W William Shakespeare

Sonnet 9 – Is it for fear to wet a widow’s eye by William Shakespeare

The sonnet ‘Is it for fear to wet a widow’s eye’ is Sonnet 9 of one hundred and fifty-four sonnets that Shakespeare penned. It belongs to the Fair Youth sequence that makes up the majority of the poems the Bard wrote. The series is dedicated to a specific person, whose identity has never been confirmed. He was a young, beautiful man about whom the speaker deeply cared. This sonnet is one of seventeen that is part of the group focused on procreation.


Summary of Sonnet 9

Sonnet 9: ‘Is it for fear to wet a widow’s eye’ by William Shakespeare speaks on the Fair Youth’s lack of commitment and selfish hoarding of his beauty.

The poem addresses the youth’s lack of wife and child. This is something that he has yet to remedy and the speaker is trying to figure out why that’s the case. He suggests that perhaps he has yet to take a wife because he’s worried that she will mourn when he’s gone. The speaker tells the youth that if he dies without a child the entire world will “wail”. He needs to stop being so self-concerned and think about everyone else. Having a child is the best choice he could make.


Structure of Sonnet 9

‘Is it for fear to wet a widow’s eye’ by William Shakespeare is a fourteen-line sonnet that is structured in the “Shakespearean” or English form. It 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. This 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 of ‘Is it for fear to wet a widow’s eye’ are a rhyming pair, known as a couplet. They often bring with them a turn or volta in the poem. They’re sometimes used to answer a question posed in the previous twelve lines, shift the perspective, or even change speakers. In this case, the last two lines get to the heart of the issue that the speaker continues to raise with the Fair Youth, that of his lack of children and the fact that this non-act is akin to murder.


Poetic Techniques in Sonnet 9

Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Is it for fear to wet a widow’s eye’. These include, but are not limited to, alliteration, enjambment, and imagery.  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, “world will wail” and “wife” in the fourth line and “world will,” “widow” and “weep” in the fifth line. 

Imagery refers to the elements of a poem that engage a reader’s senses. Traditionally, the word “image” is related to visual sights, things that a reader can imagine seeing, but imagery is much more than that. It is something one can sense with their five senses. For example, that of the entire world wailing over the loss of the youth.

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 transitions between lines five and six and lines nine and ten.


Analysis of Sonnet 9 

Lines 1-4

Is it for fear to wet a widow’s eye,

That thou consum’st thy self in single life?

Ah! if thou issueless shalt hap to die,

The world will wail thee like a makeless wife;

In the first lines of ‘Is it for fear to wet a widow’s eye,’ the speaker begins by directly addressing the listener, the Fair Youth. He has a problem with this young man, specifically that he is not married with children. He suggests that maybe, despite his pleadings, the young man is not married because he is worried that his widow will be heartbroken when he dies. She might cry over him. 

The speaker brushes this argument to the side and says instead that if he does not get married and does not have a  child then the whole world is going to mourn for him. The world “will wail” for “thee”. 


Lines 5-8 

The world will be thy widow and still weep

That thou no form of thee hast left behind,

When every private widow well may keep

By children’s eyes, her husband’s shape in mind:

Using alliteration, the speaker presses the metaphor further. The world will “be thy widow” he says. All the people of the world will weep after “your” death and then continue to do so because “you” did not leave a child behind. There is “no form of thee” for them to take comfort in. 

It is in the young man’s best interests to find a wife and have a kid. Then, after he dies the kid is there to take his place in the eyes of the world and the wife can look after him.


Lines 9-12 

Look what an unthrift in the world doth spend

Shifts but his place, for still the world enjoys it;

But beauty’s waste hath in the world an end,

And kept unused the user so destroys it.

In the final quatrain of ‘Is it for fear to wet a widow’s eye’ the speaker goes back to an image that came up in prior sonnets on this same topic, that of someone spending their money poorly. This person is called an “unthrift” by the poet. He uses the image of this person moving money around in the world and how it might not be the best thing, but at least the money is there. 

If the Fair Youth does not move his money around, aka make a child that has his same beauty, then it will be a loss. That beauty will be destroyed.


Lines 13-14 

   No love toward others in that bosom sits

That on himself such murd’rous shame commits.

In the last two lines of ‘Is it for fear to wet a widow’s eye’ the speaker concludes by essentially calling the Fair Youth a murderer. If he doesn’t have a child and prolong his beauty then he has killed it and has no love for others in his heart. 

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Emma Baldwin
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 analysing poetry on Poem Analysis.

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