‘Sonnet 89,’ also known as ‘Say that thou didst forsake me for some fault,’ is number eighty-nine of one hundred fifty-four sonnets that the Bard wrote over his lifetime. It picks up where ‘Sonnet 88’ left off, continuing to muse on the differences between the speaker and the Fair Youth.
This particular sonnet and those which are numbered 1-126 belong to Shakespeare’s famous Fair Youth sequence. 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 89 William Shakespeare Say that thou didst forsake me for some fault, And I will comment upon that offence: Speak of my lameness, and I straight will halt, Against thy reasons making no defence. Thou canst not, love, disgrace me half so ill, To set a form upon desired change, As I'll myself disgrace; knowing thy will, I will acquaintance strangle, and look strange; Be absent from thy walks; and in my tongue Thy sweet beloved name no more shall dwell, Lest I, too much profane, should do it wrong, And haply of our old acquaintance tell. For thee, against my self I'll vow debate, For I must ne'er love him whom thou dost hate.
Within the fourteen lines of ‘Sonnet 89,’ the speaker displays his loyalty to the youth. He tells the young man that as soon as he comes to hate the speaker that he’ll turn on himself. The speaker will do whatever needs to be done in order to make the world understand that the youth has been right all along. If this means acting lame, pretending he doesn’t know the youth, or hating himself, he’ll do it.
‘Sonnet 89 ’ 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.
The last two lines (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 89 ’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, caesura, 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, “forsake” and “fault” in line one as well as “disgrace” and “desired” in lines five and six.
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. There is a good example in line three of this poem. It reads: “Speak of my lameness, and I straight will halt”.
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 instance, the transition between lines nine and ten as well as that between lines eleven and twelve.
Say that thou didst forsake me for some fault,
And I will comment upon that offense.
Speak of my lameness, and I straight will halt,
Against thy reasons making no defense.
In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 89,’ the speaker picks up where he left off in ‘Sonnet 88’. This is a technique that Shakespeare used several times in his series of 154 sonnets. There are a few instances in which one sonnet did not do a specific topic or feeling justice and he had to extend his thoughts, or his speaker’s thoughts, into another fourteen lines.
He had in the previous sonnet been speaking about the way that he’d demean himself in order to make the youth look good. This is still something that he’s interested in discussing. The speaker says that if the youth “forsake[s]” him then he would comment upon his own “lameness” in order to back the youth up. He would do whatever he needed to except make a “defense” in his own honor.
The speaker tells the young man that if claims that the speaker is “lame” he will immediately start acting that way.
Thou canst not, love, disgrace me half so ill,
To set a form upon desired change,
As I’ll myself disgrace, knowing thy will;
I will acquaintance strangle and look strange,
The second quatrain of ‘Sonnet 89’ the speaker tells the youth that when he leaves, the speaker will be even crueler to himself than the youth ever could be. This will all be to make the youth seem more correct than he did, to begin with. When the speaker knows the youth’s “will” he will do what he needs to. This might include pretending like he doesn’t know him or acting like a stranger.
Be absent from thy walks, and in my tongue
Thy sweet belovèd name no more shall dwell,
Lest I, too much profane, should do it wrong
And haply of our old acquaintance tell.
For thee against myself I’ll vow debate,
For I must ne’er love him whom thou dost hate.
In the third and final quatrain of ‘Sonnet 89,’ the speaker says that he won’t mention the youth’s name any longer. His tongue will be removed from “Thy sweet belovèd name”. This will be the case so that the speaker does not accidentally “do it wrong”. The “wrong”-ness would come from reminding anyone that the two used to be acquainted. It is crucial that the speaker pretends like they don’t know each other.
The couplet concludes the poem by telling the youth that the speaker will be his own enemy. He will hate himself because that is what the youth is going to do. He can’t love “him whom thou dost hate”.