Original Text

Modern Text

The other two, slight air and purging fire,
Are both with thee, wherever I abide;
The first my thought, the other my desire,
These present absent with swift motion slide.
For when these quicker elements are gone
In tender embassy of love to thee,
My life, being made of four, with two alone
Sinks down to death, oppressed with melancholy;
Until life’s composition be recured
By those swift messengers returned from thee,
Who ev'n but now come back again, assured
Of thy fair health, recounting it to me.
  This told, I joy, but then no longer glad,
  I send them back again and straight grow sad.
The other

two elements

This sonnet, like Sonnet 44, is based on the idea that matter is composed of the four ele earth, water, air, and fire.

two elements
, weightless air and purifying fire, both remain with you, wherever I may be. Air is my thoughts, and fire is my desire. The two of them slide back and forth between us swiftly and effortlessly. Normally I am made up of all four elements, but when my air and fire are off on their errand of love to you, I sink into depression and slide toward death, until air and fire return to restore the proper


The speaker refers to the Renais sance notion that melancholy, or depression, is caused by an imbalance of substances within the body.

within me. Even now, they have returned from you to tell me that you’re well and in good health. I rejoice to hear this but then immediately grow gloomy from missing you, so I send them back to you and immediately grow sad again.

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