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Her eyes are “nothing like the sun,” her lips are less red than coral; compared to white snow, her breasts are duncolored, and her hairs are like black wires on her head. In the second quatrain, the speaker says he has seen roses separated by color (“damasked”) into red and white, but he sees no such roses in his mistress’s cheeks; and he says the breath that “reeks” from his mistress is less delightful than perfume. In the third quatrain, he admits that, though he loves her voice, music “hath a far more pleasing sound,” and that, though he has never seen a goddess, his mistress—unlike goddesses—walks on the ground. In the couplet, however, the speaker declares that, “by heav’n,” he thinks his love as rare and valuable “As any she belied with false compare”—that is, any love in which false comparisons were invoked to describe the loved one’s beauty. Commentary This sonnet, one of Shakespeare’s most famous, plays an elaborate joke on the conventions of love poetry common to Shakespeare’s day, and it is so well-conceived that the joke remains funny today. Most sonnet sequences in Elizabethan England were modeled after that of Petrarch. Petrarch’s famous sonnet sequence was written as a series of love poems to an idealized and idolized mistress named Laura. In the sonnets, Petrarch praises her beauty, her worth, and her perfection using an extraordinary variety of metaphors based largely on natural beauties. In Shakespeare’s day, these metaphors had already become cliche (as, indeed, they still are today), but they were still the accepted technique for writing love poetry. The result was that poems tended to make highly idealizing comparisons between nature and the poets’ lover that were, if taken literally, completely ridiculous. My mistress’ eyes are like the sun; her lips are red as coral; her cheeks are like roses, her breasts are white as snow, her voice is like music, she is a goddess. In many ways, Shakespeare’s sonnets subvert and reverse the conventions of the Petrarchan love sequence: the idealizing love poems, for instance, are written not to a perfect woman but to an admittedly imperfect man, and the love poems to the dark lady are anything but idealizing (“My love is as a fever, longing still / For that which longer nurseth the disease” is hardly a Petrarchan conceit.) Sonnet 130 mocks the typical Petrarchan metaphors by presenting a speaker who seems to take them at face value, and somewhat bemusedly, decides to tell the truth. Your mistress’ eyes are like the sun? That’s strange—my mistress’ eyes aren’t at all like the sun. Your mistress’ breath smells like perfume? My mistress’ breath reeks compared to perfume. In the couplet, then, the speaker shows his full intent, which is to insist that love does not need these conceits in order to be real; and women do not need to look like flowers or the sun in order to be beautiful. The rhetorical structure of Sonnet 130 is important to its effect. In the first quatrain, the speaker spends one line on each comparison between his mistress and something else (the sun, coral, snow, and wires—the one positive thing in the whole poem some part of his mistress is like. In the second and third quatrains, he expands the descriptions to occupy two lines each, so that roses/cheeks, perfume/breath, music/voice, and goddess/mistress each receive a pair of unrhymed lines. This creates the effect of an expanding and developing argument, and neatly prevents the poem—which does, after all, rely on a single kind of joke for its first twelve lines—from becoming stagnant.
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Sonnet 130 - "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun"
What's he saying?
"My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun; / Coral is far more red than her lips' red;" My mistress's eyes look nothing like the sun; coral is far more red than her lips are.
"If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun; / If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head." If snow is white, then her breasts are a dull brown (in comparison); if hairs are wires, then black wires grow on her head. "I have seen roses damask'd, red and white / But no such roses see I in her cheeks;" I have seen roses of pink, red, and white, but her cheeks are none of these colors; "And in some perfumes is there more delight / Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks." And some perfumes smell more delightful than the malodorous breath of my mistress. "I love to hear her speak, yet well I know / That music hath a far more pleasing sound;" I love to hear her speak, even though I know well that music has a far more pleasing sound; "I grant I never saw a goddess go; / My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:" I admit I have never seen a goddess walk, but my mistress, when she walks, steps (humanly) on the ground: "And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare / As any she belied with false compare." And yet, I swear before heaven, I think she is just as extraordinary as any woman that may be described with false comparisons. Why is he saying it? Sonnet 130 is a pleasure to read for its simplicity and frankness of expression. It is also one of the few of Shakespeare's sonnets with a distinctly humorous tone. Its message is simple: the dark lady's beauty cannot be compared to the beauty of a goddess or to that found in nature, for she is but a mortal human being. The sonnet is generally considered a humorous parody of the typical love sonnet. Petrarch, for example, addressed many of his most famous sonnets to an idealized woman named Laura, whose beauty he often likened to that of a goddess. In stark contrast Shakespeare makes no attempt at deification of the dark lady; in fact he shuns it outright, as we see in lines 11-12: "I grant I never saw a goddess go; / My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground." Here the poet explicitly states that his mistress is not a goddess. She is also not as beautiful as things found in nature, another typical source of inspiration for the average sonneteer: "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun; / Coral is far more red than her lips' red." Yet the narrator loves her nonetheless, and in
the closing couplet says that in fact she is just as extraordinary ("rare") as any woman described with such exaggerated or false comparisons. It is indeed this blunt but charming sincerity that has made sonnet 130 one of the most famous in the sequence. However, while the narrator's honesty in sonnet 130 may seem commendable, we must not forget that Shakespeare himself was a master of the compliment and frequently made use of the very same sorts of exaggerated comparisons satirized here. We even find them elsewhere in the sonnets, and in great abundance, too; note that while his "mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun," his fair lord's indeed are, as in sonnet 49: "And scarcely greet me with that sun, thine eye." This may lead one to wonder, is it really pure honesty that the poet is showing in sonnet 130, or is there also some ulterior sentiment, perhaps that the dark lady is not deserving of the narrator's fine words? Or perhaps she is deserving but such words are not necessary, as though the narrator feels comfortable enough with the dark lady that he is able to show such honesty (which his insecurity regarding the fair lord prevents him from doing)? There are many ways to interpret how the poet's psychological state may have influenced stylistic choices in his writing, but these sonnets do not provide definitive proof.
This is a sonnet. All sonnets consist of fourteen verses. Also, each verse has ten syllables. The stress pattern is weak, strong, weak, strong. Each pattern of weak and strong syllables gives us a foot, so we can say that each verse has five feet. This sonnet is therefore in iambic pentameter. The rhyme scheme of the sonnet is as follows: a, b, a, b, c, d, c, d, e, f, e, f, g, g. The last two verses rhyme, which is typical of the Shakespearean sonnet. The rhyme scheme of the sonnet is highly regular as is the case with this one. In this sonnet Shakespeare compares his mistress' eyes to the sun. He makes the case that her eyes are very different from the sun. Though the sun is beautiful and glowing, it has little in common with his mistress' eyes. Though they may be beautiful, reality is that they can't be compared to the sun. Likewise, other parts of nature are very different from parts of his mistress. For example, coral has a very different shade of red from his mistress' lips and no roses are present in his mistress' cheeks. This differs from the words of some men who claim that their women have the light of the sun in their eyes, coral lips and rosy cheeks. Shakespeare expresses that though men might make these comparisons, they aren't accurate, at least not when he gazes upon his mistress. When he speaks of perfume, he notes that at times her breath reeks. Many perfumes have a sweeter fragrance. Shakespeare expresses the reality that one's breath isn't always perfect and one doesn't always look spectacular. Over time the attraction that brings people too closer can wane. In fact, physical attraction isn't constant nor stable. For this reason, a couple need much more to remain together. Though the sonnet may appear to be negative, it has positive words towards the end. It clarifies that although reality can be quite different from our dreams and desires, or that
relationships have their ups and downs, he knows that his love for his mistress is intense. He describes it as rare and makes it clear that he doesn't need to make false comparisons about her to know that in his heart he has tremendous love for her. Some men may utter false words, but he doesn't need to because he accepts her as she is and is truly in love with her. In Shakespeare's "My Mistress' Eyes are nothing like the Sun", he explains that he can't make false comparisons about his mistress. He's been with her a long time and knows her well. Though her eyes are nothing like the sun, it is of no consequence because he knows that his love for her is rare. He prefers to show his love for her through his actions rather than through false words.
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