‘Sonnet 62,’ ‘Sin of self-love possesseth all mine eye,’ is number sixty-two of one hundred fifty-four sonnets that Shakespeare wrote over his lifetime. It is part of the prolonged Fair Youth sequence of sonnets, which last from number one all the way through one hundred twenty-six.
These sonnets are devoted to a young, beautiful man whose identity remains unknown to this day. This particular poem is focused on a familiar theme, the merging of minds and hearts between lovers. There are also allusions to another reoccurring theme, that of the youth being worth more, of higher social standing, than the speaker.
In the first part of this poem, the speaker asserts that his self-love is powerful. He believes that his visage, his life, and his nature are worth more than anyone else’s. He thinks that compared with all other people is by far the most beautiful. In the second half of the poem, this changes entirely. The speaker remembers that he isn’t any of those things he mentioned. Rather, he’s old, wrinkled, and far from beautiful. It is the Fair Youth that he has been thinking of instead, and the beauty that the youth lends him through their very close relationship.
‘Sonnet 62’ by William Shakespeare is a fourteen-line sonnet that is contained within one stanza, in the form that has become synonymous with the poet’s name. The English or Shakespearean sonnet (sometimes also known as the Elizabethan) is made up of three quatrains, or sets of four lines, and one concluding couplet, or set of two rhyming lines. The poem follows a consistent rhyme scheme that conforms to the pattern of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG and it is written in iambic pentameter.
Iambic pentameter 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.
Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Sonnet 62’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, enjambment, and imagery. The latter, imagery, refers to the elements of a poem that engage a reader’s senses. Traditionally, the word “image” is related to visual sights, things that a reader can imagine seeing, but imagery is much more than that. It is something one can sense with their five senses. There is a good example in the last lines of the poem when the speaker describes his skin as “Beated and chopped with tanned antiquity”.
Enjambment occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For example, the transition between lines one and two. Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “mine,” “my, “ and “my” again in lines one and two as well as “true” and “truth” in line six.
Sin of self-love possesseth all mine eye
And all my soul, and all my every part;
And for this sin there is no remedy,
It is so grounded inward in my heart.
In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 62,’ the speaker begins by stating that there is a single sin at the root of everything that he does, that of “self-love”. It controls everything he sees and does, it is inside “every part” of his body and mind. The “self-love” is so deeply rooted in him that there is no remedy for it, it is in his heart and it can’t be removed.
Methinks no face so gracious is as mine,
No shape so true, no truth of such account;
And for myself mine own worth do define,
As I all other in all worths surmount.
The speaker continues to describe what “self-love” is while also alluding to its true meaning. He says that his face is the most “gracious” one that he has ever seen. It is the best proportioned, most even, with the truest “shape”. The speaker also says that his worth or integrity is better than anyone else’s. He calculates his own value has higher than any other.
But when my glass shows me myself indeed,
Beated and chopped with tanned antiquity,
Mine own self-love quite contrary I read;
Self so self-loving were iniquity.
‘Tis thee, myself, that for myself I praise,
Painting my age with beauty of thy days.
In the third and final quatrain of ‘Sonnet 62’ the speaker makes a turn. This transition from one strain of thought to the next is common of all sonnets. Usually, the turn in Shakespearean sonnets happens between the twelfth and thirteenth lines. But, it is not uncommon to find it between the eighth and ninth lines, as occurs within Petrarchan sonnets. In this particular poem, there are two turns.
The first announces that when the speaker looks in the mirror and stops trusting his mental image of himself, he realizes that he is not worth as much as he thought. He is in reacted “beated and chopped with tanned antiquity”. His sin is old and cracked with age as if it’s been dried out by the sun. He realizes that if he truly loved himself as he tried to do in the first two quatrains that it would be a sin.
The last two lines turn to “thee,” the Fair Youth. He tells this young man that it is he that the speaker is praising when he talks about value, integrity, and beauty. The two lovers have merged into one, a familiar theme within Shakespeare’s sonnets. The young man is adorning the speaker’s visage with his youth. His beauty is benefiting the speaker.