‘Sonnet 90,’ also known as ‘Then hate me when thou wilt, if ever, now,’ is number ninety of one hundred fifty-four sonnets that the Bard wrote over his lifetime. It picks up where ‘Sonnet 88’ and ‘Sonnet 89’ 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 90 William ShakespeareThen hate me when thou wilt; if ever, now;Now, while the world is bent my deeds to cross,Join with the spite of fortune, make me bow,And do not drop in for an after-loss:Ah! do not, when my heart hath 'scaped this sorrow,Come in the rearward of a conquered woe;Give not a windy night a rainy morrow,To linger out a purposed overthrow.If thou wilt leave me, do not leave me last,When other petty griefs have done their spite,But in the onset come: so shall I tasteAt first the very worst of fortune's might; And other strains of woe, which now seem woe, Compared with loss of thee, will not seem so.
Throughout the lines of a sonnet, the speaker tells the youth very directly that he would prefer the young man to bring on all the hurt and rejection he has to offer now. It will be better for the speaker if the fair youth leaves him at the beginning of a series of misfortunes rather than at the end. The speaker knows that if this occurs then any other terrible events that followed will seem like nothing in comparison.
‘Sonnet 90 ’ by William Shakespeare is a one stanza poem that contains fourteen lines. It is a good 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 ABABCDCDEFEFGG 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.
The last two lines are a couplet, meaning they are a rhyming pair. They often, but not always, 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.
Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Sonnet 90 ’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, caesura, and metaphor. Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “while” and “world” in line two as well as “do” and “drop” in line four.
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 one. It reads: “Then hate me when thou wilt, if ever, now”.
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 an example in the third and fourth lines of the second quatrain. The poet uses the image of a “windy night” and “rainy morrow” to describe his speaker’s woes.
Then hate me when thou wilt, if ever, now,
Now while the world is bent my deeds to cross;
Join with the spite of fortune, make me bow,
And do not drop in for an after-loss:
The first lines of ‘Sonnet 90,’ picks up where the last lines of ‘Sonnet 89’ left off. This sonnet is the third in a series of sonnets that discuss the breakdown of the relationship between the young man and the speaker. Despite higher tensions between the two, the speaker previously demonstrated his continued affection for the beautiful man by telling him that he would be willing to degrade his own standing in society if that would benefit him.
The speaker begins this sonnet by asking the youth, in his customary self derogatory attitude, to go ahead and hate him if he’s going to. Now, the speaker states, is the right time to pile onto his growing misfortunes.
The speaker believes that the world is against him. This brings in a sentiment that was prevalent in a previous section of sonnets in which the poet was discussing a “rival poet“ and the way that this man was disrupting his understanding of his own writing and his relationship with the fair youth.
He asked the young man to “make [him] bow”. Do not, he adds, bring this on to him later. He is prepared for all the hate and disappointment in the world at this point.
Ah, do not, when my heart hath ’scaped this sorrow,
Come in the rearward of a conquered woe.
Give not a windy night a rainy morrow,
To linger out a purposed overthrow.
In the second quatrain of ‘Sonnet 90,’ the speaker tells the young man, with Evan and emotion, that he does not want to go through the experience of believing he has maintained his relationship with the youth only to find out that this was not the case. He does not want to believe that his “heart” has avoided “the sorrow”. It would be too much to bear if after the misfortunes he’s currently experiencing, he then had to deal with the youth’s rejection.
Shakespeare uses a metaphor in the next two lines. He asked the fair youth through his speaker to not turn his “windy night” into a “rainy morrow”. This is just a slightly different and more poetic way of reiterating what he said before. He wants his misfortunes all at once not extended over a prolonged period of time.
If thou wilt leave me, do not leave me last,
When other petty griefs have done their spite
But in the onset come; so shall I taste
At first the very worst of fortune’s might;
And other strains of woe, which now seem woe,
Compared with loss of thee will not seem so.
The next four lines of ‘Sonnet 90’ make up the third quatrain. The speaker continues to talk directly to the fair you telling him that if he’s going to leave him that he should go ahead and do so. He’s continually bringing back the same ideas and concepts of the previous sections. He goes on to say that the youth should leave him in the “onset”. He’s asking that the youth’s rejection come first so that the worst events come at the beginning rather than at the end.
The couplet concludes ‘Sonnet 90’ with one further point of reasoning. He adds that this is going to be for the best because then any other hurts that come later will seem like nothing in comparison.