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Sonnet 116 by William Shakespeare

Today is the anniversary of Shakespeare's death (and quite possibly of his birth as well - he was baptised on April 26th, but his date of birth is unknown). In honor of the 393rd anniversary of his death on April 23, 1616, a bonus poem - one of my favorite of his sonnets:

Sonnet 116
by William Shakespeare

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixèd mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
  If this be error and upon me proved,
  I never writ, nor no man ever loved.



This particular Shakespearian sonnet shows Shakespeare at his finest. While it's written in iambic pentameter like the others, and the rhyme scheme is the same as other Shakespearian sonnets: ABABCDCDEFEFGG, this one makes quite a lot of use of enjambment, a technique where one is expected not to pause or stop at the end of each line, but only where punctuation exists. Thus, the first part of the poem when recited aloud would read as follows:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments.
Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no!
It is an ever-fixèd mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken;

The entire poem, start to finish, is keen on making the point that love is constant as the North Star (the star by which "wandering barks" or boats guide themselves), and that it withstands time and testing. True to Shakespearian sonnet form, the first eight lines set the situation: love is constant. The turn comes in the ninth line, when Shakespeare starts to discuss the fact that love is not affected by time in particular. And the final couplet turns the poem again, becoming personal: I love you, it says, and will love you always.

Fans of the Emma Thompson movie version of Sense and Sensibility will recognize this as the poem recited by Marianne and Willoughby when he first visits her after rescuing her from a twisted ankle in the rain, and which is later quoted again by Marianne as she looks at Combe Magna in later rain, just before a dishy Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon carries her soggy self back to the house. The poem is not specifically incorporated in the novel. As screenwriter, Emma Thompson could be making the point that love is not an ever-fixèd mark that can withstand tempests, or she could be making the point that what Marianne and Willoughby had was not true love. I rather favor the former interpretation, jaded though it may be.


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Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
p_sunshine
Apr. 23rd, 2009 06:16 pm (UTC)
For poems like this, I need a more romantic icon. But this one will do. =)
I do love this poem and maybe it's the combination of it and Spring that's making me all smiley right now.
And I need to rewatch that version of Sense and Sensibility again. I'm sure I have it, but between this and Rickman...swoon.
kellyrfineman
Apr. 23rd, 2009 06:56 pm (UTC)
I love this poem as well. And your icon seems perfectly fine to me. And that version of S&S is marvelous, as is last year's BBC production.
idaho_laurie
Apr. 23rd, 2009 06:20 pm (UTC)
Phew. Ain't it amazing? Enjambment, yeah. The whole poem feels so compressed and dense.

"Or bends with the remover to remove." A Gertrude Stein moment!

I love this sonnet. Thanks for reminding me!
kellyrfineman
Apr. 23rd, 2009 06:56 pm (UTC)
You are most welcome. It's one of my favorites of the sonnets.
liz_scanlon
Apr. 23rd, 2009 06:35 pm (UTC)
Oh, it IS a day for sonnets, isn't it?
kellyrfineman
Apr. 23rd, 2009 06:57 pm (UTC)
Every day is a day for sonnets, in my opinion. But this one is simply smashing.
writerjenn
Apr. 23rd, 2009 11:54 pm (UTC)
A sonnet a day keeps the misery away. Or something.
kellyrfineman
Apr. 24th, 2009 12:35 am (UTC)
Frankly, sonnets and the rest of poetry has been a tremendous help for me lately, so you may be onto something there.
wordsrmylife
Apr. 23rd, 2009 08:09 pm (UTC)
I love this one, as you know, but I'd forgotten the line "Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come," which remind me of nothing so much as my 96-year-old grandmother saying of my 99-year-old grandfather, her husband of something like 65 years, "he's not the man I married." That was a "lips don't fail me now" moment if there ever was one.
kellyrfineman
Apr. 23rd, 2009 09:24 pm (UTC)
I just took it to mean that youth fades, but love endures. Your take is so much more interesting.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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