‘Sonnet 82’ also known as ‘I grant thou wert not married to my Muse,’ is number eighty-two of one hundred fifty-four sonnets that Shakespeare wrote over his lifetime. This particular sonnet, and those which are numbered 1-126, belong to Shakespeare’s Fair Youth sequence. The 126 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 “young man” has been determined to be the poet’s “muse”.
Throughout this poem, the speaker paints a picture of the skillful writing that comes from the pens of other poets. As he often has in sonnets in the series, he degrades his own ability to write and admits that the Fair Youth would be well within his means to spend his time reading the poetry that was written by others. But, in the second half of the poem, he changes tactics and suggests that the opposite might be true. These other poets use over-the-top, flowery, and excessive language to describe the Fair Youth. These terms and phrases are misused when applied to the young man. They would be better served dedicated to those whose “cheeks need blood“.
‘Sonnet 82 ’ by William Shakespeare is a single stanza poem that is made up of fourteen lines. It is a good example of the English or Shakespearean sonnet, sometimes also known as the Elizabethan. This form requires that the sonnet be 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.
This particular sonnet contains a few variations from this standard metrical pattern. For example, line four with the double stress (spondee) of “fair sub—“ and line five that begins with a trochee, “Thou art”.
The last two lines are known as a couplet) are a rhyming pair. They often, but not always, 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 82 ’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, enjambment, and allusion. The latter is an expression that’s meant to call something specific to mind without directly stating it. In this case, the poet alludes to a growing series of sonnets that address the presence and influence of a “Rival Poet” or poets. This unknown group, or in some cases single individual, seek to dedicate themselves to the Fair Youth’s beauty. Their influence can be seen in several other sonnets.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “married” and “my Muse” in line one and “blessing” and “book” in line four. 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 two and three as well as between three and four.
I grant thou wert not married to my Muse,
And therefore mayst without attaint o’erlook
The dedicated words which writers use
Of their fair subject, blessing every book
In the first lines of this poem, the speaker begins by addressing the Fair Youth. This young and beautiful man has been the subject of eighty-one poems up until this point. In recent poems, including ‘Sonnet 79,’ ‘Sonnet 80,’ and ‘Sonnet 81’ the speaker discusses the possibility of a Rival Poet. This is someone who the speaker sees as a threat to his relationship with the Fair Youth but whom he knows he can’t control. The speaker also knows that what the Fair Youth does is out of his control as well.
He concedes at the beginning of this sonnet that the Fair Youth is not “married to my Muse“. The speaker is not the only one who writes about this young man nor is the speaker’s poetry the only work that the youth reads.
The speaker goes on to say that the youth is not doing anything wrong if he reads the “dedicated words which writers use“ about him. He is the “blessing“ of every book that he is included in. A reader should take note of the use of alliteration in the fourth line of the sonnet with the words “blessing“ and “book“.
Thou art as fair in knowledge as in hue,
Finding thy worth a limit past my praise;
And therefore art enforced to seek anew
Some fresher stamp of the time-bettering days.
In the second quatrain of ‘Sonnet 82,’ the speaker alludes to the youth’s knowledge. This is something that he has done on occasion in order to make clear that he appreciates the youth for more than just his outward good looks. He has a gracefulness and graciousness that the speaker wants to take notice of as well. In this instance, he says that the youth is “as fair in knowledge as in hue“. The simple simile makes clear how multifaceted the speaker’s appreciation for the youth is.
He adds, as he often does, but he is incapable of writing verse that skillfully praises the youth sufficiently. He sees himself as less of a writer than he should be. This makes it all the more understandable in his mind that the youth is forced to look for “a new“ writing that looks towards the future of literature. This is something that the speaker does not see in his own work.
And do so, love; yet when they have devised,
What strained touches rhetoric can lend,
Thou truly fair, wert truly sympathized
In true plain words, by thy true-telling friend;
And their gross painting might be better used
Where cheeks need blood; in thee it is abused.
In the third and final quatrain of ‘Sonnet 82,’ the speaker says that the youth should go ahead and do as he pleases. He refers to the young man as his “love“. It is in the second part of the poem that the speaker reiterates as he has in previous sonnets that there might be something slightly untruthful or manipulative about the other poets writing styles.
These writers have used elaborate and flowery language to describe the young man. But, the speaker believes that since he is beautiful without embellishment he would be better served by “true plain words”. The youth, from the speaker’s perspective, is better told of his gloriousness “by thy true-telling friend”. This is a very clear reference to the speaker and a sly, yet humble way of suggesting that the speaker’s verse does have merit.
In the last two lines, he adds that the rival poets “gross painting“ suits those who feel the need for flattery more than the youth does. The youth know how beautiful and worthy he is and this over the top language doesn’t benefit him. Those whose “cheeks need blood“ or should be on the receiving end of the verse written by the rival poet. When applied to the Fair Youth it is misused or “abused“.