W William Shakespeare

Sonnet 109 by William Shakespeare

‘Sonnet 109,’ also known as ‘O! never say that I was false of heart,’ is an expression of pure love and devotion unchanged by time and circumstance. 

Sonnet 109′ is one of William Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. It falls towards the end of a long series of sonnets dedicated to the Fair Youth, a young man whose identity is still unknown to this day. The poet, who many assume to be the speaker of the poems, addresses the young man throughout the series, starting out by berating him for not having a child, for wasting his beauty on things unworthy of him, but always ending up returning to their unfailing love.

O! never say that I was false of heart,
Though absence seemed my flame to qualify,
As easy might I from my self depart
As from my soul which in thy breast doth lie:
That is my home of love: if I have ranged,
Like him that travels, I return again;
Just to the time, not with the time exchanged,
So that myself bring water for my stain.
Never believe though in my nature reigned,
All frailties that besiege all kinds of blood,
That it could so preposterously be stained,
To leave for nothing all thy sum of good;
   For nothing this wide universe I call,
   Save thou, my rose, in it thou art my all.

Sonnet 109 by William Shakespeare
Sonnet 109 by William Shakespeare


Summary

‘Sonnet 109’ by William Shakespeare is a devotional sonnet written to the speaker’s “rose,” the Fair Youth.

In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 109,’ the speaker begins by trying to remind the youth, and anyone listening, that his love for the former has never cooled. Even if the two are separated, he knows that nothing could temper the love he has for this young man. He compares himself through a simile to a traveler who always comes home. His nature is not that which would allow him to abandon the Youth for any other pleasures. Because he concludes, there is nothing else in the world worth loving for spending time on.

Themes

Shakespeare engages with several common themes in ‘Sonnet 109.’ They are primarily love and constancy. He depicts the speaker, who is perhaps the poet himself, as someone who is as faithful as one could hope to be. That is, he always comes back to the Fair Youth whenever they are separated. He doesn’t make it clear what kind of separation this is, but he’s very determined that no one believes that his love has ever cool for the young man. It’s in the last lines of the poem that the speaker makes it clear that he’s never, in fact, going to lose his affection for the Youth. This young man is the entire world to him.

Structure and Form 

‘Sonnet 109’ by William Shakespeare is a fourteen-line Shakespearean sonnet that follows a consistent rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. It is written in iambic pentameter, the most common of all English meters. In iambic pentameter, each line contains five sets of two beats, known as metrical feet. The first is unstressed, and the second is stressed. It sounds something like da-DUM, da-DUM. The poem can also be divided into three sets of four lines and a final two-line couplet. The last couplet usually comes after the turn or volta. In this case, the couplet acts as a final summary of everything the poet’s speaker has said so far. 

Literary Devices 

Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Sonnet 109’. These include but are not limited to examples of: 

  • Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point—for example, the transition between lines three and four. 
  • Caesura: occurs when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line of verse, for example: “Like him that travels, I return again” and “Save thou, my rose, in it thou art my all.” 
  • Imagery: occurs when the poet uses especially clear and memorable descriptions that appeal to the human senses. For example, “All frailties that besiege all kinds of blood, / That it could so preposterously be stained.” 
  • Alliteration: the repetition of words with the same consonant sound. For example, “false” and “flame” in lines one and two, as well as “besiege” and “blood” in line ten.


Detailed Analysis

Lines 1-4 

O! never say that I was false of heart,
Though absence seem’d my flame to qualify,
As easy might I from my self depart
As from my soul which in thy breast doth lie:

In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 109,’ the speaker begins by asking that no one ever think that he was ever “false of heart” or unfaithful. It might’ve looked like his love cooled down while the speaker and the Fair Youth were separated, but he knows that’s not the case. He describes in the next lines how separating from the Youth would be as easy for him as separate from himself. This is a great example of how Shakespeare, or at least the speaker he was channeling, expresses his connection to the Fair Youth. He is completely devoted. 

Lines 5-8 

That is my home of love: if I have ranged,
Like him that travels, I return again;
Just to the time, not with the time exchanged,
So that myself bring water for my stain.

The Youth is his home, the speaker says. If he ever went anywhere else,  as a traveler, he’d always come back again. He’d be punctual, no matter the circumstances. He would be in this scenario well aware of the time they spent apart and more than willing to bear his sins and wash them away. It’s unclear here whether or not the speaker has strayed or been unfaithful or if he’s simply making a point.

Lines 9-14 

Never believe though in my nature reigned,
All frailties that besiege all kinds of blood,
That it could so preposterously be stained,
To leave for nothing all thy sum of good;
For nothing this wide universe I call,
Save thou, my rose, in it thou art my all.

In the third and final quatrain of ‘Sonnet 109,’ the speaker tries to reinforce everything he’s said. He tells the Youth that even if his passions were directed by carnal love, that he’d still return to him. There is nothing out there that can compare to “all thy sum of good.” 

The final couplet concludes the poem with the speaker saying that he considers the “wide universe” nothing. The only thing of value in it is his “rose,” the Fair Youth. He’s the only reason the speaker does anything.

Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed ‘Sonnet 109’ should also consider reading some other William Shakespeare poems. For example: 

  • Sonnet 27’ –  dwells on exhaustion and hope and how both are associated with a young man.
  • 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 18’ – one of Shakespeare’s best-known sonnets which also goes by the title ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’ 

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Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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