SONNET 116 [full text and notes]
by William Shakespeare
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.
Put the poem into your own words by paraphrasing it carefully. Some line are going to be harder to understand than others, but remember that even their meaning can be determined in the light of what the general message of the poem might be.
Summary/In my own words
I do not want to know the reason why minds
That love each other admit impediments, love isn’t really love
If it changes when it finds changes in a lover,
Or ceases to be when an inconsistent lover leaves.
Oh no! Love is an ever consistent mark
That takes on great storms and is never shaken.
It is the star that guides ships
Whose worth is priceless, but its height can be measured.
Love is not under the spell of time, although rosy lips and cheeks
Must bend to the power of time.
Love does not change with brief hours and weeks,
But lasts until the edge of doomsday.
If I have made an error and can be proven wrong,
Then I have never written and no man has ever loved.
What is the meaning of line 13? In the second quatrain, to what is true love compared? How does the image of Time in the third quatrain relate to the theme of the poem?
In line 13, Shakespeare says that, if there is an error in what he has said about love, and the error can be proven (l. 13), then he has never been a writer and no man has ever been a lover (l. 14). This line is a sort of guarantee to the reader that Shakespeare is convinced of the truth in his words, truth which he has expressed in the first 12 lines. In the second quatrain, love is compared to a consistent mark or light that takes on storms and is never shaken. It is a star which guides ships through when all else fails. There is no measurement of how much love is worth, as it could be lifesaving, much like locating a star during a stormy night. The image of time is everlasting, and that’s what Shakespeare considers true love to be as well. Looks wither and fade as time passes, but love is much deeper than skin and doesn’t rely on good looks. It does not fade after days or weeks, it is there for eternity; or at least until doomsday. Love is forever, just like time is forever.
Briefly summarize Shakespeare’s idea of what love is. How does this compare with the biblical teaching of what love is?
As mentioned above, Shakespeare’s idea is that love – at least true love – lasts forever. It does not change when a lover changes; not even if a lover ceases to love back. It is always there, always fighting, always shining like a guiding star in the dark. Fading beauty may bend with time, but not love, which lasts eternally.
Corinthians 13: 4-12 states that “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
Shakespeare’s sonnet and the Corinthians verse have a similar feel because, after all, they both speak of the greatness of true love. Although Shakespeare concerns himself more with the longevity of love rather than what love is and what love does to a person, his words echo the Corinthians verses because he too says that love is not concerned with appearances and it can last forever. Both verses speak to the power that love can hold over someone, and how that power is a good thing. They are both very positive in regards to what love is.