more pleasing sound; 
I grant I never saw a goddess go; 
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground. 
     And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare 
     As any she belied with false compare.


  1. In this final line, the speaker claims that all other female subjects of sonnets have “belied,” or slandered, his mistress with their falseness. This is a subtle criticism of the poets who write these love poems as they have created slanderously “false” paramours.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. “By heaven” is an oath that parodies traditional love poetry. In a traditional sonnet, the beloved is compared to heavenly objects, or the speaker swears his binding love for the woman to heaven. Here, the speaker mocks the tradition by using this causal interjected oath; it intentionally, or comically, undercuts the speaker’s final claims that his mistress is “rare” and better than all the other women featured in sonnets.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. The final couplet marks a turn in the poem that undermines the rest of the poem. While the reader has encountered an ordinary woman who is not strikingly beautiful (if anything she’s a bit grotesque), in these final two lines the speaker asserts that she is still “rare.” This turn suggests that it is her very ordinary, non-ethereal nature that makes her unique among the other sonnet subjects.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. Unlike the subjects of most sonnets, this woman is not an ethereal presence that exists in a spiritual or otherworldly realm. Rather, she is a woman bound to physical reality.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. Women in Petrarchan Sonnets were traditionally silent. The sonnet consisted of the speaker talking about the woman rather than the speaker listening to them speak. Here, the speaker again breaks with the conventions of the sonnet tradition by claiming that his mistress’ voice is the thing he loves most about her, not her physical appearance.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. The speaker negates the courtly love traditions out of which his sonnets arise by claiming that “no” red and white roses are present in her cheeks. This rhetorical movement signifies a break with the typical topic and theme of a sonnet.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. Red and white were archetypal symbols for beauty and purity in medieval love poetry. They come from the red and white cross featured on the banners of Saint George, the patron saint of England. Throughout the medieval courtly love tradition, red and white are used to symbolize valiant knights and honorable ladies.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. This poem famously represents an anti-blazon. The blazon tradition is a poetic trope in which the speaker fragments his lover in order to describe each part as individually perfect—eyes as bright as the sun, lips as red as a rose, skin as white as snow, etc. Here the speaker begins his catalogue of his mistress’ body parts with negation; she is “nothing” like the ideal physical element to which he could compare her. The rest of the poem follows this pattern of anti-blazon.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff