‘Sonnet 147‘ is one of William Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. It is one of several poems in the ‘Dark Lady’ sequence of sonnets. These poems contend with the speaker’s love for a woman who treats him with contempt and cruelty. In ‘Sonnet 147,’ the speaker returns to a familiar metaphor, one in which he compares his love for the Dark Lady to an illness.
Explore Sonnet 147
’Sonnet 147’ by William Shakespeare compares the speaker’s love for the Dark Lady to an illness he can’t and won’t get rid of.
In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 147,’ the speaker compares his love to a sickness. It’s something that’s plaguing him but also something that he’s not willing to get rid of. He won’t do anything to cure himself of his illness. It feeds off of his sense of reason, making him do things he wouldn’t normally. His sense of reason is enraged with him, like a doctor who’s been trying to treat him. Finally, seeing things clearly, the speaker says that he knows that his obsession will mean the end of his life. His illness is going to completely consume him now that his reason is gone.
The poem concludes with the speaker saying that he doesn’t actually care if he’s ever cured. He knows that might sound insane, like a mentally unwell person shouting out nonsensical words and phrases. The poem concludes with the speaker addressing the Dark Lady, telling her that she’s a poison that’s ruined his life.
Throughout ‘Sonnet 147,’ the poet engages with themes of illness, evil, and obsession. The Dark Lady, like an illness, has consumed his life. He’s obsessed with her, so much so that no one can shake him back into his right mind. Like a mad person, he’s racked will symptoms of his obsession. He’s lost the ability to reason or think clearly. His thoughts are random and scattered. The poet’s speaker refers to the Dark Lady in the last lines as an evil presence in his life. He’s well aware of what he’s allowed his life to become.
Structure and Form
‘Sonnet 147’ 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 stressed. It sounds something like da-DUM, da-DUM. The eighth line is a particularly good example. The poem can also be divided into three sets of four lines and a final two-line couplet.
Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Sonnet 147’. These include but are not limited to examples of:
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two as well as lines seven and eight.
- Alliteration: the repetition of words with the same consonant sound. For example, “love” and “longing” in line one and “Desire” and “death” in line eight.
- Extended Metaphor: seen through the poet’s use of a comparison between his obsession an illness. It expands to include reason and a doctor’s care.
My love is as a fever, longing still
For that which longer nurseth the disease,
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
Th’ uncertain sickly appetite to please.
In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 147,’ the speaker begins by using a metaphor to describe his love/lust as a “fever,” one that is consuming him. It feeds on his common sense and reason to preserve itself. His body’s desire for the Dark Lady is making him worse while fuelling the illness itself. He’s completely unable to separate himself from the illness/his desire. This is related to the previous sonnet and the poet’s depiction of his soul feeding on death.
My reason, the physician to my love,
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
Hath left me, and I desperate now approve
Desire is death, which physic did except.
The speaker calls his reason a “physician,’ the only chance he had to cure himself. But, unfortunately, reason has abandoned him after becoming frustrated over the speaker’s refusal to take its advice. His reason knows there’s nothing it can do to fix the speaker.
Past cure I am, now reason is past care,
And frantic-mad with evermore unrest;
My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are,
At random from the truth vainly expressed:
For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.
In the third and final quatrain, the speaker says that he’s “Past cure.” He’s “frantic-mad” and unable to sit still. His mind and actions feel like a mad man’s. The speaker’s illness had changed him, stripping him of his reason and self-confidence. He used to worry about this, but as the sonnets are drawing to a close, it appears he’s turned himself over fully to his obsession. There’s nothing and no one who could pull him out of the downward spiral he’s in.
The poem concludes with the speaker cursing the Dark Lady, revealing that he’s well aware of the negative impact her presence has had in his life. He calls her “black and hell, dark as night.” This hearkens back to the initial Dark Lady sonnets and the poet’s appreciation for her unique “dark” beauty. Readers may again consider whether the Dark Lady is physically dark, as in she has dark hair, skin, eyes, etc., and/or she’s spiritually and emotionally dark.
The tone of ‘Sonnet 147’ is at times defeated and at other times frantic and in the end, angry. The speaker realizes that he’s been defeated by his illness, one that makes his thoughts run frantically and randomly through his mind. But, he is still clear-minded enough to realize that the Dark Lady is the case of his ills.
Shakespeare wrote ‘Sonnet 147’ in the late 1500s, along with the rest of the sonnets. It was published in 1609 in Shakespeare’s Sonnets.
The speaker’s view on love is a negative one. His love/lust for the Dark Lady has turned him into an ill, mad man. He’s obsessed to an unhealthy degree. So much so, that his reason has completely left him.
The speaker may or may not be William Shakespeare himself. Some scholars believe that Shakespeare wrote these poems with his own experience in mind, while others disagree. The focus on writing/singing in the initial sonnets makes it seem likely.
The resolution comes in the last two lines with the speaker cursing the Dark Lady. It’s clear he knows her nature but is unable to change his obsession with her. Readers should conclude that he’s stuck in this situation and there’s nothing anyone could do to help him.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Sonnet 147’ should also consider reading other William Shakespeare’s other poems. For example:
- ‘Sonnet 123’ – is a poem about time and change. The speaker asserts that time isn’t going to change him as it does others.
- ‘Sonnet 135’ – is an unusual sonnet within Shakespeare’s oeuvre. It expresses the speaker’s desire to sleep with the Dark Lady and counted among her many lovers.
- ‘Sonnet 145’ – details a woman’s changing regard for the speaker. It’s a simple poem with good examples of figurative language.