Sonnet 87

William Shakespeare

Read Shakespeare’s Sonnet 87, ‘Farewell, thou art too dear for my possessing,’ 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 87’ also known as ‘Farewell, thou art too dear for my possessing,’ is number eighty-seven of one hundred fifty-four sonnets that Shakespeare wrote over his lifetime. ‘Sonnet 87’ is one of 126 which belongs to the 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”. 

Some believe that the “speaker” in the poem, the person from whose perspective the poem is written is Shakespeare while others disagree. It is possible that Shakespeare was commissioned to write these poems or was simply using a persona as inspiration. 

Sonnet 87
William Shakespeare

Farewell! thou art too dear for my possessing,And like enough thou know'st thy estimate,The charter of thy worth gives thee releasing;My bonds in thee are all determinate.For how do I hold thee but by thy granting?And for that riches where is my deserving?The cause of this fair gift in me is wanting,And so my patent back again is swerving.Thy self thou gavest, thy own worth then not knowing,Or me to whom thou gav'st it else mistaking;So thy great gift, upon misprision growing,Comes home again, on better judgement making.   Thus have I had thee, as a dream doth flatter,   In sleep a king, but waking no such matter.
Sonnet 87 - Farewell, thou art too dear for my possessing by William Shakespeare


‘Sonnet 87’ by William Shakespeare is a depressing poem in which the speaker discusses his inadequacies and the loss of the youth’s love. 

The speaker takes the reader through a series of statements in these fourteen lines that explain the current state of his relationship with the young man. They had a love affair of some kind but now it’s over. The youth has come to his senses and either realized that the speaker is and always has been worth nothing or that he is himself worth much more than he previously thought. This realization has meant that the youth’s love has left the speaker. His time as a dream-like “king” is over. Now, the speaker has woken up into the real world. 


‘Sonnet 87’ by William Shakespeare is a fourteen-line poem that is contained within a single stanza. This poem is a good example of the English 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.

Poetic Techniques  

Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Sonnet 87 ’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, metaphor, and caesura. The latter, 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. For example, line nine reads: “Thyself thou gav’st, thy own worth then not knowing”. In this line, the speaker is acknowledging that the youth must’ve been mistaken about something when he gave the speaker his love 

Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “me” and “mistaking” in line ten and “dream doth” in line thirteen. 

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. There is a good example in the second quatrain where the speaker refers to his ownership of the youth’s love as a “patent”. He owned it temporarily but now it reverted back the youth. 

Detailed Analysis

Lines 1-4

Farewell, thou art too dear for my possessing,

And like enough thou know’st thy estimate.

The charter of thy worth gives thee releasing;

My bonds in thee are all determinate.

In the first lines of this poem, the speaker begins by addressing the Fair Youth and the state of their relationship. He believes that the young man no longer loves him, the speaker has lost possession of the youth’s love. This is due to the fact that the young man now fully understands his “estimate,” or his worth. The “charter of” his “worth” released him from the speaker’s love. He has severed the “bonds” or ties that connected him to the speaker. 

Lines 5-8 

For how do I hold thee but by thy granting,

And for that riches where is my deserving?

The cause of this fair gift in me is wanting,

And so my patent back again is swerving.

The speaker knows that there is nothing he can do to keep the youth from leaving him. He tells the young man, through a rhetorical question, that there is nothing holding them together but the control that the youth gives the speaker. And, the speaker now knows, he doesn’t deserve to have those “riches”. There is nothing the speaker has done, or so he thinks, that should justify his being loved by the Fair Youth. His right of possession, his “patent” is “swerving” or going back to what it was before. It belongs to the young man again. 

Lines 9-14 

Thyself thou gav’st, thy own worth then not knowing,

Or me, to whom thou gav’st it, else mistaking;

So thy great gift, upon misprision growing,

Comes home again, on better judgment making.

Thus have I had thee as a dream doth flatter:

In sleep a king, but waking no such matter.

In the next quatrain of ‘Sonnet 87,’ the speaker remembers when the young man once gave himself to him. He didn’t know then what he was worth. or, alternatively, the speaker thinks, the youth was mistaken in his assessment of what the speaker was worth. Whichever way it was, things have reverted to normal and the two are separating. The “gift” of love was based “upon misprision growing”. Now, a better judgment has been made. 

In the last two lines, the speaker says that the past now feels like a “dream” to him. It was one of flattery. In it, he felt like a king, but he does no longer now that he has woken up. 

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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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