‘Sonnet 40,’ also known as ‘Take all my loves, my love; yea, take them all,’ is number forty of one hundred fifty-four sonnets that Shakespeare wrote during his life. It is part of the Fair Youth sequence of sonnets which lasts from the first sonnet through the one hundred and twenty-sixth.
This particular poem is wholly focused on love and its consequences. The word “love” is used ten times in this poem, often confusing the syntax even more than usual. This is especially true for the second quatrain.
Sonnet 40 William ShakespeareTake all my loves, my love, yea take them all;What hast thou then more than thou hadst before?No love, my love, that thou mayst true love call;All mine was thine, before thou hadst this more.Then, if for my love, thou my love receivest,I cannot blame thee, for my love thou usest;But yet be blam'd, if thou thy self deceivestBy wilful taste of what thyself refusest.I do forgive thy robbery, gentle thief,Although thou steal thee all my poverty:And yet, love knows it is a greater griefTo bear love's wrong, than hate's known injury. Lascivious grace, in whom all ill well shows, Kill me with spites yet we must not be foes.
This betrayal feels fresh and real in the first lines of the poem but as it progresses the speaker comes to terms with what happened and is ready to accept it. He tells the youth that no matter what he does, or the “loves” the youth takes from him, that he doesn’t want to be enemies. The youth is still as beautiful and good in the speaker’s eyes.
‘Sonnet 40’ by William Shakespeare is a fourteen-line sonnet that is structured in the form known as a “Shakespearean” or English sonnet. The poem is made up of three quatrains, or sets of four lines, and one concluding couplet, or set of two rhyming lines. They follow a consistent rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG and are written in iambic pentameter. This means that 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.
As is common in Shakespeare’s poems, the last two lines are a rhyming pair, known as a couplet. They often bring with them a turn or volta in the poem. They’re sometimes used to answer a question posed in the previous twelve lines, shift the perspective, or even change speakers. In this particular poem, the turn brings with it the speaker’s willingness to forgive the youth and remain friends no matter what happens.
Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Sonnet 40’. These include but are not limited to caesura, repetition, and alliteration. The first of these, caesura, occurs when a line is split in half, sometimes with punctuation, sometimes not. The use of punctuation in these moments creates a very intentional pause in the text.
A reader should consider how the pause influences the rhythm of one’s reading and how it might precede an important turn or transition in the text. The first line is a great example. It is split and therefore is able to better mimic natural speech patterns. It is easy to imagine the speaker saying these words out loud.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “mine” and “more” in line four and “blame” and “blamed” in lines six and seven. Alliteration is one example of repetition. In this poem, there are also examples of words being repeated, most prominently “love”.
Take all my loves, my love; yea, take them all.
What hast thou then more than thou hadst before?
No love, my love, that thou mayst true love call.
All mine was thine before thou hadst this more.
In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 40,’ the speaker begins by telling the Fair Youth to take all his loves. This line comes across as fairly passive-aggressive but it appears that the speaker means it as much as he has meant every other devotional line throughout the previous thirty-nine sonnets. He tells the youth that he can “take them all,” or take everything that he loves. The speaker follows this up with a question, asking the youth what he’ll gain by taking the speaker’s love that he didn’t already have. The things that the speaker loves is truly a reference to a woman, a mistress. The youth has slept with this woman, and as he does later on in the series, the speaker is contending with this turn of events.
The speaker’s disappointment comes through in the fourth line when he says that he had “All mine” and then he had to “hadst this more”. That is when things became different.
Then if for my love thou my love receivest,
I cannot blame thee, for my love thou usest.
But yet be blamed, if thou thyself deceivest
By wilful taste of what thyself refusest.
In the next four lines of ‘Sonnet 40’, the speaker goes on to discuss, in a slightly convoluted way, the youth’s choice to exchange his love for the love of the speaker’s mistress. Although this was wrong, he adds that he can’t blame the youth because he used his lover. But, the seventh line continues, the youth should blame himself if he deceives himself through this action.
I do forgive thy robb’ry, gentle thief,
Although thou steal thee all my poverty;
And yet love knows it is a greater grief
To bear love’s wrong than hate’s known injury.
Lascivious grace, in whom all ill well shows,
Kill me with spites; yet we must not be foes.
In the third and final quatrain of ‘Sonnet 40,’ the speaker says that despite all this, he forgives the youth. This is an unsurprising turn of events as there is truly nothing the youth could do to make him stop loving him. He calls him a “gentle thief,” he isn’t malevolent or particularly ill-meaning. He forgives him even though he’s taking the little that the speaker has.
He adds that every lover knows that it is love that is more damaging to one’s life than any enemy. In the last lines, he concludes by saying that he doesn’t want to become enemies with the youth even if he kills the speaker with “spites” or injuries. The youth is still “good” even when he is bad.