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Sonnet 130

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English Literature

William Shakespeare is arguably one of the most well-known writers of all time. Having published around 38 plays and over 150 poems, his writing has stood the test of time, covering topics and themes that remain relevant even today. Many of Shakespeare's poems are addressed to a young man called the "Fair Youth", but 'Sonnet 130' (1609) and several others are addressed to a woman called the "Dark Lady."

'Sonnet 130' is a response to the highly idealized and romanticized notion of love at the time Shakespeare was writing, and it goes against the love poem conventions and standards of the time. 'Sonnet 130' turns what seems like insults into the ultimate compliment.

'Sonnet 130' at a Glance

Poem"Sonnet 130"
Written William Shakespeare
Published1609
StructureEnglish or Shakespearean sonnet
MeterIambic pentameter
Rhyme SchemeABAB CDCD EFEF GG
Literary and poetic devicesAlliteration, imagery, metaphor, simile, antithesis
ThemeAn honest admiration and love of the subject and her natural beauty
MoodTruthful celebration of love and beauty without idealization

'Sonnet 130' Full Text

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun,

Coral is far more red, than her lips red,

If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun:

If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head: 4

I have seen roses damasked, red and white,

But no such roses see I in her cheeks,

And in some perfumes is there more delight,

Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks. 8

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know,

That music hath a far more pleasing sound: I

grant I never saw a goddess go,

My mistress when she walks treads on the ground. 12

And yet by heaven I think my love as rare,

As any she belied with false compare.

'Sonnet 130' Summary

At its foundation, 'Sonnet 130' is an expression of love and admiration and a celebration of the subject's beauty, despite her flaws. Through implementing several literary and poetic devices, Shakespeare praises the true beauty of his "mistress" (line 1). The realistic and transparent nature of his compliments initially seems insulting as he uses negative comparisons to describe her. This definition through opposition forces the reader to consider how romantic ideals, and placing the object of one's affection on a pedestal, is unrealistic and a false notion of what true love is.

Francesco Petrarch (1304-1374) was an Italian poet who was well-known for his romantic poetry in which beauty and love were idealized. "Sonnet 130" by Shakespeare is the antithesis to sweet and conventional Petrarchan poetry, which unrealistically glorified the subject of the poem and love.

Antithesis is the contrast of ideas, usually revealing them to be direct opposites.

'Sonnet 130' Analysis with Quotes

Without careful consideration, 'Sonnet 130' can seem insulting. What the poem succeeds in accomplishing, however, is to show that empty praise is false. Here is a closer look at the work to help understand how seeking a beloved for what they are, rather than an idealized version, is true love and appreciation.

'Sonnet 130' Form

'Sonnet 130' is a traditional English, or Shakespearean, love sonnet. It consists of 14 lines written in 4 different sections. The lines are organized into three quatrains and one concluding couplet.

A quatrain is four lines of verse joined by rhyme, form, or ideas.

A couplet is two lines of verse within a poem. The lines are often written in the same meter and have end rhyme to join them together.

The meter consists of a pattern of unstressed and stressed syllables strung together called feet. The poetic foot used in a Shakespearean, or English, sonnet is an iamb, a two-syllable meter made up of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.

There are five iambs, or poetic feet, per line. We call this form iambic pentameter. Each line in an English sonnet has ten syllables, five poetic feet, and every second syllable stressed. It sounds like, "daDUM, daDUM, daDUM, daDUM, daDUM." Here is the first line of 'Sonnet 130'. The underlined letters indicate the stressed syllable:

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun (Line 1)

Our natural speech patterns often fall into this type of rhyme, making it easy to remember and enjoyable to read.

Rhyme scheme is the pattern of end rhyme in of each line of poetry. The pattern of rhyming words is indicated by the letters of the alphabet.

The rhyme scheme in 'Sonnet 130', like in other Shakespearean sonnets, is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. Every other line of the first three quatrains rhyme with each other, while the last two lines, or the couplet, rhyme. The couplet usually reveals the overarching idea of the poem, or definitively responds to the question or problem posed at the start of the poem.

The couplet in 'Sonnet 130' is:

And yet by heaven I think my love as rare,

As any she belied with false compare.

(Lines 13-14)

'Sonnet 130' Lines 1-4

'Sonnet 130' begins with a simile, comparing the mistress's eyes to "the sun" (1). This expresses the idea that the poetic voice feels the mistress has bright eyes, but they are still pale compared to the sun and its bright strength. Comparisons to nature continue in this section, as in line 2 "coral" has a deeper red than the subject's "lips".

Line 3 uses imagery to compare the color of snow to the color of the mistress's skin on her chest. With consideration, it is easy to understand how something like skin as white as snow would be rather grotesque and unnatural in real life. The concluding line in section one uses metaphor to express that her hair is "black wires [that] grow from her head" (4).

This line is simply hypothetical because it begins with the word 'if." The core of the line simply states the mistress's hair is black. Using negative comparisons to nature where the mistress comes up short, and a seemingly insulting description, Shakespeare shocks the audience and forces focus and deep thought while reading on to figure out why he uses these descriptions.

Sonnet 130 Woman StudySmarterThe speaker uses imagery to paint the image of his beloved, pexels.

'Sonnet 130' lines 5-8

Line 5 takes the beauty and color of roses, "damasked, red and white" and states that those colors typical to nature do not naturally occur for the mistress. Her cheeks have "no such roses" (line 6) yet, as we learn in the final couplet, her beauty surpasses them.

With careful word choice, Shakespeare continues to note that the mistress's breath "reeks" (line 8) compared to the floral and pleasant notes found in perfume. The poetic voice is not saying her breath stinks; rather, it simply does not smell like perfume.

Sonnet 130 Roses StudySmarterThe imagery of roses is a classic symbol of beauty, pexels.

'Sonnet 130' Lines 9-12

The third section of "Sonnet 130" continues the unfair comparisons between the mistress and other things of beauty. As in the previous sections, the mistress holds no chance of surpassing each item. The speaker values the mistress and adores to "hear her speak" (9), but asserts that "[m]usic hath a far more pleasing sound" (Line 10) than her voice.

Alliteration in Line 11 "grants [the speaker] never saw a goddess go" because the mistress "treads on the ground" (Line 12). The repeating hard "g" sound immediately draws the reader's attention, only to state the mistress walks like everyone else. This simplicity and basic portrayal of the mistress makes the concluding couplet even more shocking and sincere.

 Sonnet 130 A walking woman StudySmarterA woman walks away, showing her relatability and simplicity in how she goes. pexels.

'Sonnet 130' final couplet

While the mistress can not compare to the sun, snow, roses, perfumes, music, and a goddess, the speaker's love for her is strong and honest. He sees her for what she is rather than an idealized version of herself. She is equal to, and just as "rare" (line 13) as any of the false comparisons from earlier in the sonnet. While the entirety of the sonnet indicates she is less than those she has been compared to, the final couplet reveals her to be equal to, or even better than "any she belied with false compare" (line 14).

'Sonnet 130' meaning

'Sonnet 130', one of Shakespeare's most famous poems, makes fun of the romantic poetry of the times and proves how empty comparisons and idealizations are. An individual with eyes as bright as the sun, cheeks red like roses, skin white as snow, a music-like voice, perfume scented breath, and who floats above ground rather than walking is a sight that would cause alarm.

The speaker's mistress is normal, flawed, and in her everyday state is beautiful just as she is. The speaker proves that genuine love sees the truth, and that the romantic conceits are false and give a distorted impression of what love truly is.

How do you think this poem can be applied to our current culture in which camera filters and images are central to social networking?

'Sonnet 130' theme

'Sonnet 130' presents two different ideas of love, romance, and beauty. It shows that the idealized version of love and beauty is truly superficial; and that the speaker's notion of beauty, which sees the mistress with an eye of honesty and simplicity, is where actual love is.

'Sonnet 130' is a realization that love, beauty, and admiration come from a complete understanding of a person, and in seeing someone for what they are, flaws included. Although the comparisons of beauty throughout the poem never end in the beloved's favor, she is equal to them, showing that those glorified notions of beauty and love are fabricated and erroneous.

'Sonnet 130' - Key takeaways

  • 'Sonnet 130' is written by William Shakespeare.
  • The poem was published in 1609.
  • It is an Elizabethan sonnet, also known as a Shakespearean or English sonnet.
  • The theme of 'Sonnet 130' is a realization that love, beauty, and admiration come from a complete understanding of a person. Love is seeing someone for who they are, flaws included.
  • 'Sonnet 130' uses simile and metaphor to express the true value and nature of love and appreciation for a beloved as they are, without having to be idealized.

Sonnet 130

The best paraphrase of line 12 of "Sonnet 130" is: My mistress walks on the ground like an ordinary person.

'Sonnet 130' is an English or Shakespearean sonnet.

In 'Sonnet 130' each line is 10 syllables and there are 14 lines within the poem. The entire poem has 140 syllables.

'Sonnet 13' uses negative comparisons to reveal the natural beauty of the subject. The couplet, "And yet by heaven I think my love as rare, / As any she belied with false compare" (13-14) shows how the comparisons are irrelevant, and the subject's beauty is enough on its own.

'Sonnet 130' is addressed to what critics call the "Dark Lady." 

Final Sonnet 130 Quiz

Question

What is the rhyme scheme for an English sonnet?

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Answer

The rhyme scheme for an English sonnet is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.

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Question

What is a quatrain? 

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Answer

A quatrain is a four line stanza.

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Question

A stanza is...

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Answer

a group of lines together in a poem.

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Question

True or false: "Sonnet 130" is an idealized portrayal of the speaker's mistress. 

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Answer

False

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Question

What is a couplet?

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Answer

Two lines of verse together that typically have the same rhyme scheme and have end rhyme.

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Question

What is the meter in a Shakespearean sonnet? 

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Answer

iambic pentameter

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Question

What is one thing the mistress is not compared to in "Sonnet 130"? 

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Answer

the ocean

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Question

How many syllables are in one line of iambic pentameter?

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Answer

10

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Question

How many metric feet are found on one line in an English sonnet?

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Answer

Show question

Question

What is the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in an iamb? 

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Answer

one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable (daDUM daDUM daDUM daDUM daDUM)

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Question

How many lines does a Shakespearean sonnet have? 

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Answer

14

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Question

How many sections does a Shakespearean sonnet have? 

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Answer

4 - there are 3 quatrains and one couplet

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Question

How does the speaker in "Sonnet 130" view the subject of the poem? 

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Answer

The speaker in "Sonnet 130" views the subject of the poem with love and admiration.

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Question

To what or whom is "Sonnet 130" addressed? 

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Answer

"Sonnet 130" is addressed to the "Dark Lady"

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Question

What is another term for an English sonnet? 

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Answer

a Shakespearean sonnet

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