Sonnet 100: Where art thou, Muse, that thou forget’st so long by William Shakespeare

Sonnet 100,’ also known as ‘Where art thou, Muse, that thou forget’st so long,’ is number one hundred of one hundred fifty-four sonnets that the Bard wrote. Sonnets 1-126 of this series belongs to Shakespeare’s famous Fair Youth sequence. These poems are all devoted, in one way or another, to a young, beautiful man. There has been a great deal of speculation about who this young man could possibly be, but no single identity has ever been decided upon.

This sonnet marks a turning point in the speaker’s consideration of the Fair Youth. This poem, and the two that follow, suggest that the youth is falling out of favor with the speaker. This could be due to his constant infidelities and misdeeds (which the poet often references and glosses over) or something else entirely. 

Sonnet 100: Where art thou, Muse, that thou forget’st so long by William Shakespeare

 

Summary of Sonnet 100  

‘Sonnet 100 ’ by William Shakespeare marks a turn in Shakespeare’s Fair Youth series in which he implores his muse to inspire him.

Throughout this poem, the speaker addresses his muse and chastises them for leaving him. He feels as though he’s been abandoned by his ability to write sufficiently about his beloved, the Fair Youth. The speaker asks the muse to come back to him and allow him to write as he once did. He still hopes to immortalize this young man so that time’s knife never touches him. 

 

Structure of Sonnet 100

‘Sonnet 100 ’ by William Shakespeare is a fourteen-line, single stanza poem that is structured in the traditional Shakespearean form. This form requires that the sonnet be made up of three quatrains, or sets of four lines, and one concluding couplet.

The poem follows a consistent rhyme scheme that conforms to the pattern of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG and it is written in iambic pentameter. Iambic pentameter means that each line contains five sets of two beats, known as metrical feet. The first is unstressed and the second stressed. It sounds something like da-DUM, da-DUM.

 

Literary Devices in Sonnet 100

Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Sonnet 100 ’. These include but are not limited to examples of alliteration, caesura, and personification. The latter, personification, occurs when a poet imbues a non-human creature or object with human characteristics. There is a good example at the end of the poem when the speaker describes time’s knife. 

Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “thee” and “thy” in line two as well as “Return” and “redeem” in line five. 

Caesura occurs when a line is split in half, sometimes with punctuation, sometimes not. The use of punctuation in these moments creates a very intentional pause in the text. A reader should consider how the pause influences the rhythm of one’s reading and how it might precede an important turn or transition in the text. The ninth line is a good example of this technique. It reads: “Rise, resty Muse; my love’s sweet face survey,”. 

 

Analysis of Sonnet 100 

Lines 1-4

Where art thou, Muse, that thou forget’st so long

To speak of that which gives thee all thy might?

Spend’st thou thy fury on some worthless song,

Dark’ning thy pow’r to lend base subjects light?

In the first four lines of ‘Sonnet 100,’ the speaker begins by asking a rhetorical question and then attempting to answer it. He wonders where his “Muse” has been. He, or she as is normally the case, been absent for long enough that the speaker worries that he won’t be able to write about the Fair Youth. The youth is the one who gives “thee all thy might”. 

This is followed up with a secondary question in which he asks the muse if they are determined to inspire the speaker to nothing other than a worthless “song”. This is a vague allusion to other poetic works, or perhaps dramatic works, that Shakespeare might’ve been working on at the time. If this line is taken at face value, then he valued those exploits less than his poetry. 

 

Lines 5-8 

Return, forgetful Muse, and straight redeem

In gentle numbers time so idly spent;

Sing to the ear that doth thy lays esteem,

And gives thy pen both skill and argument.

In the second quatrain of ‘Sonnet 100,’ the speaker asks the “forgetful Muse” to come back right away and fix everything that’s broken. He wants to go back to writing a “gentle” verse that he loves that is inspired by his beloved. It is he who loves the verse the muse inspires. The Fair Youth should be more important to his muse, the speaker thinks. It is he would give “thy pen” the “skill” to write and the content to write about. 

 

Lines 9-14 

Rise, resty Muse; my love’s sweet face survey,

If time have any wrinkle graven there;

If any, be a satire to decay,

And make time’s spoils despisèd everywhere.

Give my love fame faster than time wastes life;

So thou prevent’st his scythe and crookèd knife.

In the third and final quatrain of ‘Sonnet 100,’ the speaker tells the muse to get up, even though it’s sleepy. He wants to take a look at the youth’s face to see how much time as passed and if there are now the much-dreaded wrinkles in his skin. If it turns out that there are wrinkles, then they need to “satire to decay,” or satirizing the aging process and make sure that everyone knows how hateful time is. 

In the last two lines, the poem is turned fully towards the youth who he wants to worship as he once did. He would like to make the youth famous faster than “time wastes life” so that everyone knows who he is and his good nature before his death. If this can be accomplished, then the youth will not be cut down by the “crookèd knife” of time, a wonderful example of personification. 

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