Shakespeare’s sonnet 116 can be seen as the definitive response to the ‘what is love’ question. The language of the sonnet is as deep and profound as any philosopher’s could be, expressed in the most beautiful language. Love is given an identity as an immortal force, which overcomes age, death, and time itself. Love, unlike the physical being, is not subject to decay.

Shakespeare employs an amazing array of poetic devices throughout the sonnet to convey the eternal nature of love, and ends by staking everything on his observations by asserting that if he is wrong, then no-one ever wrote anything, and no-one ever loved. And in sonnet 116 – as with all of his sonnets – Shakespeare manages to squeeze all of these thoughts and words into just fourteen lines.

Shakespeare’s Complete Sonnet 116

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-fixed 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.

Sonnet 116 Explanation In Modern English

I would not admit that anything could interfere with the union of two people who love each other. Love that alters with changing circumstances is not love, nor if it bends from its firm state when someone tries to destroy it. Oh no, it’s an eternally fixed point that watches storms but is never itself shaken by them. It is the star by which every lost ship can be guided: one can calculate it’s distance but not gauge its quality. Love doesn’t depend on Time, although the rosy lips and cheeks of youth eventually come within the compass of Time’s sickle. Love doesn’t alter as the days and weeks go by but endures until death. If I’m wrong about this then I’ve never written anything and no man has ever loved.

Love, Shakespeare tells us, isn’t something that wears itself out over weeks, months and years, but remains firm right throughout the lives of the lovers, and doesn’t even end with their death but continues until the world ends.

What’s your take on sonnet 116? Let us know in the comments section below!

Sonnet 116 is Shakespeare's take on the 'what is love' question - seen here in black cut out letters on white sheet, with bright red heart.

Sonnet 116 is Shakespeare’s take on the ‘what is love’ question

Interested in Shakespeare’s sonnet 116? If so you can get some additional free information by visiting our friends over at PoemAnalysis to read their analysis of sonnet 116.


18 replies
  1. Dante
    Dante says:

    i wish my love life was as strong as this… sadly not… i hope i can find the one that will have love that will endure BEYOND death…

    Reply
  2. Zandiswa
    Zandiswa says:

    wow this is so true, true love doesn’t change no matter what even if other things changes. I’m so inlove with my boyfriend Phumlani and i know it’s true love

    Reply
  3. Katie Knapp
    Katie Knapp says:

    I would like to ask what you mean by “come within the compass of Time’s sickle”? I am a little confused as to why this means. I know Sickle a type of tool with a semicircular blade, but what does that have do to with the compass?
    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Calloway Gwin
      Calloway Gwin says:

      it means time will eventually find its way to change the “red lips and cheeks of youth” to older, not so young features. Come within the compass means it will find something, young beauty in this case, and times sickle, meaning that time will take youth away from someone, as you would a crop with a sickle.

      Reply
  4. Eduoard Vernier
    Eduoard Vernier says:

    I believe there is more to that Sonnet than many have stated. In all translations, something does not quite reveals the counterfactual emotional truth of True Love and why marriage would not be shaken when True Love exist and, why True Love its unshaken by any circumstances unless one allows someone to come into one’s marriage. It is to say, that, if two people’s commitment and vows are true to True Love for life, it can not and it would not be broken in any way or manner, or at any point in time (to say the least) by any outsider one does not let in, when True Love Exists your temptations and curiosities do not allow your vows to be unshaken.

    Reply
  5. ilovegod23044
    ilovegod23044 says:

    I believe that everyone finds their soulmate. Maybe not quickly, but by the time you are old and gray you most likely will no longer be a single woman or man. LOVE TO ALL. XOXO God Bless the USA!!!!!

    Reply

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