Sonnet CXVI by William Shakespeare
impediments – obstacles
tempests – storms
sickle – a pole with a hook, used for farming grain
Summary of Sonnet 116
Sonnet 116 is one of the most well-known poems in English literature first published in 1609. This sonnet, like so many others by Shakespeare, is centred on love. In the poem, the sonnet demonstrated the unwavering nature of love. This sonnet by William Shakespeare discusses how love never changes. He asserts that circumstances have no bearing on love. According to him, it does not change over time. He compares it to a lighthouse since it is stationary. He asserts that he is absolutely certain of these details and that, if he is mistaken, the world has never known love. The poet extols the virtues of lovers who freely choose one another and establish a bond of trust and understanding.
The Sonnet is comprised of three quatrains and a couplet at the end that makes up this sonnet a typical English sonnet. Ababcdcdefefgg is the rhyme pattern for this sonnet.
The poet dramatises the nature of love in sonnet 116, not lust or normal affection, but lasting love, which he says is the marriage of true minds that time’s fickleness cannot destroy.
The poem’s main idea is that love has an infinite, immortal, and unending power.
The poet discusses the importance of love and its enduring qualities in the first quatrain. It is distinct from lust or sensuality. The poet does not allow obstacles to the union of true minds. True love is the marriage of true minds. Two people who are in love will always stay true to each other. Love doesn’t change to get away from the taker.
The fact that the second quatrain starts with the word “O no” emphasises how strong and unbreakable love is. Even storms cannot move it because it is a fixed point. True love is a compass for every “wandering bark.” True love gives proper direction to anyone who is an aimless wanderer.
In the last quatrain, the poet describes the time-transcending aspect of true love. The poet says that ‘love is not time’s fool’. Here, he personifies the power of time. It means that love is not under the control of time. True love can’t be stopped by time. Everything in the world is under the spell of time. Even the ‘Rosy lips and cheeks’ are under the control of time. Love doesn’t change in just a few hours or weeks. Real love endures to the very end.
In the couplet, the poet says again what real love is like. If anyone disagrees with the argument, then no man has ever written, and no man has ever loved. But people still love and write, which shows that love is eternal.
Sonnet 116 is a great example of artistic craftsmanship. The poem asserts that true love exists beyond all impediments. It is a great power that transcends space and time. This shows that true love exists despite all obstacles. True love will never fade away.
Line By Line Explanation of 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:
In these lines, Shakespeare is saying that he does not want to allow any obstacles or barriers to get in the way of true love between two people. He then goes on to define what true love is by saying that it is not subject to change or influenced by external factors. It is unchangeable.
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.
In these lines , Shakespeare is saying that true love is unchanging and remains constant even in difficult times. He uses metaphor. He compares love to a fixed star that guides a ship in stormy seas. Although the star’s value cannot be determined, it still serves as a reliable guide to sailors.
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:
In these beautiful lines of the sonnet 116, Shakespeare is saying that true love is not subject to the ravages of time. While physical beauty may fade with age, true love remains unaltered by the passage of time.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
In the final couplet, Shakespeare acknowledges that his definition of true love may be challenged, but he firmly believes in it. He says that if his definition is proven to be wrong, then he has never written anything and no one has ever truly loved. This statement emphasizes the strength of his belief in the power and permanence of true love.
Questions and Answers
1. The second line of the sonnet contains which poetic device(s)?
Answer: “Admit impediments” is an example of assonance, consonance, and internal rhyme.
2. “It is the star to every wandering bark” is an example of what literary device?
Answer: The speaker is comparing love to a star that guides lost ships without using like or as, so it is a metaphor.
3. Why is “Time” capitalized in the ninth line of the poem?
Answer: The speaker/poet has capitalized “Time” to signify its place as a subject and personified noun, “he”. The mention of the sickle implies Father Time.
4. How sure is Shakespeare of his beliefs about love? Cite evidence in your own words to back up your statement.
Answers may vary. Example: In the couplet at the end of this sonnet, Shakespeare says if he is not correct, then he has never written, and no man has ever loved before. He is obviously certain beyond a doubt, since he has written and people have experienced love.
5. How does the tone of this sonnet compare to that in Sir Thomas Wyatt’s poem, “The Lover Showeth How He is Forsaken of Such as He Sometime Enjoyed”?
Answer: The tone of Sir Thomas Wyatt’s poem is uncertain, disappointed, frustrated, and even angry. He feels that love is transient, unfair, and something that cannot be trusted. The tone is depressing and dark. Shakespeare’s sonnet, on the other hand, reflects on love as something that is solid, strong, unbreakable, and trustworthy. The tone is positive and passionate.