Shakespeare’s Sonnet No. 116

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.


With the return of spring, love is finally in the air, so I thought it fitting to choose a love poem for the poem of the week. Shakespeare’s 116th sonnet, often read as a part of wedding services, has a line most everyone will have heard at least once in their life: “Love is not love/ Which alters when it alteration finds…?”, but few contemporaries who are not students of poetry have read the entire poem. As a sonnet, it consists of 14 lines in iambic pentameter that follow an abab, cdcd, efef, gg rhyme scheme. The speaker exalts all the wonders of love in this poem, and his closing couplet essentially is a promise that what he has said is true. Essentially, the speaker believes that love is capable of withstanding and overcoming everything, from the passage of time to doom itself. This optimistic view is what makes it so popular in marriage ceremonies.  The star is Polaris, the “ever-fixed mark” likely a lighthouse reference, the fourth and fifth lines’ variation from strict iambics one of the author’s signature winks, and the aggressive “O, no!” a signal of authority and indication that the poem is turning more emphatic, just in time for the tempests.  The final equation is reflexive in a persuasive and clenching fashion: that he has “writ” is indisputable,  for the reader is beholding the evidence as s/he reads.  The “proved . . . loved” slant rhyme gives the poem a satisfying closure, refusing to deliver a predictable one-syllable exact rhyme like “love . . . dove.”  This bard is not drab.


Happy Spring everyone!

Though we’ve been told, “April is the cruelest month.”

Eleanor Haeg is an English major and Creative Writing minor at Washington and Lee but hails from Minneapolis.