‘Sonnet 124′ is one of William Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. This poem is dedicated to an unknown young man. Readers can enjoy more than 100 other sonnets focused on this same person in which the speaker discussing his love for this “Fair Youth” and everything he’d do for him. Some of the sonnets border on 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. In ‘Sonnet 124,’ their relationship is uncertain, but the speaker is sure of the strength of his love.
Explore Sonnet 124
His “love,” whether that be with the Fair Youth or a broader experience of the emotion, is not subject to the same things that other loves and emotions are. He sees it as elevated, more powerful, and less materialistic. While others fall into the trap of time, politics, and change, he stands above those things. He doesn’t have to worry about the heretics and plotters seeking to destroy him as others do.
Throughout ‘Sonnet 124,’ William Shakespeare enrages with themes of love, change, and time. His love, which is far greater than any other anyone could ever experience, is not subject to change. Just as he stated in previous sonnets, his character is going to remain the same, even if he grows old. In the same way, his love is not going to be changed by the progression of time nor the altered state of politics. He hasn’t tied himself to the material world but to something longer-lasting.
Structure and Form
‘Sonnet 124’ 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 summarizes everything that the speaker learned about his choices.
Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Sonnet 124’. These include but are not limited to examples of:
Imagery: occurs when the poet uses especially effective descriptions that engages the reader’s senses. For example, “As subject to time’s love or to time’s hate, / Weeds among weeds, or flow’rs with flowers gathered.”
Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point—for example, the transition between lines six and seven.
If my dear love were but the child of state,
It might for Fortune’s bastard be unfathered,
As subject to time’s love or to time’s hate,
Weeds among weeds, or flow’rs with flowers gathered.
In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 124,’ the speaker begins by returning to a theme readers should recognize from the last few sonnets (Sonnet 121, 122, 123 etc.). The speaker is interested in expanding upon the superiority of his love with the Fair Youth in regard to all other loves that have ever existed. It is beyond the normal conventions of humanity and time. It does not need the approval of anyone, nor does he, the speaker, need to listen to the words of hypocrites. Some scholars have suggested that the speaker is no longer truly speaking about the Fair Youth when he uses the word “love” or refers to a relationship by this point in the sonnets. He may be speaking more broadly about the emotion rather than a specific iteration of it.
His love is not subject to changes in time nor when it is seen as “weeds” rather than “flowers.” This makes it far more powerful than other loves or emotions.
No, it was builded far from accident;
It suffers not in smiling pomp, nor falls
Under the blow of thralled discontent,
Whereto th’ inviting time our fashion calls.
“No,” the speaker continues, his love is of a different kind. It was created with more strength and “far from accident.” It was intentionally crafted to be strong. It does not suffer from the weakness that other loves do, such as “smiling pomp,” or what’s “in” or “out” of style. He’s not seeking out anyone’s approval. Nor, he adds, was it created to displease anyone. It is beyond either. This is all despite the fact that these feelings and methods of writing and loving were in fashion in Shakespeare’s time.
Readers might also want to consider Shakespeare’s allusions to his time and contemporary world. When speaking about “pomp,” he may be alluding to the state and the fragility of power in his world. The monarchy was at risk on all sides during Shakespeare’s time, including attempts on Queen Elizabeth’s life.
It fears not policy, that heretic,
Which works on leases of short numb’red hours.
But all alone stands hugely politic,
That it nor grows with heat nor drowns with showers.
To this I witness call the fools of time,
Which die for goodness, who have lived for crime.
His love does not “fear…policy.” It’s more powerful than the “short numb’red hours” that heretics and plotters work in. It’s beyond politics entirely. His love does not “Grow with heat” or the sun, nor does it “drown with showers.” This is a great use of imagery that implicitly contrasts his love with plant life.
In the poem’s final two lines, the speaker calls out those who live different lines are “fools of time.” They are the men and women who, unlike the speaker, have lived lives that are subject to “heat” and “showers.” They were far more materialistic than the speaker ever was, and on their deathbeds will be repenting that fact.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Sonnet 124’ should also consider reading some other William Shakespeare poems. For example:
- ‘Sonnet 40’ – discusses the speaker’s recent choice to sleep with the Youth’s mistress.
- ‘Sonnet 101’ – directed at the speaker’s muse who is failing to provide him with needed inspiration.
- ‘Sonnet 29’ – depicts the speaker’s depression as he despairs his fate and his difference from other luckier men.