‘Sonnet 69,’ also known as ‘Those parts of thee that the world’s eye doth view,’ is number sixty-nine of one hundred fifty-four sonnets that the Bard wrote over his lifetime. It is part of Shakespeare’s famous Fair Youth sequence of sonnets. These start with sonnet number one and run all the way through sonnet one hundred twenty-six. These poems are devoted to a young, beautiful man whose identity remains unknown to this day. There has been a great deal of speculation about who this young man could possibly be, but no single identity has ever been decided upon.
‘Sonnet 69’ deals with many familiar themes that are found in other poems in this series. These include beauty, of one’s appearance and one’s soul, as well as youth, perception, and love.
In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 69,’ the speaker describes how obvious the Fair Youth’s beauty is to everyone. There is no one, not even those who consider themselves the youth’s “foe” who would ever say that he is not lovely. But, when these same people look into the youth’s heart they notice that the “smell” does not match the flower’s appearance. The speaker comes to the conclusion at the end of the poem that the youth is becoming corrupted by negative influences around him.
‘Sonnet 69’ by William Shakespeare is a fourteen-line, single stanza poem. It is structured 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 (known as a couplet) are a rhyming pair. They often bring with them a turn or “volta” (in Italian) 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 69’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, metaphor, and enjambment. The first of these, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “Those” and “thee” in line one and “fair flower” in line twelve.
A metaphor is a comparison between two, unlike things that does not use “like” or “as” is also present in the text. When using this technique a poet is saying that one thing is another thing, they aren’t just similar. In the second half of this poem, the poet introduces an extended metaphor that compares the speaker’s internal and external beauty to a beautiful flower that smells poorly. It is growing in “common” soil or living amongst bad influences and that is impacting his smell.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It 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 as well as that between lines eleven and twelve.
Those parts of thee that the world’s eye doth view
Want nothing that the thought of hearts can mend.
All tongues, the voice of souls, give thee that due,
Utt’ring bare truth, ev’n so as foes commend.
In the first quatrain of ‘Sonnet 69,’ the speaker begins by addressing the single most common theme within sonnets 1-126, the Fair Youth’s beauty. He is speaking directly to this young man, something he hasn’t done since ‘Sonnet 64’. The speaker describes for him how the world sees and perceives him. The world can see the visible parts of the youth, his striking beauty. There is no one who would doubt that this young man is gorgeous. It is something that even “foes commend”. This is a powerful way of describing how overwhelmingly the youth’s appearance was. Everyone praises him unreservedly.
Thy outward thus with outward praise is crowned;
But those same tongues that give thee so thine own
In other accents do this praise confound
By seeing farther than the eye hath shown.
The youth’s “outward” appearance is continually praised and rewarded by the kind words of other people, but something very different occurs when it comes to the youth’s inner appearance. Those “same tongues” that praised his exterior beauty have nothing to tell them about what the youth is like inside, except that external appearance. Therefore, they’re forced to guess what the youth’s personality is like.
They look into the beauty of thy mind,
And that in guess they measure by thy deeds;
Then, churls, their thoughts (although their eyes were kind)
To thy fair flower add the rank smell of weeds;
But why thy odor matcheth not thy show,
The soil is this, that thou dost common grow.
In the third and final quatrain of ‘Sonnet 69,’ the speaker says that the world judges the youth’s appearance kindly but when it comes to the youth’s inside they smell “of weeds”. It is dark and corrupt in the youth’s heart, the speaker suggests. This is another common theme within the sonnets. The youth often strays from the speaker’s side and spends time with people that the speaker doesn’t approve of. The speaker is often bothered by this.
In the last two lines of ‘Sonnet 69,’ the speaker says that if it’s true what people say, that the youth’s “odor” does not match his appearance them it’s because he is in “soil” that is common. The metaphor of flowers, growth, and smells, comes together at the end of the poem to depict the youth as residing in a flower bed of negativity. This is an allusion to the types of people that he spends his time with. They are a bad influence on him and are corrupting his “smell” or his morals/soul.