Introduction to the poem

William Shakespeare’s sonnets are mostly concerned with love, beauty, which withstands the ravages of Time. In this Sonnet, the narrator advises the “young man” in this piece that “Love isn’t time fools.” While it encompasses a wide variety of subjects and narrative circumstances, it is the human capacity to respond to the force of time ‘brief hours and weeks,’ the seasons of human life ‘ “looks on tempests” / “the edge of doom”’ that formed the thematic heart of the sonnets.

Meaning of the poem

The first quatrain states that there is no obstacle to uniting two minds in love (notice that ‘minds’ are not bodies). Love doesn’t change when it finds a change in the beloved, or when the beloved leaves.

The second quatrain compares love to a fixed point, unmoved or shaken by anyone. It’s a storm. It’s often seen as a fixed star on a wandering ship. Ships used to navigate around the stars.

We can calculate its height in the sky, indicating that we can measure it in some way, but its value is in the heavens and thus a mystery.

The third quatrain says that love is alive with ‘rosy lips and cheeks’ and does not age with time, but endures until the end of time.

The final couplet says that if he’s wrong about the constant essence of love, then he’s never written anything and nobody ever loved, which means that he must be right because Shakespeare is a writer and people have loved it before. He’s proving his case!

Summary of Sonnet 116

Sonnet 116 is the most perfect kind of love. It praises the glory of lovers who have openly come to each other and enter into a relationship founded on honesty, trust and understanding. The first four lines show the joy of the poet in love, which is steady and heavy, and will not “alter when it alteration finds.” The following lines declare that true love is indeed a “ever-fixed mark” that will endure any crisis. But this is not all the definitions of love, in lines 7-8, the poet states that we might be able to quantify love to a degree, but this does not mean that we truly comprehend it. Love’s true essence can not be known — it remains a mystery. The remaining lines of the third quatrain (9-12) reaffirm the perfect essence of love that is unshakeable across time and stays so “ev’n to the edge of doom” or death. In the final couplet, the poet announces that, if he is confused for the constant, immovable essence of true love, he shall take back all his writings on love, truth and faith.


● It is a 14-line sonnet with a standard rhythm scheme.
● It continues with the direct plea ‘Don’t let me.’
● It concludes with a defining couplet that proves his point.
● Two of the major metaphors are those of a star and a ship. The Star is implying a Heavenly body to navigate, which often tells seamen the correct direction, and a ship and is more changeable, subject to tides and weather.
● Time is personified as a fleeting part of life: ‘brief hours and weeks,’ ‘edge of death’
And ‘sickle’s compass’ means the bent blade of the sickle that would cut off a man as he comes across his ‘compass’ circle. The Grim Reaper (Death is commonly Pictured with a scythe, a large sickle). Joy, on the other hand, endures for all eternity.

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1. ever-fixed mark: permanent and unshakeable, always there as a guide to the storm-tossed mariner.

2. marriage of true minds: “true” means constant, faithful, unchanging, truthful and this suggests a union that is non-physical, Platonic and idealistic. The language draws us to think about the marriage service and that is a ceremony designed specifically to marry two people, not two abstract Platonic ideals which have decided to be wed.

3. compass: scope, the arc of the circle created by the sweep of the sickle. Referring to the previous lines, time, with his sickle, sweeps down the mortal lovers, the rosy lips and cheeks as if they were blades of grass.

4. his: all life is fleeting, and human life is measured by the brief hours and weeks of experience. In comparison with the eternity of love, any unit of time is short.

5. rosy lips and cheeks: all mortal beauty but especially between lovers. They are cut down by Time’s sickle.

6.Time’s fool, bending sickle’s compass, brief hours and weeks, the edge of doom: all of these words are related to the time. Time is the most frequently repeated concept and image in the Sonnets. This is the pervasive Renaissance theme of mutability, and the poet presents various ways to defy Time.
— Time’s fool: in terms of the fool employed in large establishments by the nobility, a favoured character whose writing enlivened many a dull day.
— bending sickle: an agricultural implement consisting of a hook-shaped metal blade with a short handle fitted on a tang. “Bending” means
1) curved;
2) causing the grass that it cuts to bend and bow;
3) cutting a curved swathe in the grass.

In this sonnet, the bending sickle implies the “Time” is flying so fast similar to cutting the grass with the bending sickle. But the only difference is that: time is “cutting” away people’s beauty and youth.

7. star: it lights in the high clear-dark sky. The star implies love can guide every lost ship and find the right direction, so they won’t get lost or separate from love.

Points and Explanations

Lines 1-4

The poet is talking about the marriage of true minds. The first two lines draw us to the Christian marriage service and it’s accompanying ceremonies. Love is not love if it changes under changed circumstances. Love is not true if it agrees with the one who wants to dissolve the lover’s union.

Line 5-8

Love is an ever-fixed mark, a lighthouse which looks on tempests but is never shaken. True love is like the pole star which guides every passing ship. Its value is unknown though its height be calculated.

Lines 8-12

True love is not Time’s fool. Time can destroy the rosy lips and cheeks which are indicative of youth and physical beauty. Time is personified as a reaper carrying a sickle with which he cuts man’s life, looks and possessions. But true love is constant and it never alters with time. It can surmount all the obstacles. True love lasts until the end of the world. Nothing can destroy true love.

Lines 13-14

In this concluding couple, the poet justifies and reaffirms his statement that true love is constant and permanent. If anyone proves this statement to be false, then the poet says that he had never written anything and no man ever experienced true love.

Question and Answers (Essays Type)

Q. Write a critical appreciation of the poem sonnet 116.

Answer: Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets, all dealing with the theme of love, time, beauty, friendship and mortality. Sonnet 116 is one of the most widely read poems. The first 126 sonnets are addressed to a young man, with whom the poem speaker is emotionally bound. The rest of the sonnets are addressed to the “Dark Lady.” Love is the most important theme of sonnet 116. The poet glorifies the meaning of true love, which can overcome all obstacles and thus remain unchanged even in the course of time.

This sonnet starts with the reference to the Christian marriage service and its accompanying ceremonies. He ‘s talking about the union of true minds. The poet makes the distinction between true love and unfaithful love. According to him, love is not a love that alters under changed circumstances. True love never changes, except though one of the lovers becomes unfaithful to another.

In the next quatrain, Shakespeare uses two metaphors to bring out the permanence of true love. First, the poet says that love is an ever-fixed mark, a lighthouse that looks like storms but never shakes. Next, he says that love is the pole star that guides every wandering ship in the ocean. Its value is unknown when its height is calculated.

In the third quatrain, the poet reveals the ravages of time. Time being personified as a reaper who carries the sickle with which he cuts man’s life, looks, and possessions. Time will ruin the pink lips and the cheeks, but true love does not depend on physical beauty.

True love will remain unchanged, even in time. Until the end of the world, it will remain the same. It’s constant and permanent, and nothing will change it. The last two lines reaffirm the poet ‘s assertion that true love is constant and permanent. If someone proves that this assertion is false, then the poet claims he never wrote any poetry, and no man has ever known true love.

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Paragraph question

1. Write a note on the theme of the poem.

Answer: Love is the predominant theme of sonnet 116. The poet describes true love as constant and permanent. True love never alters under any changed circumstances. It never changes even when one of the lovers become unfaithful to the other. The poet makes use of two metaphors to bring out the nature of true love. True love is an ever-fixed mark, a lighthouse that looks on tempests but is never shaken. It is the pole star that guides every wandering ship. Love is not subject to the ravages of time. Time can destroy the rosy lips and cheeks which is indicative of youth and beauty. But true love never changes with time. It can surmount all the obstacles and it lasts till the end of the world.

Questions and Answers ( Short Answer Type)

1. What are the different aspects of love that the poet discusses in the sonnet?

Answer: The poet distinguishes between true love and unfaithful love. Love is not love which alters under changed circumstances. True love is constant and permanent which never alters with time. Nothing can destroy it.

2. How will the mutual transfer of the lines 5 and 7 affect the appreciation of the poem?

Answer: The mutual transfer of the lines 5 and 7 does not make any difference in the appreciation of the poem. The lighthouse, an ever-fixed mark is replaced by the pole star which guides every passing ship in the ocean. Both the lighthouse and the pole star refer to the permanence of true love.

3. How many syllables are there in each line? How many words contain more than two syllables?

Answer: There are ten syllables in each line. Words like ‘impediments’, ‘alteration’, ‘remover’, and ‘wandering’ contain more than two syllables.

4. Majority of the words (more than 75 per cent) in the sonnet are monosyllabic. Do they produce any special effect?

Answer: The use of monosyllabic words in each line gives a special tone and rhythm to the poem.

5. Did you closely examine the content words? Are they simple and familiar?

Answer: The content words like love, time, ever-fixed mark, star are simple and familiar.

6. Spot instances of alliteration, personification, internal rhyme.

Alliteration: 1) Love is not Love

2) alters when it alteration finds

3) remover to remove

Personification: Time is personified as a man carrying a sickle with which he cuts man’s life, looks and possessions.

Internal rhyme: Which alters when it alteration finds. Bends with the remover to remove.

7. What is the rhyme scheme of the sonnet?

Answer: The rhyme scheme of this sonnet is abab, cdcd, efef, gg

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