‘Sonnet 152‘ is one of William Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. It is one of several poems in the ‘Dark Lady’ sequence of sonnets. ‘Sonnet 152’ reveals the extent of the speaker’s obsession with the Dark Lady. He clearly defines everything that he’s changed about himself and all that he’s willing to do to make her happy. It’s clear he’s entirely trapped in this one-sided relationship and that there is no easy way out.
Explore Sonnet 152
’Sonnet 152’ by William Shakespeare suggests that the relationship between the Dark Lady and the speaker is coming to an end. He’s failed in his attempts to rationalize her actions.
In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 152,’ the speaker begins by talking about the various vows the two have sworn. They’ve both been unfaithful and done things they should be ashamed of. This includes breaking promises and trying to paint reality in a false light. The Dark Lady is not the person the speaker would like her to be and no matter how hard he tries, he can’t change her. He’s perjured himself over and over again, something that he regrets.
Structure and Form
‘Sonnet 152’ by William Shakespeare is a Shakespearean sonnet. This means that it contains fourteen lines. These are divided into two quatrains, or sets of four lines, and one sestet, or set of six lines. They rhyme ABABCDCDEFEFGG. Shakespeare popularized this pattern, and it’s common to see later sonnets following the same rhyme scheme. The poem is also written in iambic pentameter.
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 twelfth line is a particularly good example. The poem can also be divided into three sets of four lines and a final two-line couplet.
Throughout ‘Sonnet 152,’ the poet engages with themes of lies and immortality. He also speaks on the theme of endings and changes. The speaker is finally at least somewhat aware of the nature of his relationship with the Dark Lady. It isn’t going to change for the better since it’s built on lies and their mutual deception of people they’re supposed to care about. The Dark Lady is an incredibly immoral person, something the speaker has tried to remedy (with no success) throughout their relationship. Things are shifting as Shakespeare gets towards the end of his 154 sonnets.
Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Sonnet 152’. 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.
- Alliteration: the repetition of words with the same consonant sound. For example, “bed-vow” and “broke” in line three and “For” and “fair” in line thirteen.
- Caesura: occurs when the poet inserts a pause in the middle of a line. For example, line three reads: “In act thy bed-vow broke, and new faith torn” and line six reads “When I break twenty? I am perjur’d most.”
In loving thee thou know’st I am forsworn
But thou art twice forsworn, to me love swearing;
In act thy bed-vow broke, and new faith torn,
In vowing new hate after new love bearing.
In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 152,’ the speaker begins by making it clear that the relationship he’s somehow maintained with the Dark Lady is falling apart. The speaker is aware of everything they’ve both done wrong. This includes his and her infidelity and her broader lack of morality. She continues to break vows to him, those to be faithful and those to love him. It seems, for a moment, that the two might be able to reconcile, but that quickly slips away.
But why of two oaths’ breach do I accuse thee,
When I break twenty? I am perjur’d most;
For all my vows are oaths but to misuse thee,
And all my honest faith in thee is lost:
In the next quatrain, the speaker asks her a question. It’s a rhetorical one, and it connects with his own oath-breaking. He wants to know why he’s accusing her of breaking an oath when he’s broken twenty. He’s the most “perjur’d” of anyone. All of his “vows,” he says, “are oaths but to misuse thee.” His vows were only made to abuse her, and he’s been getting farther and farther from the truth. Even now, when it seems like the relationship is at its end, he’s bouncing back and forth between his desire for her and his clarity in regard to her morality.
For I have sworn deep oaths of thy deep kindness,
Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy;
And, to enlighten thee, gave eyes to blindness,
Or made them swear against the thing they see;
For I have sworn thee fair; more perjur’d I,
To swear against the truth so foul a lie!
In the third and final quatrain, the speaker says that throughout his time, he’s sworn “deep oaths of thy deep kindness.” He’s attempted to bring out her good side, her love, truth, and constancy, through his vows, but it hasn’t worked. By trusting her, he hoped that she would turn a corner and try to be a better person. But, his obsession with her has only made her like him less.
He adds that love “gave eyes blindness.” He hasn’t been seeing clearly, he knows, throughout his time with the Dark Lady. This is one of the few moments where the speaker seems aware of how much of himself he’s lost to her and what kind of person she truly is.
The poem concludes with a turn and the final couplet. Here, the speaker alludes to his previous assertions about the Dark Lady. Despite her dark complexion, he used to consider her fair or beautiful. But, now he knows the darkness is a reflection of what’s going on inside her. He’s told lie after lie about her as he’s tried to reconcile her actions with whom he wants her to be.
The tone is sorrowful and resigned. It finally appears that the speaker knows he’s never going to have a relationship with the Dark Lady. He’s depressed about it but is also starting to see clearly.
The meaning is that despite one’s best efforts, it’s still possible to be faced with corruption in one’s lover’s heart. The speaker did what he could to make the Dark Lady into someone she wasn’t. He failed, but at least now he realizes that.
William Shakespeare is generally considered to be the speaker in all 154 of his sonnets. This is due to the fact that he’s often writing from the perspective of a writer. He also alludes to things that some scholars have connected to his personal life and career.
The volta occurs between lines twelve and thirteen. Here, the speaker transitions from making statements about vows to clearly causing the Dark Lady of corruption and immortality. These words are even more clearly directed at her.
Readers will likely encounter a dark and pitying mood in ‘Sonnet 152.’ The speaker’s desperation in the previous sonnets has given way to a sorrowful depression that more clearly reflects the reality of his situation.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Sonnet 152’ should also consider reading other William Shakespeare poems. For example:
- ‘Sonnet 150’ – explores the ways the Dark Lady controls Shakespeare’s speaker. She makes him love her even though she’s cruel to him
- ‘Sonnet 14’ – is addressed to the Fair Youth and encourages the young man to have children.
- ‘Sonnet 70’ – is an interesting poem that discusses the ways that slanderous people treat the Fair Youth’s beauty.