‘Sonnet 137‘ is one of William Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. It is part of the Dark Lady sequence of sonnets. They deal with the speaker (who is usually considered to be William Shakespeare himself) and his relationship with his mistress, the Dark Lady. This particular sonnet is an interesting departure from the previous two “Will” sonnets that are notably sexual and even comic. The speaker turns far more serious in these fourteen lines, discussing the difference between what the eyes see and what the heart wants.
Explore Sonnet 137
In the first lines of the sonnet, the speaker addresses Love, blaming this personified force for his issues. It’s the root of all his problems. He thinks that it’s led him to this woman and allowed him to become ensnared in his emotions for her. He thought she was beautiful at first, and for some reason, now that he knows she’s morally corrupt, he still likes her. He frets about this and spends some time considering what this means about his ability to judge other situations.
Throughout this poem, the poet engages with themes of love and judgment. He is cornered about how these two things are affecting one another. Love is misleading him, he knows, but there doesn’t seem to be anything he can do about it. The Dark Lady’s moral compass is clearly corrupt, he says, but he can’t stay away from her. This is exemplified in the previous sonnets in which he expressed his obsession for her and desire to sleep with her no matter the other men she was with. The poet also spends time have his speaker contemplate the nature of judgment and how well the eyes and mind/heart are tied together.
Structure and Form
‘Sonnet 137’ by William Shakespeare is a traditional sonnet that follows the pattern Shakespeare popularized. It contains fourteen lines that are divided into two quatrains, or sets of four lines, and one sestet, or set of six lines. They rhyme ABABCDCDEFEFGG as the vast majority of Shakespeare’s sonnets do.
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 fifth line is a particularly good example.
Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Sonnet 137’. These include but are not limited to examples of:
- Alliteration: the repetition of words with the same consonant sound. For example, “behold” and “beauty” in lines two and three, as well as “falsehood” and “forged.”
- Personification: the attribution of human traits to non-human objects, animals, etc. In this case, the poet personifies Love, addressing it as if the force can hear and respond to him.
- Caesura: occurs when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line. For example, “Thou blind fool, Love, what dost thou to mine eyes.”
Thou blind fool, Love, what dost thou to mine eyes,
That they behold, and see not what they see?
They know what beauty is, see where it lies,
Yet what the best is take the worst to be.
In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 137,’ the speaker begins by addressing “Love.” He refers to this personified force as a “blind fool. He speaks to love as though it can hear and understand him, blaming it for leading him astray and causing him pain. Those who have read the previous sonnets will likely already be aware of how attached the speaker has become to the Dark Lady. He knew she wasn’t perfect, but he feels that “Love” has misled him about her character. He saw her and loved her, but it wasn’t till now that he really understood her.
If eyes, corrupt by over-partial looks,
Be anchored in the bay where all men ride,
Why of eyes’ falsehood hast thou forged hooks,
Whereto the judgment of my heart is tied?
He uses another long question in these lines. He asks love why he’s been corrupted this way. Why are his eyes allowed to see this beauty when there isn’t beauty in the Dark Lady’s character? He calls her a “bay where all men ride,” something that he knew very well several sonnets ago and wasn’t bothered by. In fact, he practically begged to be counted among her many lovers.
Why should my heart think that a several plot,
Which my heart knows the wide world’s common place?
Or mine eyes, seeing this, say this is not,
To put fair truth upon so foul a face?
In things right true my heart and eyes have erred,
And to this false plague are they now transferred.
In the next few lines, the speaker says that no matter how clear things seem in one moment, he’s still continually confused. He doesn’t know what the right thing to do since he’s drawn to this woman that he should push away. This line of thought makes the poet turn away from thinking about the Dark Lady and consider the nature of human judgment more broadly. He doesn’t understand why he feels the way he does or what it is about human weakness that allows him to be drawn back to her.
In this sonnet, Shakespeare engages with themes of love, judgement, and morality.
Sonnet 137’ is about the dichotomy between what the speaker knows is true about the Dark Lady and what he feels about her.
In ‘Sonnet 137,’ Shakespeare used a rhyme scheme of ABABCDCDEFEFGG.
Shakespeare used iambic pentameter in ‘Sonnet 137.’
Readers who enjoyed ‘Sonnet 137’ should also consider reading some other William Shakespeare poems. For example:
- ‘Sonnet 7’ – addresses the Youth’s beauty and how he should have children to preserve it.
- ‘Sonnet 76’ – is an upbeat poem that discusses the speaker’s love for the Youth and explores the poet’s writing.
- ‘Sonnet 36’ – explores how the speaker and the Fair Youth are no longer going to be able to see one another.