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 (5)
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: (10)
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.
Notes on Techniques Used:
1. Absolutes: where the idea is total, either in a positive or negative sense, e.g. ‘always’, ‘never’, ‘eternal’.
2. Antithesis this is where two opposite ideas/words or phrases are contrasted together in a balanced (parallel) structure:‘for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part,’ (marriage vows), ‘worth’s unknown though his height be taken’
3. Types of Repetition:
Ploce the same word is repeated with different meanings ‘love is not love’
Anaphora – repetition at the start of units (sentences or clauses)
‘Love is… Love’s not time’s fool… Love alters not…’4. Imagery
Metaphor = where the poet suggests a comparison/word-picture that is not literally true. This can be positive, or negative. e.g. ’Love’ s not Time’s fool’, love ‘is the star to every wandering bark’.
What View of Love does Shakespeare Present?
In Sonnet 116, Shakespeare presents a personal view of love which is uplifting, but also dark. He questions whether the 'love' in question is really true 'love'.
The Sonnet is written in the first person. Shakespeare immediately puts himself inside the poem from the very first words: ‘Let me not’. The start of the poem, ‘admit impediments’, begins the dark tone. 'Impediments' suggests problems, and echoes the words of the marriage service, where the priest has to ask if anyone has reasons against the marriage. The antithesis, or opposites, used throughout (‘alters not’ … ‘but bears it out’) also suggests the style of the wedding service, ‘for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health’. It is as if Shakespeare presents his view of love through playing with the words of the Wedding Service. Though love, of course, is not identical to marriage.
There is some evidence that Shakespeare’s lover was planning to get married (to someone else). If so, the start of the poem could take on a more sinister tone, almost as if Shakespeare is threatening to ‘admit impediments’ to the wedding, and questioning whether it is in fact a ‘marriage of true minds’. The sinister effect is increased by the use of the subjunctive (let), which makes ‘let me not’ dependent on whether or not the marriage it is, in fact, a ‘marriage of true minds’, or a more lustful, physically inclined love of ‘rosy lips and cheeks’.
Shakespeare warns the reader – or more specifically, his lover – that what seems ‘love’ may not be true ‘love’. This idea is laid out by the ploce in ‘love is not love’, which seems to contradict itself. Shakespeare shows that what we call ‘love’ may just be the appearance of love, ‘the rosy lips and cheeks’ – or beauty – which will surely be destroyed by ‘Time’. In antithesis to false love, Shakespeare sets up the idea of true love through a developed series of metaphors. First he uses synecdoche to link and contrast ‘true minds’ with ‘rosy lips and cheeks’: two things of very different value. Later, Shakespeare says love is a guiding ‘star’, suggesting heaven, eternity, brilliance; that it ‘looks on tempests but is never shaken’. The negative image creates a sense of fear, danger, of trial and torment, and that love is the only constant, dependable thing in it.
In fact, the poem has a negative tone throughout. ‘Time’s bending sickle’s compass’ and ‘edge of doom’ continue the grim tone with images of death first, then – as if that weren’t enough – he adds total destruction (‘doom’). Love is the only light in this rather bleak view of human life, which is symbolised by the metaphor of the ‘wandering bark’ – the lost ship. Love never alters, cannot be removed, is ‘always’ ‘ever fixed’, like God perhaps; love is the ‘star’ set at the centre of the poem.
Despite the apparently humble start (let me not), Shakespeare takes a lecturing tone where he tells us (or his lover) what love is. He doesn’t tell us what love is like, and uses no similes whatever. He tells us what love ‘is’ and what it ‘is not’, and uses a large number of absolutes ‘ever’, ‘every’, and ‘never’, which he repeats. This gives a very definite, confident, even stern tone. Shakespeare hammers his message home through anaphora where he tells us – unusually – not what love is, but what ‘love is not’. Overall, the poem seems more like a criticism of someone who has not been constant. Yet the very negative imagery and language, somehow makes Shakespeare’s vision of true love shine even more brilliant.
Shakespeare seems arrogant at the end of the poem where he scoffs at the idea that his poem could possibly be ‘error’ or that error could be ‘proved’. But he was ultimately proven right. His poem lived far longer than the lover he tells off, and is frequently read at marriage services, over four hundred years later.
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Sonnet 116 was written by William Shakespeare and published in 1609. William Shakespeare was an English writer and poet, and has written a lot of famous plays, amongst them Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare lived in the Elizabethan era. At that time, the literature and art was in bloom, and his works are clearly characterized by that era both as language and theme goes.
A sonnet is a poem consisting of 14 lines, three quatrains and a couplet, in which the beat follows the iambic pentameter. Sonnet 116 is, like the most of Shakespeare’s sonnets, about love. In this sonnet, Shakespeare tries to define love by using comparisons, metaphors and personification. The theme of the sonnet is definitely “true love” because of all his attempts to define it by describing what true love means, and why it is so important to human beings.
The first quatrain is sort of the “introduction” of the sonnet, while the two next quatrains are the body of the sonnet, where he elaborates the two first lines. The couplet in the end is the conclusion, and is used to sum up and close the sonnet. In Shakespeare’s sonnets, the last two lines are often about Shakespeare himself in some way. Either by sharing his own opinion on the topic he is writing about, or to praise himself as an artist. In the first one and a half line, he says “let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments”. That means, that he won’t declare any reasons to why two people with true love towards each other shouldn’t get married. He continues with: “love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove”, which can mean that love is not love if it changes or fades away when a better opportunity comes up. He elaborates this in the next quatrain, where he uses a metaphor and compares love to an ever-fixed mark, leading the ships like the North Star. The ships are meant to be the human beings lost in the search for life’s true meaning. The last line of the quatrain says: “whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken”, which is a clear comparison to love, and how it is measurable, but still more valuable than words can ever explain.
This metaphor makes the message more clear, because you can imagine this star guiding the lost sailors in the middle of the ocean and you understand the meaning of the words in an other way than if he had just written: “love is priceless”. In the third quatrain, he begins with: “Love is not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks within his bending sickle’s compass come.” First of all, “Love is not time’s fool” is a personification, because “time” is given a human quality by being a fool. The whole sentence means, that time is meaningless to love and that love doesn’t care about aging or death. The next two lines: “Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, But bears it out even to the edge of doom.” Empathizes the fact that love is a constant concept and goes beyond death. This last quatrain is really powerful and to say that not even death can stop love makes it even stronger. This is actually the whole message in the sonnet, that true love is so strong, not even death can defeat it. With the couplet in the end, he turns the focus on himself by saying: “ If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved.” He kind of says, that if what he has just written is proved wrong, no one has ever loved, and he isn’t a poet. He probably means that he is so certain about this never-ending true love, that he would swear on his most precious ability, namely his skills as a writer. In some way, you can say that he ends up praising himself a little bit in this sonnet too. The same thing happens in the couplet of sonnet 18 “shall I compare thee..” where he ends up proclaiming that his poems makes people immortal. Another thing that sonnet 18 and sonnet 116 has in common is their many comparisons. Although the comparisons in sonnet 18 are a little more obvious in sonnet 116, it is still kind of the same concept, comparing love and beauty to nature. And of course, the theme of love is consistent through so many of his sonnets. The difference between these two sonnets is mostly the fact that sonnet 18 is written to a specific person (at least, we assume that), while the receiver of sonnet 116 can be anyone who is curious to know the definition of true love.
The “love” issue takes up a lot of space in both Shakespeare’s sonnets and plays, and I think that it is the reason that his works never go out of fashion. It is simply a timeless theme, interesting no matter what race, age or gender you are. His works are known around the world, and can be
interpreted so it fits every mind everywhere in the world. With this sonnet, Shakespeare has defined love for the entire human race.