William Shakespeare, “Sonnet 130”

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red, than her lips red:
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,
As any she belied with false compare.

In honor of Valentine’s Day this coming Friday, here is Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130.”  Shakespeare satirizes the traditional love poem, which is often a vehicle to idealize the speaker’s lover by using flowery language to liken her beauty to natural imagery.  Associated with Petrarch, this style was also popular in Elizabethan England.  shakespeare rose imageHowever, Shakespeare boldly countered this traditional style, as evidenced by this very sonnet.  The speaker reveals his lover’s imperfections by comparing her to beautiful objects found in nature and admits that her physical appearance cannot add up to things as beautiful as roses, snow, or the sun.  Instead, the speaker remains confident that he can glorify his lover without exaggerated and unrealistic metaphors, that their love is both honest and unparalleled.  Shakespeare makes sure to cover all conventional imagery like the heavens, nature, seasons, music, and classical allusions, but mocks them to realistically depict his lover.  Although atypical in the treatment of the subject matter, this sonnet demonstrates what is now known as the Shakespearean sonnet: the three quatrains and singular couplet follow the ababcdcdefefgg rhyme scheme.

shakespeare imageWilliam Shakespeare, an English poet, playwright, and actor, published a collection of 154 sonnets in 1609 titled Sonnets, one of which was Sonnet 130.  Shakespeare is most famous for his plays, which included comedies, histories, and tragedies, though he tended to mix comedy into his tragedies.  Shakespeare’s blank verse in iambic pentameter was his dominant poetic form and demonstrated his mastery of the English language, however he wasn’t highly esteemed until years after his death.  Today Shakespeare is considered the greatest writer in the English language, and has left a lasting influence on theatre and literature.

shakespeare sonnets image

Sonnet 130 was originally published in Sonnets, a collection of poems by William Shakespeare in 1609.  The exact year that this particular sonnet was written remains unknown.

Isabella Zuroski is a senior English and Sociology double major from Bemus Point, New York.  She is the president of W&L’s all-female a cappella group Jubilee, and she has a special fondness for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, as well as anything written by Frank McCourt.