Shakespeare’s Sonnets

by: William Shakespeare

The Speaker

Unthrifty loveliness, why dost thou spend Upon thyself thy beauty’s legacy? (Sonnet 4)

In Sonnet 4, the speaker accuses the beautiful young man of being wasteful by not passing on his beauty to a child. This rebuke shows how strongly he believes that those who possess beauty must preserve their beauty through their progeny. The speaker views this responsibility as more important than the young man’s own happiness and priorities.

And all in war with time for love of you, As he takes from you, I engraft you new. (Sonnet 15)

In these lines from Sonnet 15, the speaker declares war on time that seeks to rob the young man of his youth. As with everything that grows, he will lose his beauty and vigor one day. But, even as time wages its war on youth, the speaker’s words describing his beauty give new life to the young man’s appearance in the sonnet.

Lo thus by day my limbs, by night my mind, For thee, and for thyself, no quiet find. (Sonnet 27)

In Sonnet 27, the speaker describes the paradox of his sleepless nights. Although exhausted from his work day, in the darkness he thinks of his beloved and he cannot rest his mind and go to sleep. Such a longing compared by the speaker to a religious pilgrimage characterizes infatuation. Readers may note how the poet describes his thoughts as jewels brightening the darkness, suggesting the speaker welcomes the intense emotions.

Nay, if you read this line, remember not The hand that writ it, for I love you so That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot, If thinking on me then should make you woe. (Sonnet 71)

In these lines in Sonnet 71, the speaker explains that he wants the young man to forget him completely after he dies, as this might spare the young man grief. Such a request reveals the selflessness of the speaker’s love: He prefers the young man forget him and move on than remember him and mourn. Such a request shows the speaker’s love, as he looks to care for the needs and well-being of his loved one even after his own death.

O know, sweet love, I always write of you, And you and love are still my argument. (Sonnet 76)

In Sonnet 76, the speaker questions why he always writes the same thing in the same style while others experiment with new ways of writing. Here, he answers his own question by saying he can only write about one thing, his beloved. He doesn’t feel the need to come up with new ways to write about him. Just as the sun brings a new day, so does his love continually find a new story to tell. The fact that the speaker cannot write or speak about anything else highlights the power and strength of his love.