‘Sonnet 102,’ also known as ‘My love is strengthen’d, though more weak in seeming’ is one of William Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. It belongs to the Fair Youth series of poems in which the poet directed his verse towards an unknown young man. His identity is a mystery to this day, and readers, scholars, and historians have different opinions in regard to what kind of relationship Shakespeare may have had with this person. ‘Sonnet 102’ is also part of a smaller series, including ‘Sonnet 100’ and ‘Sonnet 103,’ in which the poet speaks about his silence. This poem, along with all the others, was published in the 1609 Quarto.
Explore Sonnet 102
Summary of Sonnet 102
The speaker directs his words to the youth, attempting to explain why he sometimes holds his tongue. It’s not because his love has grown any less, but because he doesn’t want to dull it by singing about it all the time. He compares his song, as a poet, to the song of a nightingale. If there is too much singing or too much verse composition, then those songs and poems are going to lose their impact. He doesn’t want the Fair Youth to grow tired of his love and so he holds it back, ensuring that the Youth will always be moved by his words.
Throughout this poem, Shakespeare engages with themes of love, change, and song. His poem explores the nature of love, and how it is apt to change when it’s too obvious or too commonly shared. His speaker is well aware of how fickle hearts can be and doesn’t want anything to compromise the relationship he has with the Fair Youth. Therefore, he withholds his song to make it more impactful when he does share it. He’s worried that the Youth’s affections for him might change and shift, as the beauty of bird song does when there are too many birds singing at once.
Structure and Form
‘Sonnet 102’ by William Shakespeare is a fourteen-line poem that follows the format of a traditional sonnet. The lines can be separated into three quatrains, or sets of four lines, and one final two-line 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. The vast majority of Shakespeare’s work, from his poems to his plays, was written in iambic pentameter.
Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Sonnet 102’. These include but are not limited to examples:
- Imagery: occurs when the poet uses particularly expresses descriptions. For example, the image of the nightingale singing alone, and then being somewhat drowned out and made less beautiful when the other birds join in. This is connected to the extended metaphor at the heart of the poem.
- Alliteration: seen through the repetition of words beginning with the same consonant sound. For example, “love,” “less,” and “less” again in the second line as well as “When I was wont” in line six.
- Allusion: seen through the poet’s references to previous sonnets, the relationship his speaker has with the Fair Youth, and a brief allusion to Greek mythology which occurs in the seventh line.
Detailed Analysis of Sonnet 102
My love is strengthened, though more weak in seeming;
I love not less, though less the show appear;
That love is merchandized, whose rich esteeming,
The owner’s tongue doth publish every where.
In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 102,’ the speaker, who many consider being William Shakespeare himself, picks up where he left off in the previous sonnets. He tries to excuse his silence by saying that it’s a sign of how much love he’s carrying around inside himself. Just because he shows his loveless, he says, doesn’t mean that he is actually loving less.
The speaker realizes that revealing too much of himself, and showing too much love, might damage the overall product. To keep some of that love to oneself increases its value.
Our love was new, and then but in the spring,
When I was wont to greet it with my lays;
As Philomel in summer’s front doth sing,
And stops his pipe in growth of riper days:
In the following lines of ‘Sonnet 102,’ the speaker says that his love with the Fair Youth was at one point “new” and in its “spring,” or first beautiful emotional moments, when he used to “greet it with [his] lays,” or his poetry. He used to celebrate it then in the same way that the “Philomel,” or nightingale, greets spring and stops as summer grows warmer and more obvious. This is a great example of an allusion. Here, the poet is referencing a Greek myth involve Philomena, a woman who turned into a nightingale.
Not that the summer is less pleasant now
Than when her mournful hymns did hush the night,
But that wild music burthens every bough,
And sweets grown common lose their dear delight.
Therefore like her, I sometime hold my tongue:
Because I would not dull you with my song.
In the final quatrain of ‘Sonnet 102,’ the speaker extends the metaphor, continuing to write about summer and comparing it to his love. He says that it’s not that summer is “less pleasant now” than the season was before. It’s that every branch is filled with the music of the birds. When it’s so common, it’s less enjoyable. The special emotional connection is lost or dulled.
The poem has a traditional turn, or volta, at the end. The speaker tells his lover that he sometimes holds his tongue about his love because he doesn’t want it to “dull.” In the same way, he doesn’t want his poems to lose their value.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Sonnet 102’ should also consider reading some more of William Shakespeare’s poems. For example:
- ‘Sonnet 12’ — uses a series of images and metaphors to depict the ravages of time and what all young people, including the Fair Youth, are going to have to face.
- ‘Sonnet 38’ — focuses on the importance of the speaker’s muse, the Fair Youth, and how integral the young man is to the poet’s writing.
- ‘Sonnet 54’ — uses two similar, yet different, flowers to describe the Fair Youth and what he means to the speaker.