This poem is one of William Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. This sonnet picks up where the previous, ‘Sonnet 116,’ left off. It suggests that the divisions between the speaker and the Youth are not fully resolved. The young man to whom the speaker spends so many poems talking to has never been identified in real life, nor has the true nature of the poet’s relationship with him been uncovered.
Sonnet 117 William ShakespeareAccuse me thus: that I have scanted all,Wherein I should your great deserts repay,Forgot upon your dearest love to call,Whereto all bonds do tie me day by day;That I have frequent been with unknown minds,And given to time your own dear-purchased right;That I have hoisted sail to all the windsWhich should transport me farthest from your sight.Book both my wilfulness and errors down,And on just proof surmise accumulate;Bring me within the level of your frown,But shoot not at me in your wakened hate; Since my appeal says I did strive to prove The constancy and virtue of your love.
Explore Sonnet 117
‘Sonnet 117’ by William Shakespeare asks the Fair Youth to consider the speaker’s mistakes while also understanding why he made them.
The speaker spends the first twelve lines of the sonnet going through and cataloging all the things he’s recently done wrong. They range from spending time with other people to purposely avoiding the person he loves. He wants the Youth to see everything he’s done wrong but, he doesn’t want him to jump to any conclusions. He only did those things so that he could test the Youth’s love and “constancy.”
In ‘Sonnet 117,’ William Shakespeare engages with themes of forgiveness and love. The speaker spends the lines of the poem honestly discussing his mistakes. He’s well aware that he’s done a great deal to anger the Youth and bring out his hatred. He’s asked for forgiveness in the past and now he’s trying to make the young man understand why he did what he did. His devotion never lessened. The speaker has always been as in love with the Youth as he is now. In an effort to get the Youth to forgive him and understand him, he explores his choices and the reasons behind them.
Structure and Form
‘Sonnet 117’ by William Shakespeare is a fourteen-line 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 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 brings with it the speaker’s explanation for his actions.
Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Sonnet 117’. These include but are not limited to examples:
- Caesura: occurs when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line of verse, for example, “Accuse me thus: that I have scanted all.” This is a great example of how punctuation can be used to create an example of caesura.
- Alliteration: the repetition of words with the same consonant sound. For example, “day” and “day” in line four and “Book both” in line nine.
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines seven and eight as well as thirteen and fourteen.
Accuse me thus: that I have scanted all,
Wherein I should your great deserts repay,
Forgot upon your dearest love to call,
Whereto all bonds do tie me day by day;
In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 117,’ the speaker picks up where he left off with ‘Sonnet 116. He’s been apologizing and appealing to the Youth in attempts to prove his love. He suggested that the relationship had stabilized in the previous fourteen lines, but now he suggests that there are still a few things to consider. He also picks up the same legal terminology, using words like “repay” and “bonds.”
These first lines build up some of the things that the speaker says he’s done wrong. He’s asking the Youth to consider all of them. The neglected time, the fact that he hasn’t repaid what the Youth has paid him, and then he moves into the second quatrain.
That I have frequent been with unknown minds,
And given to time your own dear-purchased right;
That I have hoisted sail to all the winds
Which should transport me farthest from your sight.
In the second set of four lines, the speaker says that he has “frequent been with unknown minds.” He’s spent time with other people, strangers who have done nothing to deserve it. He’s also given away the time that was “your own dear-purchased right.” The youth has done far more to earn the speaker’s time than anyone else. But, the speaker knows he hasn’t always acted that way.
Shakespeare’s speaker also notes that he has “hoisted sail to all the winds.” Or, in clearer language, he’s purposely put himself in situations where he’ll be taken away from the Youth. He’s put a metaphorical (or perhaps literal) ship to sea with the intention of letting the winds carry him off, “farthest” from the Youth’s sight.
Book both my wilfulness and errors down,
And on just proof surmise accumulate;
Bring me within the level of your frown,
But shoot not at me in your wakened hate;
Since my appeal says I did strive to prove
The constancy and virtue of your love.
In the third and final quatrain, the speaker says that the Youth should consider everything he’s mentioned so far and note down his “wilfulness and errors.” He wants the Youth to see and understand any mistakes he’s made. The speaker wants the youth to compile a list of all those things but, at the same time, “shoot not” at him with “your wakened hate.” He hopes the Fair Youth won’t be too hateful towards him because he’s had a good reason for his misbehavior. The speaker has stepped out of line because he was trying to “prove / The constancy and virtue of” the Youth’s love.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Sonnet 117’ should also consider reading other William Shakespeare poems. For example:
- ‘Sonnet 101’ – directed at the speaker’s muse who is failing to provide him with needed inspiration.
- ‘Sonnet 18’ – one of Shakespeare’s best-known sonnets which also goes by the title ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’
- ‘Sonnet 116’ – also known as ‘Let me not to the marriage of true minds,’ it 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.