Sonnet 83

William Shakespeare

Read Shakespeare’s Sonnet 83, ‘I never saw that you did painting need,’ with a summary and complete analysis of the poem.


William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare is considered to be one of the most important English-language writers.

His plays and poems are read all over the world. 

Sonnet 83’ also known as, ‘I never saw that you did painting need’ is number eighty-three 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”. 

Sonnet 83
William Shakespeare

I never saw that you did painting need,And therefore to your fair no painting set;I found, or thought I found, you did exceedThe barren tender of a poet's debt:And therefore have I slept in your report,That you yourself, being extant, well might showHow far a modern quill doth come too short,Speaking of worth, what worth in you doth grow.This silence for my sin you did impute,Which shall be most my glory being dumb;For I impair not beauty being mute,When others would give life, and bring a tomb.   There lives more life in one of your fair eyes   Than both your poets can in praise devise.
Sonnet 83 - I never saw that you did painting need by William Shakespeare


‘Sonnet 83 ’ by William Shakespeare discusses the speaker’s tactics when it comes to depicting the Fair Youth’s beauty in his verse

The speaker tells the Fair Youth in these fourteen lines that it has been his choice while writing about him to not describe him as clearly as he could. Shakespeare’s speaker knows that it would be impossible to adequately describe the Fair Youth’s beauty and so he has not even attempted it. Instead, the has spoken less passionately than he could. This has in the end benefited the youth. Now, he can shine against the speaker’s less than complete depiction of him. 


‘Sonnet 83 ’ by William Shakespeare is a fourteen-line poem that is contained within a single stanza. This poem is a solid example of an English, Elizabethan, or Shakespearean sonnet. 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.

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

Poetic Techniques  

Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Sonnet 83 ’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, metaphor, and enjambment. The latter 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 three and four as well as that between lines six and seven. 

A metaphor is a comparison between two, unlike things that do 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. There is a good example in the first line when the poet says that the youth did not need “painting”. This is a metaphorical painting that’s done with a quill and words. 

Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “found” and “found” in line three and “beauty, being” in line eleven. 

Detailed Analysis

Lines 1-4

I never saw that you did painting need,

And therefore to your fair no painting set.

I found, or thought I found, you did exceed

The barren tender of a poet’s debt.

In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 83,’ the speaker begins by talking directly to the Fair Youth. He tells this young man that his verse has always been simple because he didn’t think the youth needed “painting”. This “painting” is a metaphor for overwrought, extra over the top, flowery language, something the speaker does not support. He can be seen speaking against it in ‘Sonnet 82’ as he discusses the works of the Rival Poet or poets. 

He believed that the youth “did exceed” anything that a poet could come up with. His beauty was beyond compare and description. Clearly, he says, the youth did not need anyone telling him that he was beautiful. But, the next line suggests that this is not entirely true. 

Lines 5-8 

And therefore have I slept in your report,

That you yourself, being extant, well might show

How far a modern quill doth come too short,

Speaking of worth, what worth in you doth grow.

He continues on into the second quatrain of ‘Sonnet 83,’ telling the youth the because he didn’t think he needed overt praise that the speaker has “slept in your report”. Meaning, he has not exerted himself to praise the youth too much. This works to the youth’s favor, he thinks. Now, the youth is ale to “show /How far a modern quill doth come too short”. The youth is far beyond anything the speaker wrote and now he can use the speaker’s writing as a contrast. Everyone will be even more taken with the youth as he outshines that which has been written about him. 

His “worth” is far more than the speaker could’ve ever tapped into. 

Lines 9-14 

This silence for my sin you did impute,

Which shall be most my glory, being dumb.

For I impair not beauty, being mute,

When others would give life, and bring a tomb.

There lives more life in one of your fair eyes

Than both your poets can in praise devise.

In the third and final quatrain of ‘Sonnet 83,’ the speaker says that the youth had a different opinion of the whole situation. He blamed the speaker for his silence, the speaker refers to his silence as a “sin” but one that he’s proud of. His “dumb” nature, or his inability to speak accurately about the youth, is something he’s pleased with.

He adds that his muteness has not “impair[ed]” the youth’s beauty. The speaker has not damaged the youth by speaking inaccurately about him. His silence has really been for the best. He compares his actions to those of other writers who are only making the youth’s “tomb” for him by trying to “give life” to their depictions of the young man. 

In the last two lines of the poem, the speaker adds that the young man has “more life” in one of his “fair,” or beautiful, eyes than any poet or poets can “devise”. No one could even invent the depth of beauty the youth has. 

Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

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