Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Sonnet 116

(Sonnet CXVI)

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.

Sonnet 116 is probably one of the most famous Shakespearean sonnets. It is quoted by many literature teachers when they need to provide an example of structure and form, versification and rhyme. However, I want to discuss its meaning rather than the A-B-A-B rhyme and such. After all, I believe it is way more important to understand the content of a poem because even someone who can barely read would realize that ‘minds’ rhymes with ‘finds’ and such…

This sonnet was first published more than four centuries ago, back in 1609. Ever since, it has been quoted and analyzed by many, and most agree on the fact that the whole poem is a definition of true love. We all believe we can recognize true love when we experience it, but do we? The Bard arguments that true love is an ever lasting love, so if it fades, then it was probably something else (infatuation is not true love, and modern psychology would probably agree on that!).

Despite the difficulties, love should stand. Love should last all through the distance, and the time passing by, because it is constant and unchanging. True love is compared to marriage in a religious sense in at least two ways in the sonnet: first, the word ‘marriage’ itself appears on the first verse, although metaphorically meaning ‘union’; second, when Shakespeare writes “But bears it out even to the edge of doom.”, that is the equivalent of “till death do us part”.

How can something as deep and obscure as love be defined? The Bard achieves it (who else could?) thanks to well chosen comparisons, some of them proper of the time the sonnet was written. For example, take “It is the star to every wondering bark”, written way before GPS was invented, and sailors could only find their way home if they could follow the map of the stars, so this verse implies that true love provides a sense of hope even if you are going through a really rough time in your life…

True love is not based on looks, of course, and that is why Sonnet 116 establishes that “rosy lips and cheeks” don’t last in time, but true love does. I’m thinking about those old couples who have aged together and they are still crazy for each other!

Finally, the poem closes with a sort of paradox: if it is not the actual definition of true love, then no man has ever loved at all, and Shakespeare himself hasn’t written anything! Of course, since we are actually reading the sonnet, that can only mean Sonnet 116 is the real definition of love.

Sonnet CXVI

Sonnet 116

The original spelling version. The f = s -> ftar = star; u = v -> loue = love.

The Sonnets - volume one - William Shakespeare

Shall I Compare Thee? Choral Songs on Shakespeare Texts

-William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.