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My Mistress' Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun (Sonnets CXXX) -- William Shakespeare

Yes, poem #45 - due to some glitch over at egroups Poem #44 didn't get out,
but, as the poet put it, be patiently, brothers and sisters [renumbered --
sitaram]. Also, I didn't have any particular theme this week, so don't
bother looking :)
(Poem #44) My Mistress' Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun (Sonnets CXXX)
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.
I have seen roses damask'd, 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.
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.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
-- William Shakespeare
Shakespeare is widely considered the undisputed master of the sonnet form,
and while he has written better sonnets than 'My Mistress' Eyes', this one
is particularly interesting for the twist it applies to the usual love poem.
It is somewhat reminiscent of the self-consciously clever devices the
metaphysical poets were employing at around the same time[1], but IMHO rings
far truer (I'm admittedly biased here; I like Shakespeare much more than I
do the metaphysical lot). Somewhat surprisingly, for people who have been
conditioned to think of Shakespeare as 'difficult' or 'inaccessible', most
of his sonnets are both easy and rewarding to read. A few snippets of
background info for this one:

  reek: Of smoke, vapour, perfume, etc.: To be emitted or exhaled; to rise,
  emanate. Obs. [rather than the modern meaning, to stink]

  'if hairs be wires': Ladies' hair was often compared to golden wire in
  Elizabethan poetry.

The form is, of course, the Elizabethan, or somewhat self-definitively
'Shakespearean' ababcdcdefefgg.

[1] William Shakespeare (1564-1616), John Donne (1572-1631) for example, but
I don't really know influenced either of them were by the other.


43 comments: ( or Leave a comment )


As a self confessed fan of "the metaphysical lot" is was really pleased to
see this poem on your site, it has to be my favourite of Shakespeare's
sonnets though I do admit to having had only a little experience of them.
I think what attracts me is it gentle, wry, humour. A perfect answer to
"Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day?..."

Jessie Gaines said...

This poem is extremly different than any other love poem I have ever read. It shows how when you love somebody, you love them for who they actually are: bad looks or good looks, bad or good attitude. People read this poem and automatically say that Shakeshere is a hypocrite because he also writes a sweet love poem. They don't understand that this poem is really sweet, but the sweetness is hidden behide the ugly words. I find the poem to be about reality and about true love.



Mrsbdunn said...

I am wondering, do you know to whom Shakespeare addressed this particular
sonnet? And do you see Sonnet 141 as a continuation or companion piece to Sonnet

MarjRodriguez said...

I wanted to know If anyone has read the "That time of year thou may'st in me
behold' by William Shakespeare and what they thought about it.


Rob Petrillo and/or Margo Donnis said...

Marj, is it?

You asked about "That Time of Year In Me Thou May'st Behold" and what people thought of it. It's a great imaginative leap in the voice of one dying and addressing his beloved who refuses to shy away from the unpleasant necessity of his soon-to-be demise. The three images are powerful and the quatrain structure of the sonnet is not the usual "thesis-antithesis-synthesis-conclusion" format. See what I mean? Your further thoughts would be appreciated.

Rob Petrillo
up here in Maine

Nathan White said...

I love this poem Shakespeare is at his best in this poem. he does the unusual were most poet would compare their wife or mistresses to such things as he mentions in this poem like the sun, goddess, music ect... but he says that she is not like any of this but as he writes "And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare as any she belied with false compare". saying that his mistress is to rare to compare with things. thanks
Nathan White

NATY EA said...

what is this peom basically talking about?

NATY EA said...


AFLONC said...

My name is Brianna and I also like this poem for the reasons you do. It is
very rare for a person that has Shakespeare's poetical talent to write of a
true love having hair like wires, and has reeking breath. Do you think that
Shakespeare really did exist? 'Cause there is a theory that a man wrote poems
for Shakespeare or something like that.

Anonymous said...

Does this mean that he was writing about the dead look on his wife face.

amen said...

my name is amen.this poem i find to be the most realistic of all shakespeare's truly proves more than any of his poems the theme of unconditional love.if the great shakespeare saw nothing wrong about devoting a love poem to an unattractive woman then guys shouldn't be choosy.

Anonymous said...

this is stupid!

iservepharmacy said...

what a nostalgic poem, it makes me shed tears so bad

Anonymous said...

This poem of Shakespeare is about his mistress known as the Dark Lady. He is saying that she is only his mistress and he do not love her!

Anonymous said...

these lovely sonnet of shakespeare is so enormous

Anonymous said...

I once did read it was an ironic comment
on the habit of
(mediaval?) comparing your lady to gods hairs or whatever.
Of course, I think, Shakespeare can usually be read on at least three levels. Usually too much for me.
Regards and love for 130, Rob

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