Selected Sonnets and Their Meanings
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Annotations and Interpretations by Michael J. Cummings.©Sonnet 1 (Addressed to the Unidentified Young Man)
From fairest creatures we desire increase,
increase: reproduction, offspring, children
That thereby beauty's rose might never die,
so that your beauty will live on in your children
But as the riper should by time decease,
riper: riper person--that is, older person or aging person
His tender heir might bear his memory:
But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes,
contracted to . . . eyes: married to yourself, in love with yourself
Feed'st thy light'st flame with self-substantial fuel,
burn with love for yourself
Making a famine where abundance lies,
famine . . . lies: depleting your own abundant beauty
Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel.
You are your own worst enemy
Thou that art now the world's fresh ornament
ornament: young person
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
gaudy: shining brilliant, gleaming
Within thine own bud buriest thy content
bud . . . content: seed, source of new life
And, tender churl, makest waste in niggarding.
tender churl: young miser; niggarding: being stingy
Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
Share yourself or your gluttony will consume potential offspring
To eat the world's due, by the grave and thee.
Sonnet 1 Meaning
......We want beautiful people and things to reproduce themselves so that their good qualities will be passed on to their offspring (children, plants, etc.) It's true that an aging person or
thing will eventually die, but the memory of that person or thing will continue to live if offspring are produced. But you, who are in love with yourself, seem to devote all of your attention to yourself. You're like the flame of a candle that burns only for itself instead of providing light for others.You are your own enemy. Right now, you are young and new to the
world. But instead of procreating and sharing yourself by marrying, you keep your procreative seed inside yourself, unused (thine own bud buriest thy content).
......Thus, young miser, you waste your good qualities by
refusing to spend them on others In the end, by thinking only of yourself and not mingling with others, you will consume your ability to procreate and go to your grave without any children or memories to immortalize you.
Sonnet 3 (Addressed to the Unidentified Young Man)
Look in thy glass, and tell the face thou viewest
Now is the time that face should form another;
form another: beget a child
Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest,
Thou dost beguile the world, unless some mother.
For where is she so fair whose unear'd womb
uneard: not tilled, unplowed
Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry?
tillage: fertilization; cultivation; reception of the male seed
Or who is he so fond will be the tomb
Your fondness for yourself will be a tomb
Of his self-love, to stop posterity?
because, failing to marry, you will not have a child like you
Thou art thy mother's glass, and she in thee
You resemble your mother
Calls back the lovely April of her prime:
and I can see her beauty in you
So thou through windows of thine age shall see
Despite of wrinkles this thy golden time.
......But if thou live, remember'd not to be,
......Die single, and thine image dies with thee.
If you remain single, you will not pass on your image
Sonnet 3 Meaning
......Look in a mirror and tell yourself that now is the time to beget a child (form another). There is no woman, after all, who is so outstanding that she will refuse to marry you and engage in intimate relations. It is not right that a man should love only himself, refusing to take a wife and pass on his good
qualities to a child. Your mother bequeathed to you your excellent attributes, and you in turn should bestow them on your own child, who will reflect your youth when you are old. If you choose not to marry and have a family, no one will remember you.
Sonnet 9 (Addressed to the Unidentified Young Man)
Is it for fear to wet a widow's eye
wet a widow's: Are you afraid to marry because you will sadden your
That thou consumest thyself in single life?
wife when you die?
Ah! if thou issueless shalt hap to die.
issueless . . . die: if you happen to die without children
The world will wail thee, like a makeless wife;
makeless . . . wife: spinster or childless woman
The world will be thy widow and still weep
"w" words: example of alliteration
That thou no form of thee hast left behind,
no . . .thee: no offspring
When every private widow well may keep
may . . . mind: may be reminded of her late husband by her children's
By children's eyes her husband's shape in mind.
resemblance to him
Look, what an unthrift in the world doth spend
Lines 9, 10: When a spendthrift dies, his money continues to
Shifts but his place, for still the world enjoys it;
circulate among people
But beauty's waste hath in the world an end,
Lines 11, 12: When an unmarried man dies, he leaves nothing behind
And kept unused, the user so destroys it.
and thus destroys his image
......No love toward others in that bosom sits
Lines 13, 14: He who wastes himself in this way has no love for others.
......That on himself such murderous shame commits.
Sonnet 9 Meaning
......The first two lines ask whether the young man is afraid to marry for fear that he will leave behind a saddened widow when he eventually dies. If he remains single because of that fear, the sonnet says, he should keep in mind that the world itself will weep for him because he died without children to preserve his
image in them. He will become less than a wastrel, who lives on after his death in the still-circulating money that he spent. Shakespeare ends the sonnet by saying that the young mans avoidance of marriage is shameful.
Sonnet 12 (Addressed to the Unidentified Young Man)
When I do count the clock that tells the time,
count the clock: count the times the clock strikes the hour
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
brave: splendid, shining
When I behold the violet past prime
And sable curls all silvered o'er with white
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd
erst: formerly, at one time; canopy: cover, like an umbrella
And summer's green all girded up in sheaves
green . . . sheaves: harvested grain stalks tied in bundles
Borne on the bier withwhite and bristly beard
bier: cart, wagon; beard: tufted growth on the head of a cereal grain
Then of thy beauty do I question make,
question make: think about
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
among . . . go: must die, just as the violets, leaves, crops, etc.
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake
And die as fast as they see others grow.
......And nothing 'gainst Time's scythe can make defense
scythe: sickle, symbol of death, the grim reaper
......Save breed, to brave him when takes thee hence.
breed: offspring, children; brave him: mock death, taunt death
Sonnet 12 Meaning
......The toll or tick of a clock, the setting sun, withering flowers, falling leaves, the autumn harvest all make me aware of the passing of time, reminding me that you (the young man) too will grow old and die. Therefore, now, while you are still young, you should marry and breed (have
children) who will live on after you. Only in this way can you defeat death.
Sonnet 17 (Addressed to the Unidentified Young Man)
Who will believe my verse in time to come,
If it were fill'd with your most high deserts?
high deserts: superior qualities
Though yet, heaven knows, it is but as a tomb
it is but a tomb . . . parts: see line below
Which hides your life and shows not half your parts.
my poetry is like a tomb because it hides your qualities
If I could write the beauty of your eyes
And in fresh numbers number all your graces,
numbers: verses, poems
The age to come would say 'This poet lies:
Such heavenly touches ne'er touch'd earthly faces.'
touches: qualities, attributes
So should my papers yellow'd with their age
Be scorn'd like old men of less truth than tongue,
scorned like lying old men
And your true rights be term'd a poet's rage
rage: zeal, passion, enthusiasm
And stretched metre of an antique song:
......But were some child of yours alive that time,
......You should live twice; in it and in my rhyme.
You would live on in your child and in my poetry.
Sonnet 17 Meaning
.......Will future readers of my verse believe me when I tell them about all of your superior qualities? So far, I have only hinted at these qualities because a full description of them would make readers doubt that anyone could have such extraordinary attributes. They would call me a liar. They would say I am
exaggerating (with stretched meter). However, if you marry and father a child, people will see a reflection of you in the child and, thus, my poetry about you will be taken as the truth.
Sonnet 18 (Addressed to the Unidentified Young Man)
.......This sonnet is presented and explained on the main page (The Sonnet: A Study Guide). It is probably the most popular of all the sonnets because of the beauty of its poetry and rhythm. It is differs from the previous 17 sonnets in one key respect: It does not urge the young man
to marry and have children. The reason for this new approach is that the author is now convinced that his poetry alone is enough to preserve the memory of the young man's outstanding qualities.
Sonnet 22 (Addressed to the Unidentified Young Man)
My glass shall not persuade me I am old,
glass: mirror. Lines 1-2: I will never grow old as long as you remain
So long as youth and thou are of one date;
as young as youth itself (a personification in which youthfulness is a
But when in thee time's furrows I behold,
person who never ages). time's furrows: aging, wrinkles
Then look I death my days should expiate.
Line 4: Then let death claim me as payment for my sins (days)
For all that beauty that doth cover thee
Lines 5-8: My heart wears your beauty like clothing (seemly
Is but the seemly raiment of my heart,
raiment); this beauty lives in you and me, so how can I be older
Which in thy breast doth live, as thine in me:
How can I then be elder than thou art?
O, therefore, love, be of thyself so wary
be . . . will: be concerned about your welfare; be as concerned about
As I, not for myself, but for thee will;
it as I am
Bearing thy heart, which I will keep so chary
chary: safe; free from harm
As tender nurse her babe from faring ill.
......Presume not on thy heart when mine is slain;
Lines 13-14: Do not presume that your heart will go on beating
......Thou gavest me thine, not to give back again.
when mine stops, for your heart and mine are the same. These lines
could be a warning not to cross the poet.
Sonnet 22 Meaning
.......Even though my mirror tells me that I am aging, the poet says, I will not grow old while you remain young. However, when I see wrinkles (times furrows) on your face, then I will look for death to come for me and take me as payment for any offenses I may have committed in my life. Your heart and mine are bound
together, and I will guard yours as carefully as a nurse caring for a baby. But do not presume that you will be unaffected when my heart is no longer able to beat for you. Here, the poet appears to be warning the young man that ending their relationship would have adverse consequences.
Sonnet 33 (Addressed to the Unidentified Young Man)
Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye,
Flatter: beautify; sovereign eye: majestic sunlight
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Kissing with golden face: shining on
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy;
heavenly alchemy: reflected sunlight, dancing sunbeams
Anon permit thebasest clouds to ride
Anon . . . basest: but soon the morning permits the darkest
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
rack: mass of drifting clouds
And from the forlorn world his visage hide,
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace:
moving westward above the cloud cover
Even so my sun one early morn did shine
my sun: the young man; did shine: looked (on me) favorably
With all triumphant splendor on my brow;
the young man
But out, alack! he was but one hour mine;
alack: alas. Something came between them.
The region cloud hath mask'd him from me now.
region cloud hath mask'd: cloud above me hid him from me
.....Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth;
But I won't hold his behavior against him
.....Suns of the world may stain when heaven's sun staineth.
Problems darken human relationships, just as clouds hide the sun
Sonnet 33 Meaning
.......This sonnet is a metaphor that compares the young man to the sun. In the morning the sun turns its sovereign eye (light) on the mountaintops, then on the green meadows and streams. (In other words, when all is well between the poet and the young man, everything is cheerful and bright.) However, dark clouds come
between the sun and the earth (just as a barrierperhaps a disagreementhas apparently come between the two men). Then, obscured by the clouds, the sun continues on its daily journey across the sky. Nevertheless, the poet says, he will not diminish his love and admiration for the young man. After all, the last two lines say, human relationships cloud over from time to time just as the sky does.
The implication here is that the clouds will eventually move on and the sun will shine again.
.......The word flatter in the second line could indicate that the poetdespite the forgiving attitude he mentions in Line 13may be a bit peeved. In most
dictionaries, one of the definitions for flattery is insincere praise. Thus, it could be that Shakespeare is chiding the young man for giving perfunctory, artificial praise, then returning to his celestial orbit and remaining there.
.......In the fifth line, basest clouds appears to refer to despicable persons or regrettable circumstances that estranged the two men.
Sonnet 35 (Addressed to the Unidentified Young Man)
No more be grieved at that which thou hast done:
Do not fret over your offense (see "Meaning" below)
Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud;
Nothing is perfect
Clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun,
stain: darken, pollute
And loathsome canker lives in sweetest bud.
canker: plant disease caused by bacteria or fungi
All men make faults, and even I in this,
I myself may be faulted
Authorizing thy trespass with compare,
For excusing your offense with my comparisons (in Lines 2-4)
Myself corrupting, salving thy amiss,
I corrupt myself by playing down your offense (amiss)
Excusing thy sins more than thy sins are;
Offering greater forgiveness than your sins require
For to thy sensual fault I bring in sense--
sensual fault: perhaps lust; bring in sense: bring reason, common
Thy adverse party is thy advocate--
Although I am the offended party, I am your defender
And 'gainst myself a lawful plea commence:
In fact, I even bring accuse myself of an offense
Such civil war is in my love and hate
For I am so concerned in my love for your and hatred for what you did
.....That I an accessary needs must be
That I have become your accomplice in forgiving you
.....To that sweet thief which sourly robs from me.
You who have robbed me of your presence.
Sonnet 35 Meaning
.......The poet continues to reprove the young man for an offense, which the poet does not specify. The word sensual in Line 9 suggests that the offense may have been a sin of the flesh. Using legal terms such as advocate (Line 10), lawful plea
(Line 11), and accessary (accessory) (Line 13), the poet says he, too, is guilty, since he has decided to overlook the offense.
Sonnet 42 (Addressed to the Unidentified Young Man, Chiding Him for Stealing the Poet's Female Companion)
That thou hast her, it is not all my grief,
And yet it may be said I loved her dearly;
That she hath thee, is of my wailing chief,
That she has you is a source of misery for me
A loss in love that touches me more nearly.
Loving offenders, thus I will excuse ye:
Loving offenders: young man and woman as betrayers; loving is an
Thou dost love her, because thou knowst I love her;
.....adjective; loving offenders is used in direct address
And for my sake even so doth she abuse me,
abuse: deceive, betray
Suffering my friend for my sake to approve her.
allowing my friend to have an affair with her
If I lose thee, my loss is my love's gain,
The loss of my friend is the woman's gain
And losing her, my friend hath found that loss;
My loss of the woman is my friend's gain
Both find each other, and I lose both twain,
And both for my sake lay on me this cross:
.....But here's the joy; my friend and I are one;
my friend and I are the same person--that is, united in love
.....Sweet flattery! then she loves but me alone.
Sonnet 42 Meaning
.......You now have the woman whom I love dearly. That she has given herself to you deeply hurts me, although I will excuse both of you for offending me. You love her because you know I love her, and she abuses me by allowing you to love her. If I lose you, my loss is
her gain. And now that I have lost her, my loss is your gain. Both of you have found each other, meaning I have lost both of you and now have a cross to bear. But here's the saving grace of it all: My friend and I are united in our love and friendship; therefore, if she loves him, she also loves me.
Sonnet 49 (Addressed to the Unidentified Young Man)
Against that time, if ever that time come,
Against: In preparation for
When I shall see thee frown on my defects,
When as thy love hath cast his utmost sum,
cast . . . sum: taken a full accounting (evaluated the poet)
Call'd to that audit by advised respects;
advised respects: by your observance of me
Against that time when thou shalt strangely pass
strangely pass: walk by like a stranger
And scarcely greet me with that sun thine eye,
that . . . eye: your eye, which is like the sun
When love, converted from the thing it was,
converted . . . was: diminished, lessened
Shall reasons find of settled gravity,--
you will find serious reasons (to go your separate way)
Against that time do I ensconce me here
do . . . .here: do here entrench myself like a warrior
Within the knowledge of mine own desert,
With the knowledge of my own qualities, including shortcomings
And this my hand against myself uprear,
And am ready to disclose my faults
To guard the lawful reasons on thy part:
In order to defend you against criticism
.....To leave poor me thou hast the strength of laws,
You have good reasons to abandon me
.....Since why to love I can allege no cause.
Since I cannot give you rational reasons for you to remain.
Sonnet 49 Meaning
.......Here is what Shakespeare says, on the surface, to the young man:
Suppose a time comes when my flaws become annoying to you and, as a result, you
evaluate our friendshipweighing the pluses and minuses as a bookkeeper does. Suppose a time comes when you walk by, hardly even noticing me, because your regard for me is no longer what it was and you have settled upon reasons to break off our relationship. Well, if such a time does come and our relationship ends, I will still hold you in fond memory and, like a soldier, defend your reputation
against anyone who criticizes you for your action. I will defend you by pointing out my faults, noting that they are good reasons for you to go your own way. With all my defects, I will not be able to make a good case for you to stay.
what Shakespeare may be saying below the surface:
I have always sincerely valued our friendship without being petty or calling attention to your flaws. But youyou are like an accountant who wants everything to add up. The time may come when everything does not add up, in your mind,
and you will then end our friendship. Like a mathematician, you will examine me as if you were examining an equation. Or, like a judge in a court of law, you will weigh me in the scales of justice. Then you will find reasons to justify your action. I will not protest because I will not be able to present legalisms that explain my fondness for you. Nevertheless, I will always defend you and speak
no ill of you.
Sonnet 60 (Addressed to the Young Man)
Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
Like . . . end: Simile comparing the speed of the passage of time to
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
to the speed of waves moving toward a shore
Each changing place with that which goes before,
One wave takes the place of the wave that was there moments before.
In sequent toil all forward do contend.
This action is repeated without end.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Nativity: early life; main of light: morning light without shadows
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown'd,
Crawls to maturity: Young people crawl figuratively, like a baby
Crooked eclipses 'gainst his glory fight,
Crooked eclipses: effects of aging (metaphor: aging dims the light)
And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.
Time now becomes an enemy
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth
transfix: paralyze, stop (the ability to bloom and flourish)
And delves the parallels in beauty's brow,
delves the parallels: carves wrinkles in the brow
Feeds on the rarities of nature's truth,
And consumes youthfulness
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow:
Eventually death (scythe) cuts down the aging man
.....And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,
However, I hope my verse will remain (continued on next line)
.....Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.
to praise all of your worthy qualities
Sonnet 60 Meaning
.......This sonnet says time passes swiftly, just as swiftly as ocean waves rushing toward a shore. The word minutes in Line 2 and the number of the sonnet, 60, suggest that life passes like the 60 minutes in an hour. Although a young
man stands for a while in the bright sunlight of youth, advancing age will all-too-soon appear as a cloud that hides the sun. Wrinkles will appear and infirmities will develop. Eventually, deathwith its scythewill come to reap its harvest. However, the poets verse will live on to extol the qualities of the man as he was in his youth.
Sonnet 61 (Addressed to the Young Man)
Is it thy will thy image should keep open
Is it you--the image of you--
My heavy eyelids to the weary night?
That keeps me awake at night.
Dost thou desire my slumbers should be broken,
Do you want me to stay awake
While shadows like to thee do mock my sight?
shadows . . . thee: images resembling the young man
Is it thy spirit that thou send'st from thee
Is what I see your spirit, which you sent to me
So far from home into my deeds to pry,
To watch what I do
To find out shames and idle hours in me,
And discover my shames and what I do in idle hours?
The scope and tenor of thy jealousy?
scope and tenor: extent and nature (of the jealousy)
O, no! thy love, though much, is not so great:
I don't think so. Your love for me is not that great.
It is my love that keeps mine eye awake;
It is my love for you that keeps me awake.
Mine own true love that doth my rest defeat,
My love for you prevents me from sleeping/
To play the watchman ever for thy sake:
I stay up for your sake.
.....For thee watch I whilst thou dost wake elsewhere,
I watch for you while you are somewhere else,
.....From me far off, with others all too near.
Somewhere far off, where others are keeping you company.
Sonnet 61 Meaning
.......While the young man is out entertaining guests, Shakespeare lies awake seeing images of him. He asks whether the images he sees were sent by the young man, perhaps to spy on him. Then he answers his own question by saying that the
young man could not have sent the images, since the young mans love for him is not that great. No, what keeps Shakespeare awake is his love for the young man. The poet is ever on the watch for the young man to appear even though the young man is apparently elsewhere enjoying the company of other acquaintances. There is a bit of irony in this poem, in that Shakespeare wonders whether the youth is
watching him, evening prying, when it is Shakespeare who is ever vigilant and watchful.
Sonnet 71 (Addressed to the Unidentified Young Man)
No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Mourn for me only as long as the bell tolls
Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
bell: church bell at funeral
Give warning to the world that I am fled
I am fled: I am dead
From this vile world, with vilest worms to dwell:
with vilest worms to dwell: to rest in my grave
Nay, if you read this line, remember not
The hand that writ it; for I love you so
That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot
If thinking on me then should make you woe.
O, if, I say, you look upon this verse
If you read this after I am dead
When I perhaps compounded am with clay,
compounded with clay: buried
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse.
don't even mention my name
But let your love even with my life decay,
and let your love for me die
......Lest the wise world should look into your moan
Otherwise, the world might see you grieving
......And mock you with me after I am gone.
and mock you for it.
Sonnet 71 Meaning
.......When I am dead, don't mourn for me any longer than it takes to hear the doleful church bell ring at my funeral, alerting the world that I have left the world to live in a grave with worms. No, if you read this line, don't remember the hand that wrote it. For I
love you so much that I don't want you to fret over me if doing so will make you sad. O, if, you read this verse when I am buried in clay, do not so much as mention my insignificant name. Instead, let your love decay, just as I decay, lest the world mock you for hanging onto the memory of me.
Sonnet 73 (Addressed to the Unidentified Young Man)
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
behold: notice, realize that
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
bare ruin'd choirs: metaphor comparing the branches to church choirs
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
Death's second self: night is like death
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
the fire of life is dying; only embers remain on ashes
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourish'd by.
paradox: consumed by the love (fire) that nourished him
......This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
When you realize that I am dying
......To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
you will love me all the more. (See third paragraph below.)
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Sonnet 73 Meaning
......In this sonnet, Shakespearethough young when he wrote itassumes the persona of an old man reflecting on his advancing age. Here is what he tells the young man:
......I am like trees as they appear late in the yeareither autumn (signified by yellow leaves) or early winter (signified by none) when most or all of the leaves have fallen from the trees. The boughs of the trees, once alive with choirs of singing birds, now are barelike empty seats in the chancel or choir loft of a decaying church. (Many churches and monasteries in
Shakespeares day were in ruins as a result of King Henry VIIIs crackdown on Catholicism before Shakespeare was born.) I am also like evening after the sunset fadeth. The blackness of night, or death, will eventually take me, sealing me from life as I lie at eternal rest. Finally, I am like dying embers on ashesthe burned-out remnants of the fire of my youth.
......The last two lines are addressed to the young man. They appear to have two meanings: (1) You will love the old man all the more because you know that I am near death; (2) you will love and appreciate your own life more because you now realize that the green leaf
of youth will soon turn yellow and fall.
Sonnet 79 (Addressed to the Unidentified Young Man as a Complaint About the Rival Poet)
Whilst I alone did call upon thy aid,
When only I wrote about you
My verse alone had all thy gentle grace,
and only my poetry captured your gentle qualities
But now my gracious numbers are decay'd
Now I have worn myself out writing about you; numbers: poems
And my sick Muse doth give another place.
sick Muse: flagging, overtaxed creativity
I grant, sweet love, thy lovely argument
argument: excellent qualities that "argue" for attention
Deserves the travail of a worthier pen,
travail: writing, poetry; the work of writing poetry
Yet what of thee thy poet doth invent
whatever quality this other poet writes about
He robs thee of and pays it thee again.
See paragraph below
He lends thee virtue and he stole that word
See paragraph below
From thy behavior; beauty doth he give
See paragraph below
And found it in thy cheek; he can afford
See paragraph below
No praise to thee but what in thee doth live.
See paragraph below
......Then thank him not for that which he doth say,
See paragraph below
......Since what he owes thee thou thyself dost pay.
See paragraph below
Sonnet 79 Meaning
......When only I wrote about you, mine was the only poetry that extolled your gentle virtues. However, now that I have worn myself out praising you in verse, another poet has taken my place and is writing his own poems about you. Of course, I realize that your lovely qualities deserve the attention of another poet. Yet
all he seems to do is reflect your virtues in words--that is, he takes your good qualities, then simply gives them back to you. He doesn't really interpret you creatively; he merely repeats what is already written in your behavior or in your cheek. Thus, you don't owe him any thanks for what he writes about you. In fact, he owes you thanks for what you are giving him.
Sonnet 81(Addressed to the Unidentified Young Man)
Or I shall live your epitaph to make,
I shall live to make your epitaph
Or you survive when I in earth am rotten;
so that you will live on in my words when I am dead
From hence your memory death cannot take,
hence: the epitaph; You will be remembered by the epitaph (poetry)
Although in me each part will be forgotten.
Whereas I will be forgotten.
Your name from hence immortal life shall have,
Your name will live forever
Though I, once gone, to all the world must die:
Although mine will die
The earth can yield me but a common grave,
While I am entombed in earth
When you entombed in men's eyes shall lie.
You will be entombed in fame
Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Since my poetry will preserve your memory
Which eyes not yet created shall o'er-read,
Future generations will read about you
And tongues to be your being shall rehearse
tongues to be: future generations; being...rehearse: shall speak of you
When all the breathers of this world are dead;
After everyone living today is dead
......You still shall live--such virtue hath my pen--
You will live on, thanks to my poetry,
......Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men.
In the stories told by men.
Sonnet 81 Meaning
......Shakespeare says his poetry about the young man will immortalize the youth. It will serve as an epitaph that future generations will read and talk about. Although Shakespeare himself will lie in a humble grave, forgotten, the young man will "lie" in a memorial of fame constructed by Shakespeare's poetry. After
everyone in the world of Shakespeare and the young man is dead, the young man will continue to live in Shakespeare's words. (Shakespeare, of course, was right about one thing: He did immortalize the young man. But he was wrong about another: that he himself, as author of the sonnets, would be forgotten.)
Sonnet 91(Addressed to the Unidentified Young Man)
Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,
Some in their: Repetition of this phrase is an example of anaphora.
Some in their wealth, some in their bodies' force,
birth: social status
Some in their garments, though new-fangled ill,
new-fangled ill: new (clothes) but garish or tawdry
Some in their hawks and hounds, some in their horse;
hawks, hounds, horse: examples of alliteration
And every humour hath his adjunct pleasure,
humour hath his: continuation of alliteration from the previous line
Wherein it finds a joy above the rest:
humour: caprice; notion; impulse; whim
But these particulars are not my measure;
Lines 6, 7: I am not concerned about social status, money, clothes,
All these I better in one general best.
or sports. What means the most to me is your love; it is better than
Thy love is better than high birth to me,
being born into nobility or aristocracy.
Richer than wealth, prouder than garments' cost,
Richer, prouder: parallel structure
Of more delight than hawks or horses be;
Lines 11-14: Because you mean more than hawks, horses or other
And having thee, of all men's pride I boast:
pursuits, I would be wretched if you ignored me.
......Wretched in this alone, that thou mayst take
......All this away and me most wretched make.
Sonnet 91 Meaning
......Some men glory in having a prestigious family name. Others glory in special talentsor perhaps their wealth or physical strength. Still others take great pride in wearing the latest fashions, even though sometimes they choose horrid apparel. And there are all sorts of other things that command the attention of men.
As for me, I prize your love above all else. It is better than horses and hawks and all of the other pursuits and pleasures. However, if you choose to ignore me, I will become woeful and desolate.
Sonnet 100(Addressed to the Muse That Inspires Shakespeare)
Where art thou, Muse, that thou forget'st so long
Muse: Greek goddess who inspired poets
To speak of that which gives thee all thy might?
To speak of the young man, an excellent subject to focus on
Spend'st thou thy fury on some worthless song,
Have you been spending your time on worthless tasks?
Darkening thy power to lend base subjects light?
Lowering yourself by focusing on unworthy subjects?
Return, forgetful Muse, and straight redeem
Come back and inspire me, thereby redeeming
In gentle numbers time so idly spent;
Yourself for time ill spent by inspiring new, gentle poems
Sing to the ear that doth thy lays esteem
Help me create these that please the ear of the young man
And gives thy pen both skill and argument.
Making the lines that you inspire admirable and full of meaning
Rise, resty Muse, my love's sweet face survey,
Rise from your rest and look at the beautiful young man
If Time have any wrinkle graven there;
See whether time has put wrinkles in his face
If any, be a satire to decay,
If there are wrinkles, ridicule them
And make Time's spoils despised every where.
And, for good measure, make everyone hate Time
......Give my love fame faster than Time wastes life;
Help my poetry to give the young man fame before Time wastes him
......So thou prevent'st his scythe and crooked knife.
You must keep Time from reaping him with His scythe and knife.
Sonnet 100 Meaning
apparently been experiencing writers block or some other problem hindering him from producing new poems about the young man. So, in this sonnet, he asks the Muse for new enthusiasm, new ideas, so that he may continue to extol the virtues of the young man. A Muse was a Greek goddess. There were nine of them in all. It was believed that they infused poets, painters, and other artists with the fire
of creativity. Shakespeare, of course, did not believe in goddesses. He was simply using the word Muse as a metaphor for the intellectual stimulation required to write a good poem. Since ancient times, writers have used Muse in this way. In modern America, we call upon the metaphorical "Uncle Sam" to protect us against enemies or "Lady Luck" to bring us good fortune in a gambling
casino. And, we also call upon the "Muse" to inspire us to write a good essay for English 101.
Sonnet 104(Addressed to the Unidentified Young Man)
To me, fair friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I eyed,
when . . . eyed: when I first saw you
Such seems your beauty still. Three winters cold
Three winters cold: three years
Have from the forests shook three summers' pride,
Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turn'd
In process of the seasons have I seen,
Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burn'd,
Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green.
Ah! yet doth beauty, like a dial-hand,
dial-hand: hand of a sun dial or a clock
Steal from his figure and no pace perceived;
no pace perceived: time seems to be standing still
So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth stand,
Hath motion and mine eye may be deceived:
hath motion: continues to age
......For fear of which, hear this, thou age unbred;
thou age unbred: all of you who haven't been born yet
.....Ere you were born was beauty's summer dead.
before you were born, beauty (the young man) died.
Sonnet 104 Meaning
......In my eyes, you can never be old, for you look the same now as you did when I first saw you. You still retain your beauty. Since that time, three cold winters have shaken the leaves of three summers off the trees, and three beautiful springs have turned into the yellow color of autumn. During those three years, the
fresh fragrance of three Aprils burned away in the hot sun of three Junes. Yet still you are young, unchanged. The hand of the clock may be stealing your beauty, but hand must be moving very slowly because I perceive no change in you. Your sweet complexion still looks the same, even though it is aging, but I realize time may be deceiving my eye. In fear that I am being deceived, I urge you who
have yet to be born, all of you of future generations, to pay attention to this observation: You cannot grow up to be truly beautiful, because beauty--which has been fully and supremely realized in the young man I am writing about--will die when he dies. In him, beauty has used itself up.
Sonnet 116(Addressed to the Unidentified Young Man)
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Lines 1-3: When two people bond intellectually (platonically), they
Admit impediments. Love is not love
should not allow impediments (problems, personal flaws, etc.) to come
Which alters when it alteration finds,
between them. Love is not love if impediments separate them.
Or bends with the remover to remove:
bends . . . remove: weakens or succumbs to these impediments in
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
response to an offense by the other person (remover)
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
Lines 5-8: Metaphor comparing the constancy of real love during
It is the star to every wandering bark,
difficult times to the constancy of a star that guides ships (barks)
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
worth's, height: one knows a star is high but does not know its
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Lines 9-12: Time cannot alter true love although, with his sickle, he can
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
cut down youth (rosy lips and cheeks). Love remains constant until
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
.....If this be error and upon me proved,
Lines 13-14: If my observations are proven wrong, I never wrote a word
.....I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
of poetry and never loved.
Sonnet 116 Meaning
The message of this sonnet is simple and straightforward: If a person discovers impediments hampering his relationship with another person, he should not alter his love for that person. On the contrary, his love should remain fixed and constant, like a star that guides ships in a storm. In addition, his love should remain strong even when youth
passesin fact, even to the edge of doom.
Sonnet 128 (Addressed to the Dark Lady)
How oft, when thou, my music, music play'st,
You are my music and when you, my music, play
Upon that blessed wood whose motion sounds
wood: a type of harpsichord called a virginal
With thy sweet fingers, when thou gently sway'st
The wiry concord that mine ear confounds,
wiry concord: the strings of the harpsichord
Do I envy those jacks that nimble leap
jacks: keys on the keyboard that leap up to kiss the lady's hand
To kiss the tender inward of thy hand,
See line above
Whilst my poor lips, which should that harvest reap,
harvest reap: feel the touch of your hands
At the wood's boldness by thee blushing stand!
My lips lack the nerve to kiss your hands
To be so tickled, they would change their state
And situation with those dancing chips,
dancing chips: keys
O'er whom thy fingers walk with gentle gait,
Making dead wood more blest than living lips.
......Since saucy jacks so happy are in this,
......Give them thy fingers, me thy lips to kiss.
Sonnet 128 Meaning
......You are my music. When you play music on the harpsichord, making beautiful sounds, I envy the keys which feel the kiss of your hands. It is I who should feel that kiss. But my lips remain untouched as your fingers walk gently over the keys, making the dead wood of the harpsichord more blest than my own lips. Since
the harpsichord seems happy to know the touch of your fingers, then give it your fingers and give your lips to me.
Sonnet 131(Addressed to the Dark Lady)
Thou art as tyrannous, so as thou art,
You can be a tyrant in being the kind of person that you are
As those whose beauties proudly make them cruel;
like other beauties who act cruel and arrogant
For well thou know'st to my dear doting heart
Thou art the fairest and most precious jewel.
Yet, in good faith, some say that thee behold
some . . . behold: some who look at you say that
Thy face hath not the power to make love groan:
make love groan: make men sigh with desire
To say they err I dare not be so bold,
And, to be sure that is not false I swear,
when I'm alone, I swear that they are wrong
thousand groans, but thinking on thy face,
I groan with desire when I think of your face
One on another's neck, do witness bear
One on another's neck: when we are close
Thy black is fairest in my judgment's place.
Your dark beauty is the fairest kind
Making dead wood more blest than living lips.
......In nothing art thou black save in thy deeds,
deeds: immoral behavior
......And thence this slander, as I think, proceeds.
Sonnet 131 Meaning
......You are tyrannical, such as you are, like others whose beauty makes them cruel. You well know that, to me, you are the fairest and most precious jewel. Yet, in truth, some men who look at you say that your face does not have the power to make them sigh. I will not be so bold as to say that they are wrong, although
I say that to myself when I'm alone. I know I am right about your beauty; the groans of desire I experience when I think of your face bear witness to this fact. Your dark beauty is the fairest kind, in my judgment. You are not black in anything except your reprehensible behavior, which I think is the reason that some men slander your physical beauty.
Sonnet 135(Addressed to the Dark Lady)
Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy 'Will,'
'Will': (1) wish, inclination, desire; (2) Shakespeare's nickname
And 'Will' to boot, and 'Will' in overplus;
'Will': passion, carnality
More than enough am I that vex thee still,
I bother you to point out that there's plenty of me to go around
To thy sweet will making addition thus.
I can fulfill your desire
Wilt thou, whose will is large and spacious,
will: here, will can be taken as referring to her vagina
Not once vouchsafe to hide my will in thine?
will: here will can be taken as referring to his penis
Shall will in others seem right gracious,
will in others: the desires of others
And in my will no fair acceptance shine?
The sea all water, yet receives rain still
And in abundance addeth to his store;
So thou, being rich in 'Will,' add to thy 'Will'
being rich in 'Will': rich with the attention I give you
One will of mine, to make thy large 'Will' more.
......Let no unkind, no fair beseechers kill;
don't refuse (kill) me, for I am kind
......Think all but one, and me in that one 'Will.'.
Sonnet 135 Meaning
......Whoever has the attention of the Dark Lady has his own wish fulfilled and also has Will Shakespeare--in fact, an excess of Will Shakespeare, since my own will, my own desire, is centered in her. I am ever ready to add more of myself to you, dear Dark Lady, to please your will (desire), which is "large and
spacious." Please put my will in your will--that is, desire me the way I desire you. (When Shakespeare speaks of the Dark Lady's "large and spacious" will and then of hiding his will "in thine," he may be alluding to sexual relations.) Does it seem right to accept the will of others while rejecting my will? True, you already have all of me. I am like a sea that fills you up. But the sea, though
full, receives rain and therefore becomes more full. Do the same for me. Although you are already rich in 'Will'--me--receive more of me so that I become an even bigger 'Will' in you.
Sonnet 141(Addressed to the Dark Lady)
In faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes,
In truth it is not your looks that attract me
For they in thee a thousand errors note,
because they have flaws
But 'tis my heart that loves what they despise,
but my heart loves what my eyes do not
Who, in despite of view, is pleased to dote.
Who: the heart; pleased to dote: takes pleasure in your company
Nor are mine ears with thy tongue's tune delighted,
The sound of your voice isn't what attracts me, either
Nor tender feeling, to base touches prone,
nor does touching you
Nor taste, nor smell, desire to be invited
nor do I wish to taste or smell
To any sensual feast with thee alone.
the banquet of your body.
But my five wits nor my five senses can
But: neither; five wits (intellectual powers). See Note 1 below.
Dissuade one foolish heart from serving thee
one foolish heart: Shakespeare's heart
Who leaves unswayed the likeness of man,
you who leave me without any self-control (unswayed)
Thy proud heart's slave and vassal wretch to be.
......Only my plague thus far I count my gain,
But I benefit from being a slave to love
......That she that makes me sin awards me pain.
awards me pain: paradox. See Note 2 below.
......It is not my physical senses that make me love you. After all, my eyes, my ears, and the rest of my five senses perceive flaws in your body. Instead, it is my heart that loves you. But in spite of the way my physical senses see you, they cannot stop my heart from making myself your slave. In this regard, you rob me
of self-control (who leaves unswayed) so that I have no choice but to serve you. Nevertheless, desiring you benefits me.
Note 1: In a footnote on Page 1997 of The Norton Shakespeare, the five wits are identified as common sense, imagination, fancy, judgment, memory.Greenblatt, Stephen, general ed. The Norton Shakespeare. New York: W.W. Norton, 1997. Page 1997.
Note 2: The Norton Shakespeare suggests the following meaning of this line: The Dark Lady causes the author to sin. To erase the sin, he mortifies himselfthat is, he does painful penance which lessens his guilt in the eyes of God and therefore enhances his chances of a favorable destiny in the afterlife.
Sonnet 153(The Lovesick Poet Tries a Spa But Finds No Cure)
Cupid laid by his brand, and fell asleep:
Cupid: god of love, who used a brand to ignite love in human hearts
A maid of Dian's this advantage found,
Dian: Diana, goddess of the hunt and moon; protector of women
And his love-kindling fire did quickly steep
In a cold valley-fountain of that ground;
Which borrow'd from this holy fire of Love
which borrow'd: which took, which absorbed
A dateless lively heat, still to endure,
The waters heated up
And grew a seething bath, which yet men prove
The waters became a steamy bath, a spa, used by men
Against strange maladies a sovereign cure.
But at my mistress' eye Love's brand new-fired,
Cupid's brand received new fire from the eyes of the poet's mistress
The boy for trial needs would touch my breast;
the boy: Cupid
I, sick withal, the help of bath desired,
And thither hied, a sad distemper'd guest,
.....But found no cure: the bath for my help lies
the bath for my help: the cure for my problem
.....Where Cupid got new fire--my mistress' eyes.
Sonnet 153 Meaning
......Cupid put down the burning torch he often used (in place of his arrows) to inflame the human heart with love. Then he fell asleep. One of the maidservants of Diana happened by. (In Roman mythology, Diana, a virgin, was the goddess of the hunt and of the moon. She was also a protector of women.) The mischievous
maidservant stole the firebrand and plunged it into the cold water of a fountain. However, the fire did not go out. Instead, it continued to burn, causing the water to heat up and create a steamy bath in which men could immerse themselves and cure strange illnesses resulting from their romantic relationships. As for Shakespeare, well, he wishes the boy (Cupid) would use on him the fire he
captured from the emotional fire in the eyes of Shakespeare's mistress. Shakespeare is sick with love for her, but when he tried out the bath he found no cure. So the only help for him is the warmth in his mistress's eyes.
Sonnets: Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets Available at Amazon.com
The Sonnets: Charles Robinson Illustrator Available at Amazon.com
Sonnets: Complete Shakespeare Sonnets on
Audiotape Available at Amazon.com
William Shakespeare: A Poet for All Times Available at Amazon.com
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