Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Here is Shakespeare’s famous 116th sonnet, which is a sonnet about love but not a love sonnet. It does not express the poet’s love for a person, but deals with the nature of love itself. You could read it as a kind of check list to see whether you are really in love or just infatuated by some superficial attribute of the person you are attracted to.

Or you can read it as just one more fabulous poem from the master himself…

Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments; love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove.

O no, it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wandering bark,

Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle’s compass come;

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

    If this be error and upon me proved,

    I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

From <http://www.stagemilk.com/best-shakespeare-sonnets/>

So let’s see how Shakespeare defines the nature of true love:

  • It is the coming together of two minds which makes true lover – physical attraction, the coming together of two bodies, has nothing to do with it;
  • Love is consistent, it does not disappear when the loved one changes, it is steadfast, you could say love is not fickle; this notion is repeated four times over, in lines three to eight, each time with a different metaphor. External events, circumstances, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune cannot weaken love, if that is true love;
  • Love does not fade with time, even if time take its toll on health and beauty, love will last from the time of youth to the time of old age.

These are high standards indeed, Shakespeare knows love should be taken seriously and if so can last. The final two lines proclaim the poet’s confidence in his doctrine of love. If someone should prove that his thesis is not the case, then it would be as if all Shakespeare’s words and all human experience of love would be wasted.

Once again, Shakespeare elevates all our humanity, using language which is direct and striking. How on earth did he keep doing this in everything he wrote?

The Poetry Dude

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;


This sonnet by Shakespeare shows off his playfulness, both acknowledging and making fun of the conventions of love poetry of his time, when the various attributes of female loved ones most often call upon a small number of images and metaphors. Of course, Shakespeare was equally as capable of using these images in the same way as all the other poets, but here he takes a step back and draws our attention, and his own, to the limitations of the conventional poetic language most often used. It is also useful as a permanent reminder that, whenever and wherever used, metaphors are figurative, not literal, and that truth carries over into all spheres of life. We would do well to remember it and know how to recognize the metaphor.


My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun (Sonnet 130)


William Shakespeare, 1564 – 1616



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.


From <https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/my-mistress-eyes-are-nothing-sun-sonnet-130>


Having said that, when you read this poem, you might get the impression that Shakespeare’s lovers eyes are dulled, her breasts are sallow, her cheeks pale, her breath smelly, and her voice rasping. Which all might well have been true. But, poet and smooth talker as he is, Shakespeare makes it all OK again with the final couplet in which he proclaims the depth of his love.


The Poetry Dude

O how much more doth beauty beauteous seem, 

For today’s poem we return to the master sonneteer, at least in the English language, as momentum builds up to celebrate the 400th anniversary of his passing. This sonnet, number 54, praises the craft of the poet in transforming transient beauty into a more permanent record of beauty, both in its subject matter and in itself. Shakespeare has covered all the angles, as you would expect from the greatest wordsmith in the English language.


O how much more doth beauty beauteous seem,
By that sweet ornament which truth doth give!
The rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem
For that sweet odour which doth in it live.

The canker-blooms have full as deep a dye
As the perfumed tincture of the roses,
Hang on such thorns and play as wantonly
When summer’s breath their masked buds discloses:

But, for their virtue only is their show,
They live unwoo’d and unrespected fade,
Die to themselves. Sweet roses do not so;

Of their sweet deaths are sweetest odours made:
And so of you, beauteous and lovely youth,
When that shall fade, my verse distills your truth.

From <http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/54.html&gt;

Brilliant. Beauty, the girl, the rose is self-evident and appreciated by the eye and in the moment. But it is the poet conveying the “sweet ornament of truth”, perpetuating the “sweet odour” which gives true beauty its everlasting impact. This is implicit throughout the sonnet, but becomes explicit, in case we had missed the point, in the final two lines – when beauty fades, as it must, the poem will still convey the beauty that once was.

The contrast in the body of the poem is between the true beauty of the rose and the illusory beauty of the “canker-blooms”, thorny weeds which nevertheless give off a sweet scent. People will enjoy the scent while it lasts but nobody will commemorate these weeds in verse, so they will “die to themselves” and then be forgotten.

And of course Shakespeare was right. Here we are appreciating the beauty of the girl and the rose through his poem 400 years or so later…

The Poetry Dude

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,

Here is an uplifting sonnet from Shakespeare in which he describes being lonely, alone, sad and depressed, but then brought back to a joyous state by thinking of his loved one. It is an object lesson in positive thinking and mental resilience; a fine application of the advice to count your blessings whenever you are feeling low.


When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur’d like him, like him with friends possess’d,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising

From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

From <http://shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/29.html&gt;

For the short space of 14 lines, there is a fine dramatic progression in this poem, a compact but meaningful psychological journey, grounded in plausible experience.

The first four lines see the poet cast down, in disgrace, alone, weeping and lamenting his fate. There is an accumulation of misfortune and sadness which will make the reader think there is no hope for the poet and he is at risk of jumping off the nearest bridge.

The second four lines ramp up the sorrow as the poet not only reflects on his own misfortunes, but adds the angst of comparing his situation with more fortunate fellows, better looking, having friends, having skills and occupation. But he realises that he is not content with what he has.

And then in the ninth line, the mood begins to change, signalled with great economy by the word “yet”, meaning there may be another side to this sorry story. Ye, he is full of self-pity or worse, but suddenly the poet begins to think of his loved one and he comes alive again. And not only does he come alive but he feels he can sing like a lark at heaven’s gate. The power of love, even though the lover is clearly absent, transforms the poet’s sadness and self pity into contentment and satisfaction. The psychological journey is complete and both the poet and the reader can relax with a smile.

For absence makes the heart grow fonder.

The Poetry Dude

When in the chronicle of wasted time

Shakespeare’s sonnets, as well as his plays, are a rich source of insight into all aspects of love (and of course most other human characteristics). His inventiveness is a constant source of pleasure as his poems images and references and vocabulary combine to create fresh and novel perspectives on his subject.
In this poem, Shakespeare turns his attention to a declaration of love, using history and tradition to support his case, but proposing that his current love surpasses all that the ancient chroniclers and historians could imagine.

Sonnet 106: When in the chronicle of wasted time

When in the chronicle of wasted time
I see descriptions of the fairest wights,
And beauty making beautiful old rhyme
In praise of ladies dead and lovely knights,

Then, in the blazon of sweet beauty’s best,
Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow,
I see their antique pen would have express’d
Even such a beauty as you master now.

So all their praises are but prophecies
Of this our time, all you prefiguring;
And, for they look’d but with divining eyes,

They had not skill enough your worth to sing:
For we, which now behold these present days,
Have eyes to wonder, but lack tongues to praise.

From <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174369&gt;

The first four lines set out the premise; the poet reads the ancient chronicles of history and sees descriptions of beautiful ladies and bold knights, paragons of their qualities of beauty, virtue, and bravery. The “chronicle of wasted time” stands for the texts of history and legend, such as Shakespeare used as sources when writing such plays as Macbeth and King Lear. Anachronistically, the phrase also brings to mind a Proustian echo, pre-dating La Recherche du Temps Perdu by 400 years. It is quite possible Proust knew this poem, of course.

The second four lines link the past, the beauty of history and legend with the present, saying that the ancient writers have showed they are would want to write about the beauty of the poet’s current lover, which, by association must be equal or superior to the beauties described in the chronicles of old.

Extending the metaphor, Shakespeare says that the chronicles are therefore prophecies of the beauty of his lover that the poet sees before him, beauty of such splendour that the ancient writers would not be able to describe it adequately; just as contemporary writers would be able to wonder at the beauty with their eyes but not find the right words to describe it.

And of course, by writing this poem, and others of the same type, Shakespeare disproves his conclusion, firmly setting himself up above the ancient chroniclers and other contemporary writers. Looks like he was right.

The Poetry Dude

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,

Here is a sonnet from Shakespeare which, as so often, homes in with razor-sharp insight on to an aspect of the human condition which we rarely confront – the passage of time, inevitable aging and mortality, but we continue to cultivate hope. And he does it so beautifully, with each word making its mark. He is the master…

Sonnet LX

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown’d,
Crooked eclipses ‘gainst his glory fight,
And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth
And delves the parallels in beauty’s brow,
Feeds on the rarities of nature’s truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow:
And yet to times in hope, my verse shall stand
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.

From <http://www.shakespeares-sonnets.com/sonnet/60&gt;

And look at the balance of the poem – the first twelve lines inexorably going through the unstoppable effects of time, from birth to youth, to maturity, to old age until nothing stands in the way of death, waiting with its scythe to take yet another life. I especially appreciate the image of time which “delves the parallels in beauty’s brow” – bringing lines and wrinkles on to the face which was beautiful in its youth.

But the last two lines show us that we have a choice -we can choose hope, effort, endeavour, achievement even as Time moves us on through the passage of a life. Yes, we will all end up dead, but we can ensure we are not forgotten if we continue striving, hoping, and working. Inspirational, Mr. S.

The Poetry Dude

To me, fair friend, you never can be old,

We are well overdue to have another Shakespeare sonnet on this blog, so today is the day. This is a love poem, but it is not a poem of falling in love, of hot passion and wild excitement. Rather it is a poem about keeping love alive as time passes, of continuing to find new ways to appreciate your lover as you get more, or too familiar with him or her. So this is dedicated to all those couples who stay together and keep on finding new ways to be in love.

Sonnet 104
To me, fair friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I eyed,
Such seems your beauty still. Three winters cold
Have from the forests shook three summers’ pride,
Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turned
In process of the seasons have I seen,
Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burned,
Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green.
Ah, yet doth beauty, like a dial hand,
Steal from his figure and no pace perceived;
So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth stand,
Hath motion and mine eye may be deceived;
For fear of which, hear this, thou age unbred:
Ere you were born was beauty’s summer dead.

From <http://www.stagemilk.com/best-shakespeare-sonnets/&gt;

The first line celebrates the endurance of love, if both people want it that way. The lover is also a friend, and the poet will never see her as old, even as they age together. The poem goes on to stress that three years have passed since the lover’s met, and Shakespeare methodically goes through descriptions of the changing seasons – three winters, three summers, three springs, three autumns, three Aprils and three Junes, each season acting to frame in a different way the beauty of the poet’s lover.

But then we see an interesting tension between heart and head, between knowledge and perception, fully acknowledged by Shakespeare. He acknowledges that the passage of time can transform and dim the beauty of youth, but his eye can be deceived by continuing to see the beauty which justifies his love.

The final two lines gloriously accentuate the strength of the poet’s love – the beauty of summer is dead in comparison with her beauty in his mind’s eye.

The genius of Shakespeare – surprising, challenging, dazzling – read, re-read and read again…

The Poetry Dude