Themes in Sonnet 94

Themes Examples in Sonnet 94:

Sonnet 94 7

"sweetest things..."   (Sonnet 94)

This final line underscores the theme of the poem: the corruption of the best of things makes the worst of things. This idea comes from a proverb “optima corrupta pessima” —the best things corrupted become the worst. In other words, when something is in its perfect form and falls for one reason or another, it is more tragic, more corrupt, than any other kind of fall.

"die..."   (Sonnet 94)

With this Biblical allusion, the speaker brings up the tension between one’s external appearance and internal qualities. While the flower is essential to summer and makes summer sweet, because it only lives for itself, it is actually internally corrupt. It is sweet to the physical systems on earth but rotten in the eyes of God.

"to the summer sweet..."   (Sonnet 94)

This line claims that beautiful people, gifted by “heaven’s graces,” may live morally bankrupt lives. Even if they try to act in faith through a personal relationship to God—being sweet “to the summer”—, they may remain closed to the world. It is this closed-off quality, discussed in line 10, that prevents them from performing the righteous actions essential to a well-lived life.

"summer's..."   (Sonnet 94)

The “summer” serves as a representation of God, the flower’s creator, suggested by the possessive nature of their relationship. This quatrain introduces the theme of whether one’s faith in God is best expressed through good deeds or through personal faith.

"Unmoved, cold..."   (Sonnet 94)

The words “unmoved” and “cold” carry a nuanced meaning. While these words take on a negative connotation, the speaker actually uses them to depict an ideal model of behaviour. To the speaker, “they that have power” ought to practice restraint and self-control. In his view, beautiful people should not use their beauty to take advantage of others. Rather, they should be “unmoved, cold” in the face of temptation.

"power..."   (Sonnet 94)

The content and phrasing of the first line comes from the Latin proverb “Posse et nolle, nobile,” meaning “To be able to harm, and not to do it, is noble.” As the poem progresses, it becomes clear that the type of power the speaker alludes to is beauty, narrowing the subject to the fair youth.

"They..."   (Sonnet 94)

The use of “they” in the opening line introduces the poem’s central idea as a broad word of caution. Though the youth falls into the camp of “they that have power,” the speaker is careful not to launch into an accusatory tone.