‘Sonnet 92,’ also known as ‘But do thy worst to steal thyself away,’ is number ninety-two of one hundred fifty-four sonnets that the Bard wrote. Of this series, sonnets 1-126 belong to Shakespeare’s famous Fair Youth sequence. These poems are all devoted, in one way or another, to a young, beautiful man. 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.
This particular sonnet picks up where the poet left off in ‘Sonnet 91’. It continues on the same themes and in the same state of mind. The latter is important to note as the speaker tends to move between varying opinions of the Fair Youth from one sonnet to the next.
Sonnet 92 William Shakespeare But do thy worst to steal thyself away, For term of life thou art assured mine; And life no longer than thy love will stay, For it depends upon that love of thine. Then need I not to fear the worst of wrongs, When in the least of them my life hath end. I see a better state to me belongs Than that which on thy humour doth depend: Thou canst not vex me with inconstant mind, Since that my life on thy revolt doth lie. O what a happy title do I find, Happy to have thy love, happy to die! But what's so blessed-fair that fears no blot? Thou mayst be false, and yet I know it not.
Throughout this poem, the speaker reiterates a very important point that he’s stumbled upon. He realized that if the Fair Youth does him wrong in any number of ways big or small he will immediately die. Because of this, he has nothing to worry about. He is not dependent on the youth for his happiness because as soon as the youth does anything that might make him unhappy he knows he will die.
‘Sonnet 92 ’ by William Shakespeare is made up of fourteen lines and a good example of the English or Shakespearean sonnet. These sonnets are also sometimes known as Elizabethan. It made up of three quatrains, or sets of four lines, and one concluding couplet or set of two rhyming lines. The poem also follows a constant rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.
‘Sonnet 92’ is written in what is known as 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 92 ’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, enjambment, 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 twelve (which also has a good example of repetition) reads: “Happy to have thy love, happy to die!”
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “life,” “longer,” and “love” in line three as well as “happy” which is used in three lines, in lines eleven and twelve.
Enjambment is another important technique. 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 seven and eight.
But do thy worst to steal thyself away,
For term of life thou art assurèd mine,
And life no longer than thy love will stay,
For it depends upon that love of thine.
In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 92’ the speaker picks up where he left off in ‘Sonnet 91’. He ended the previous sonnet by telling the young man that if he leaves him that his entire life is going to be wrecked. This is because, as the speaker described, the love he shares with the Fair Youth is the only thing he really values about life.
Rather than continuing to describe how much he loves the Fair Youth or trying to convince him to never leave him, the speaker picks up in this sonnet by telling the Fair Youth that he is welcome to leave him. He tells him to “do the worst”. He can go ahead and leave the speaker and do everything he can to hurt him if he wants to.
The speaker knows that no matter what the Fair Youth does he is sure to hold onto him for as long as he’s alive. This, very simply, is because the speaker does not believe he would survive if he did not have the Fair Youth’s love. His entire life depends “upon that love of thine”.
Then need I not to fear the worst of wrongs,
When in the least of them my life hath end.
I see a better state to me belongs
Than that which on thy humor doth depend.
The speaker goes on in the second quatrain of ‘Sonnet 92’ to say that he shouldn’t worry about any terrible thing the Fair Youth might do to him. He knows that as soon as the youth hurts him even a little bit that he’s going to die. His life will end immediately. He says that he is now in a better position or “ better state” than if he was depending wholeheartedly on the Fair Youth for his happiness.
Thou canst not vex me with inconstant mind,
Since that my life on thy revolt doth lie.
O what a happy title do I find,
Happy to have thy love, happy to die!
But what’s so blessèd-fair that fears no blot?
Thou mayst be false, and yet I know it not.
The speaker has reclaimed something of his freedom in the fact that he knows he will not have to suffer if the Fair Youth turns on him. He tells the young man that he can’t worry him or “vex” him “with inconstant mind”. Or, more simply, the speaker cannot be bothered by the youth’s changing mind. His life will be over if the youth “revolts” against the speaker. With excitement, the speaker says that he’s in a “happy title” or position. He is happy to have the youth’s love but he’s also happy to die if he needs to.
In the concluding two lines of ‘Sonnet 92,’ the speaker declares that he is in a blessed situation. No other situation aside from this one would allow him so much freedom. He will never know if the Fair Youth betrays him because he will die immediately.