Sonnets 1-126 of this series belong to the poet’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.
Sonnet 95 William ShakespeareHow sweet and lovely dost thou make the shameWhich, like a canker in the fragrant rose,Doth spot the beauty of thy budding name!O! in what sweets dost thou thy sins enclose.That tongue that tells the story of thy days,Making lascivious comments on thy sport,Cannot dispraise, but in a kind of praise;Naming thy name blesses an ill report.O! what a mansion have those vices gotWhich for their habitation chose out thee,Where beauty's veil doth cover every blotAnd all things turns to fair that eyes can see! Take heed, dear heart, of this large privilege; The hardest knife ill-used doth lose his edge.
The poem compares the youth to a house that’s so beautiful that it obscures all the darker sins inside. He also relates the youth’s beauty to that of a flower that is infected with a worm but still appears beautiful. The speaker knows that the youth is well aware of his ability to influence those around him and he warns him not to overuse this ability or it might dull.
‘Sonnet 95 ’ 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 95 ’. These include but are not limited to examples of 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, the thirteenth line of the poem reads: “Take heed, dear heart, of this large privilege”.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For instance, “beauty” and “budding” in line three as well as “Naming” and “name” in line four.
A metaphor is a comparison between two, unlike things that do 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 of this kind of figurative language at the end of the poem when the youth’s beauty, and the possibility of his overusing it, is compared to a knife.
How sweet and lovely dost thou make the shame
Which, like a canker in the fragrant rose,
Doth spot the beauty of thy budding name!
O in what sweets dost thou thy sins enclose!
In the first quatrain of ‘Sonnet 95,’ the poet begins by alluding to an image that was utilized in the previous sonnet, ‘Sonnet 94’. In the lines of the previous sonnet, the poet spoke about the corruption of goodness and what makes a well-rounded godly person. He used the extended metaphor of a flower that’s corrupted by a parasite.
Now, the poet returns to a similar image, that of a flower, a rose being infected by a worm, or a canker. This image is addressed to “thou,” the Fair Youth. He, when a worm has infected him, makes the corruption look “sweet” and beautiful. His sins are easily covered by beauty.
That tongue that tells the story of thy days,
Making lascivious comments on thy sport,
Cannot dispraise but in a kind of praise;
Naming thy name blesses an ill report.
In the second quatrain of ‘Sonnet 95,’ the speaker goes on to say that anyone who looks at the youth and tries to accuse him of something untoward will immediately have his criticism turned into praise. This is just one example of the overpowering beauty of the Fair Youth. His name also has this ability, just by attaching it to a foul deed to turn that deed into a blessing.
O what a mansion have those vices got
Which for their habitation chose out thee,
Where beauty’s veil doth cover every blot,
And all things turns to fair that eyes can see!
In the third and final quatrain of ‘Sonnet 95,’ the speaker says that the vices the youth has in his heart live in a “mansion”. They’re housed in a beautiful exterior that makes them look nothing like they would if committed by another person. The poet uses personification to describe the vices as taking up residency in the youth’s mind, heart, or soul.
Take heed, dear heart, of this large privilege;
The hardest knife ill used doth lose his edge.
The speaker concludes the poem by asking the Fair Youth to hear his warning. To “heed” what he has to say. It is possible that if he takes advantage of his beautiful nature too often then it will lose its poignancy. The poet uses the metaphor of a knife that dulls with overuse to conclude the poem.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Sonnet 95’ should also consider reading some of William Shakespeare’s other poetry. These include:
- ‘Sonnet 19‘– contains the speaker’s pleas to Time that it spares his lover from old age.
- ‘Sonnet 9‘–describes the Fair Youth’s lack of commitment and how he hoards his beauty from a new generation he could sire.
- ‘Sonnet 60′ –discusses the power of time to take life from even the most beautiful people. The writer, Shakespeare decides, is the only one who has the power to fight back.
Also, consider reading more of William Shakespeare’s 154 Sonnets.