Sonnet 115 by William Shakespeare

‘Sonnet 115,’ also known as ‘Those lines that I before have writ do lie,’ is a poem about the ever-maturing nature of the speaker’s love for the Fair Youth. 

Sonnet 115′ is one of William Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. This poem, like the first 100+ poems, is dedicated to an unknown young man. The speaker spends these sonnets discussing his love for this “Fair Youth” and everything he’d do for him. Some of the sonnets border on an obsession, while others are slightly more critical of the Youth’s behavior. To this day, scholars are unsure who this young man was or if he even existed at all. 

Sonnet 115 by William Shakespeare

 

Summary

‘Sonnet 115’ by William Shakespeare expresses the speaker’s opinion about how much better the future is going to be than the past in regard to his relationship.

He knows now that when he spoke in the past about not being able to love the youth more that he was lying. He’s aware now that his relationship was only in its infancy. It’s still growing, even now. The speaker alludes to the powers of time, personifying it and suggesting that he should’ve been aware of how it would affect him. The poem ends with a metaphor in which he compares his love to the god of love, Cupid.

 

Themes 

In ‘Sonnet 115,’ William Shakespeare engages with themes of love and time. The poet, now that he’s older and some time has passed since he wrote his previous sonnets is well aware that his love can grow. He didn’t think it was possible for him to love the Fair Youth anymore than he did before. But, he was lying to himself and to the Youth then. Now that more time has gone by, he feels differently. He realized its power and the fact that even now, his love is expanding and becoming more powerful. He spends the second quatrain exploring the nature of “Time” and the ability it has to change everything. He was aware of this in the past and criticizes himself for not fully understanding what it meant for his relationship.

 

Structure and Form 

‘Sonnet 115’ by William Shakespeare is a fourteen-line poem. It takes the form of a Shakespearean sonnet. This means that it 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. This is the pattern that most Shakespearean sonnets follow, although there are always a few instances in which the meter or rhyme is broken. In this case, the turn presents the reader with an interesting metaphor and foreshadowing about the future. 

 

Literary Devices 

Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Sonnet 115’. These include but are not limited to examples: 

  • Alliteration: the repetition of words with the same consonant sound. For example, “lines” and “lie” in line one and “full flame” in line four.
  • Personification: the use of human language to describe non-human things, ideas, and creatures. In this case, the poet personifies “Time.” This is a very common part of Shakespeare’s writing. 
  • Imagery: occurs when the poet uses especially effective descriptions that engage readers’ senses. For example, “Creep in ‘twixt vows, and change decrees of kings, / Tan sacred beauty, blunt the sharp’st intents.” 
  • Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point—for example, the transition between lines three and four as well as five and six. 

 

Detailed Analysis 

Lines 1-4

Those lines that I before have writ do lie,

Even those that said I could not love you dearer:

Yet then my judgment knew no reason why

My most full flame should afterwards burn clearer.

In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 115,’ the speaker begins by alluding to previous sonnets in his collection of 154 poems. These previous sonnets suggested that the speaker couldn’t love “you dearer”. The “you” the speaker is talking to is the Fair Youth. As mentioned above, he was a young man, someone who the speaker found beautiful and with whom he had an unknown and complex relationship. He tells this young man that all those sonnets lied. He knows now that it’s possible for him to love this young man more.

He wrote then when his powers of understanding or discernment were lacking. He wasn’t as skilled at writing then as he is now. Nor was he as capable of interpreting his own emotions. His “full flame” was not burning. 

 

Lines 5-8 

But reckoning Time, whose million’d accidents

Creep in ‘twixt vows, and change decrees of kings,

Tan sacred beauty, blunt the sharp’st intents,

Divert strong minds to the course of altering things;

In the next four lines, the speaker adds that “Time,” in all its power, has changed things for him. Now he knows better. He’s considered his situation more deeply and time with its millions of “accidents” or changes, and power makes “decrees of kings” or laws meaningless. It also changes the “sharpest” or strongest intentions. This has allowed him to reconsider his relationship and what he’s said in the past. 

 

Lines 9-14 

Alas! why, fearing of Time’s tyranny,

Might I not then say, ‘Now I love you best,’

When I was certain o’er incertainty,

Crowning the present, doubting of the rest?

Love is a babe, then might I not say so,

To give full growth to that which still doth grow?

In the third and final quatrain of ‘Sonnet 115,’ the speaker exclaims over time, saying that it’s sad that he misunderstood his situation. He was aware of “Time’s tyranny” but still said that “Now I love you best.” He should’ve recognized the fact that things were good in the past but would be better in the future, now his present. He doubted that things could ever be better than they were when he wrote about his love in his previous sonnets. 

The final couplet alludes to “Love,” or Cupid, the God of Love, and recognizes that he is a “babe.” He is youthful and still growing, just like the speaker’s love was and is still growing with the Fair Youth. This final metaphor suggests that things are still improving and that now he’s smart enough to recognize that fact. 

 

Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed ‘Sonnet 115’ should also consider reading some of the other William Shakespeare poems. For example: 

  • Sonnet 101’ – directed at the speaker’s muse who is failing to provide him with needed inspiration.
  • Sonnet 116– also known as ‘Let me not to the marriage of true minds,’ depicts the speaker’s opinion on what true love is.
  • Sonnet 70’ – discusses the terrible ways that people slander the Fair Youth’s beauty. No matter what the young man does, there are always going to be people who speak poorly of him.

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Emma Baldwin
About
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 analysing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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