‘Sonnet 143’ 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 William Shakespeare himself) and his relationship with his mistress, the Dark Lady. This particular sonnet depicts the desperate nature of the speaker’s love. He compares himself to an infant and the Dark Lady to his mother. He’s willing to go to any lengths to make her stay with him.
Explore Sonnet 143
’Sonnet 143’ by William Shakespeare depicts the speaker’s relationship through an image of a mother chasing chickens and abandoning her child.
In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 143,’ the speaker begins by setting up the simile. He compares the woman he loves, the Dark Lady, to a housewife who gone running after chickens. These chickens, which should be far less important than her own child, symbolize the Fair Youth. The “babe” symbolizes the speaker himself. She abandons him in pursuit of someone who doesn’t want her. The chickens continue to run as she chases them. The poem concludes the speaker’s desperate plea for her to pay attention to him.
Throughout this poem, Shakespeare engages with themes of love and desperation. He also depicts the speaker’s dependency on the Dark Lady through the mother/son image. Like a newborn child, the speaker demands his mother’s attention. He’s entirely dependent on her, and when she runs from him, he’s inconsolable. By comparing the speaker to a child, he’s ensuring the reader understands how incredibly desperate he is. His love, which is now closer to obsession, has taken over his life.
Structure and Form
‘Sonnet 143’ is a traditional Shakespearean sonnet that follows a rhyme scheme of ABABCDCDEFEFGG. Shakespeare also uses iambic pentameter in this piece. This means that the lines conform to a metrical pattern in which they vary between unstressed and stressed beats. There are five pairs per line. The seventh line is a particularly good example in ‘Sonnet 143.’
Readers should also note the “turn” between lines twelve and thirteen. The final rhyming couplet stands out from the rest of the lines and offers the reader a conclusion to the poem. In this case, the last lines finish the simile and contain the speaker’s desperate words for the Lady’s attention.
Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Sonnet 143’. These include but are not limited to examples of:
- Alliteration: the repetition of words with the same consonant sound. For example, “catch” and “creatures” in lines one and two as well as “flies,” “follow,” and “face” in line six.
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point—for example, the transition between lines one and two and five and six.
- Simile: a comparison between two things using “like” or “as.” In this case, the poet uses an extended simile to compare the Lady to a mother abandoning her crying child to chase after chickens.
Lo, as a careful housewife runs to catch
One of her feathered creatures broke away,
Sets down her babe, and makes all swift dispatch
In pursuit of the thing she would have stay;
Whilst her neglected child holds her in chase,
In the first lines of this poem, the speaker sets up a simile. He’s comparing the Dark Lady to a housewife running after “feathered creatures,” likely chickens. These feathered creatures are one of the many ways she gets distracted from her “babe.” In this strange extended simile, the chickens are the Fair Youth, a young man who has had a relationship with the speaker and the Dark Lady. The “babe,” from whom she’s continually distracted, represents the speaker. He’s deeply attached to her, sometimes for her beauty and sometimes for more emotional reasons. (It’s debatable whether he truly loves this woman considering the web of lies and cruelty they’re involved in.)
The speaker views himself as a neglected child, someone who should, by all rights, have the housewife’s attention. Instead, she’s running after someone else. It’s interesting to consider what this simile says about the speaker’s opinion of himself and the Dark Lady. He’s cast himself in the role of infant and the Lady in the controlling position of mother.
Cries to catch her whose busy care is bent
To follow that which flies before her face,
Not prizing her poor infant’s discontent;
So runn’st thou after that which flies from thee,
The next lines continue these strange images. The speaker describes how he, as an infant, chases after the lady while she pursues the chickens. It makes matters worse. The chickens continue to run away from her. She’s going after the one thing that is trying to get away from her while ignoring the person who loves her the most. She doesn’t seem to care about her infant’s “discontent.” This is not an unusual expression of their relationship. Throughout the Dark Lady sonnets, the speaker continually emphasizes how unkind the Lady is to him.
Whilst I thy babe chase thee afar behind;
But if thou catch thy hope, turn back to me,
And play the mother’s part, kiss me, be kind;
So will I pray that thou mayst have thy ‘Will,’
If thou turn back and my loud crying still.
In the last quatrain, the speaker says that he’s been left “afar behind.” She continues to run. He knows that if she catches the one she’s after, the Fair Youth, then perhaps she’ll turn around and be a good mother. Maybe, he thinks, if she can satisfy herself with the young man, then she’ll return to the person who loves her the most. This is a somewhat pitiful plea for attention on the speaker’s part, something that’s common within this series of sonnets.
The poem concludes with reference to thy “Will.” This relates back to previous sonnets in which the speaker used “Will” in several ways. It was used to refer to his passion, the lady’s, and his own presence in her life. He’s willing to cry and do whatever it takes to get her to turn around and pay attention to him.
‘Sonnet 143’ is about the lengths a speaker will go to in order to get his love back.
In this sonnet, Shakespeare engages with themes of desperation, dependency, and love. These three do not make for a healthy relationship.
Shakespeare’s most famous sonnet is ‘Sonnet 18,’ also known as ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’
A sonnet is a fourteen-line poem. It can use different rhyme schemes and metrical patterns. Usually, there are ten syllables per line.
‘Sonnet 143′ includes literary devices such as alliteration, enjambment and similies.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Sonnet 143’ should also consider reading other William Shakespeare poems. For example:
- ‘Sonnet 39‘ – addresses the speaker’s inability to adequately praise and celebrate the Fair Youth when the two are together.
- ‘Sonnet 92’ – discusses the fact that the speaker is going to live and die happily because of his relationship with the Fair Youth.
- ‘Sonnet 76’ – is an upbeat poem that discusses the speaker’s love for the Youth and explores the poet’s writing.