‘Sonnet 110′ is one of William Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. It was published along with the Bard’s other sonnets in the 1609 Quarto and is one of many dedicated to the Fair Youth. This unknown young man is the subject of many of Shakespeare’s best poems. The nature of the relationship between Shakespeare and the Fair Youth is still up for debate today.
Explore Sonnet 110
Throughout the fourteen lines of ‘Sonnet 110,’ the speaker describes how he is back from his brief period of infidelity. He was untrue to his true love, the Fair Youth, for a time, but now he’s realized that he doesn’t care about anyone else but this young man. He’s made several mistakes but is ready to change. The speaker says that he knows now that their love is never going to “end.” It is the only kind of relationship he wants. The poem concludes with the speaker asking that his lover accept him back because he is as close to heaven as the speaker will get.
Shakespeare engages with several interesting themes in ‘Sonnet 110.’ These include infidelity, eternity, and love. Throughout the poem, Shakespeare’s speaker, who many consider to be the poet himself, addresses that he hasn’t always been faithful to the one person he loves the most in the world. He’s made other mistakes as well, but this is the one he’s met concerned with. But, rather than fretting over it, he recommits himself to the Fair Youth and acknowledges that this young man’s love is forever.
Structure and Form
‘Sonnet 110’ by William Shakespeare is a fourteen-line sonnet that conforms to the pattern that’s most commonly associated with Shakespeare’s poetic works. The lines follow a consistent rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. ‘Sonnet 110’ is written in iambic pentameter, the most common of all English meters. This means that each line contains five sets of two beats, known as metrical feet. The first is unstressed, and the second is stressed. 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.
Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Sonnet 110’. These include but are not limited to examples:
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point—for example, the transition between lines one and two as well as lines five and six.
- Caesura: occurs when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line of verse, for example, line six: “Askance and strangely: but, by all above” and line three: “Gor’d mine own thoughts, sold cheap what is most dear.”
- Alliteration: the repetition of words with the same consonant sound. For example, “made myself motley” in line two and “most most” in line fourteen.
Alas, ’tis true I have gone here and there
And made myself a motley to the view,
Gor’d mine own thoughts, sold cheap what is most dear,
Made old offences of affections new.
In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 110,’ the speaker begins by admitting that he’s made a few mistakes. He’s wandered “here and there,” he says, suggesting that he may have strayed from his true love, the Fair Youth. He’s made a fool of himself and allowed himself to have his thoughts twisted and confused. The speaker also says that he’s behaved poorly to the ones he cares about the most. In the third and fourth lines, he says that he’s treated new friends poorly in the say way that he treated old friends.
Most true it is that I have look’d on truth
Askance and strangely: but, by all above,
These blenches gave my heart another youth,
And worse essays prov’d thee my best of love.
He focuses on the fact that he was unfaithful to his love in the next quatrain. He used to look down on the idea of fidelity as something he didn’t really care about. Now he knows differently. After straying and seeing what else the world has to offer, he realized that he loves the Fair Youth the best. His heart has been made young again, and finally, his mind feels clear.
Now all is done, have what shall have no end!
Mine appetite, I never more will grind
On newer proof, to try an older friend,
A god in love, to whom I am confin’d.
Then give me welcome, next my heaven the best,
Even to thy pure and most most loving breast.
In the third and final quatrain, he resolves to be “done” with his wanderings. He knows now that the love he shares with the Fair Youth is far more important and powerful than anything else. It’ll never have an “end.” There’s nothing that’s going to sway his appetite any time in the future. His older friends, one in particular, is far more important to him than anything new he might find.
The last two lines of the poem occur after the turn in which the speaker shifts perspectives slightly to address the Fair Youth and asks that he be allowed back into his most “loving breast.” He also calls him the next best thing to heaven. This young man is as close to heaven as the speaker’s going to get until he actually dies.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Sonnet 110’ should also consider reading some of William Shakespeare’s other poems. For example:
- ‘Sonnet 14’ – is addressed to the Fair Youth and is one of many poems in which the speaker encourages him to have children.
- ‘Sonnet 42’ – addresses the Fair Youth’s mistakes and is the last of the “betrayal sonnets.”
- ‘Sonnet 18’ – one of Shakespeare’s best-known sonnets which also goes by the title ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’