Shakespeares sonnets Sonnet 104 To me fair friend you can never be old William

Shakespeare (1599) Sonnet 104 is one of William Shakespeare's sonnets dedicated to his young male friend, the lovely boy. As in many of this sequence, the idea of aging as a prod to reproduction is employed. Shakespeare's metaphor is that of the time and the seasons, which come and go in a circular pattern, one being born as another dies. The speaker begins by declaring that his friend "never can be old" (l. 1) in his eyes, because time stands still when he looks at his friend. He undercuts this position by discussing how much time has passed since they met—"three years" (l. 3)—how the cold of winter supplants the warmth of spring, and how autumn—middle age—is come. However, he states once more, directly addressing the friend, you have not changed at all. You have not been touched by time—although if you look out the window, you can see all of nature is touched by time. Shakespeare furthers the metaphor with "adial hand" (a watch) with which the passing time is marked, without seeing the motion of it. While the speaker's friend may seem to him unchanged by time, he has experienced it himself. In the final couplet, he brings his premise and the extended metaphor to its logical conclusion: his friend hasn't "bred." Before his birth, "beauty" was not born, so after his autumn will come his winter, and he must engender a new "spring" before that comes. In form, this is an Italian (Petrarchian) SoNNET.

See also Shakespeare's sonnets (overview).

Leslie J. Ormandy

Shakespeare's sonnets: Sonnet 105 ("Let not my love be called idolatry") William Shakespeare (1599) Unlike the two sonnets that surround it, Sonnet 105 is not directly addressed to the young male beloved. It is, however, about him, and the poet walks a fine line between playful wit and outright sacrilege as he refutes the prior unspoken reproach that his worshipping of the young male is idolatrous in a religious sense. The sonnet makes its case that to love one god—in this case the youth—is not idolatry since in fact loving and worshipping two or more is. The poet's religion, he goes on to say, is not very different from Christianity: His praises are to one divine being who is "ever so" (l. 4), the object of his worship is triune, being fair, kind, and true (ll. 9, 10, 13), like the Christian God. Critics have noted, however, that the rhetoric of Christian allusion used in the sonnet convicts the poet of the very sin he defends himself against.

Sonnet 105 hinges on the recognition that the accusation of idolatry comes from a Christian who believes the Trinity is comprised of three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) in one eternal God. Line 4 ("To one, of one, still such, and ever so") echoes the Christian dox-ology recited in church: "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen." The poet claims here that his beloved is also triune, not unlike the God of his accuser, and he is "still such, and ever so." Similarly, the three-time repetition of the words fair, kind, and true, in lines 9, 10, and 13, reiterate the three-in-one theme, and the poet goes so far as to claim that these qualities never "kept seat in one" (l. 13) until they did so in his own beloved.

As the sonnet progresses, emphasis is increasingly placed on the word one as it occurs in the last line of each quatrain (ll. 4, 8, 12) and in the final line of the couplet (l. 14). However, "one" also occurs phonetically or graphically in the words wondrous (ll. 6, 12) and alone (l. 13). Taken together, these repetitions and allusions clearly situate the sonnet as a song of praise and a pledge of loyalty to the beloved. The sonnet also clearly employs Neoplatonic devices, too. The poet identifies the beloved's three qualities (fair, kind, and true) as those of the Platonic Triad (the Beautiful, the Good, the True), thereby opposing the Christian Trinity with the classical emblem of the divine.

overlooked and undervalued for its lack of a central metaphor, image, and clear interpretation, this sonnet, as the critic Helen Vendler and others have noted, is frequently "dull," "tautologous," or "repetitive," though others clearly appreciate the poem, referring to it as "witty," "playful," and even "charming." Such differing responses to the sonnet reflect how difficult it has proven to be for interpreters. Is it a serious defense aimed at overcoming the accusation of idolatry? or is it a playful refutation meant to highlight poetic craft through allusions to the doxology, Christian Trinitarian theology, and the Platonic Triad? Although these two interpretations are dichotomous, they are both contingent on the reader's ability to recognize the poetic allusion to Christian doctrine and devotion in the sonnet.

See also Shakespeare, William; Shakespeare's sonnets (overview).

James M. Palmer

Shakespeare's sonnets: Sonnet 106 ("When in the chronicle of wasted time") William Shakespeare (1599) Sonnet 106 describes what contemporary critics would call "the anxiety of influence." In addition to the many English sonnet sequences, William Shakespeare was familiar with classical, medieval, and Renaissance romances, many of them extremely accomplished. As he did in Sonnet 53, in Sonnet 106 he responds in a witty way to the pressure exerted by these literary forbears. In acknowledging the literary past, Shakespeare almost reverts to an older sonnet form, the Italian (Petrarchan) sonnet, which, instead of three quatrains and a couplet, is made up of an octave (the first eight lines), which establishes a situa tion, and a sestet (the final six lines), which resolves it. But Shakespeare manages to make it through only seven lines before the topic shifts from love poetry of the past to love of the young man in the present tense. In terms of sense, if not of punctuation, Sonnet 106 can be divided into quatrains and a couplet, and it employs the "when/then" structure Shakespeare uses in Sonnets 2, 12, 15, 29, 30, 43, and elsewhere.

The sonnet opens with an ambiguous image of old books, which the speaker calls "the chronicle of wasted time" (l. 1). A chronicle is an orderly chronological record of past events; "wasted time" might mean time that has passed, or it might refer to the decaying condition of the book containing the chronicle, but the words also imply that there might be better ways to spend time than pursuing unattainable lovers. In the chronicle of wasted time, the speaker finds "descriptions of the fairest wights" (l. 2), where wights means people of either gender, and where the superlative shows the limitations of history: it describes not everything that happened, but only the best or most noteworthy events, and not even the fairest wights can survive time's ravages. The speaker also finds "beauty making beautiful old rhyme" (l. 3) in the literature of the past, a function that the narrator has asserted the young man's beauty performs for these sonnets. The old rhymes were written "In praise of ladies dead and lovely knights" (l. 4), a line that neatly encapsulates the sonnets' misogyny: there are no living ladies addressed in the first 126, and the emphasis is on the lovely and aristocratic young man, sometimes referred to as the LOVELY BOY.

The "When" of the first quatrain is answered by the "Then" of the second: when reading old love poetry, the poet finds "in the blazon of sweet beauty's best" (l.

5) a prefiguration of the beauty of his subject. Blazon is a term adopted from heraldry, referring to the coat of arms by which a knight is identified, but for Elizabethan poets it meant a descriptive list of body parts. In Sonnet 106, the narrator reads the descriptions other poets wrote "Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow" (l.

6) and decides what the poets of the past were trying to capture, what "their antique pen would have expressed" (l. 7), is the perfect beauty of the young man—"such beauty as you master now" (l. 8). Poets were often credited with the ability to prophesy, and poets who wrote of beauties of the past were merely "prefiguring" the young man because they were unable to see him as clearly as the speaker can. Like the characters in Plato's allegory of the Cave in book 7 of Plato's The Republic, the antique poets can only sense the transcendent beauty embodied in the young man through their contact with less worthy objects. Because they saw him only in their imagination, "with divining eyes" (l. 11), they were unable to do the young man justice. Despite their gifts as poets, "They had not still enough your worth to sing" (l. 12). Many editors change the word still in this line to skill, but "still enough" allows for a greater range of meaning: Enough inspiration? Enough wisdom? Enough time? Enough skill?

In the couplet, as in Sonnet 23 and elsewhere, the speaker then confesses that the young man's beauty has left him not just tongue-tied but tongue-less: "For we, which now behold these present days, / Have eyes to wonder, but lack tongues to praise" (ll. 1314). Living in the present, in the presence of the young man, the poet can be amazed by his beauty but cannot find words to describe it adequately. The explanation the narrator offers for his silence is, in part, that other poets have already written some of the best lines. But Shakespeare is here playing a rhetorical trick as well: At least some readers of his sonnets would be familiar with the love poetry this sonnet describes, and by promising that the young man exceeds all existing descriptions of beauty, the poet describes that beauty in the highest possible terms without himself having to find the right words for it. He claims to lack the ability to speak in tongues, or to be inspired to speak, as were the New Testament's apostles, by tongues of flame, and yet he has managed to make an eloquent plea that conveys the young man's extraordinary beauty.

See also English sonnet, Shakespeare's sonnets (overview).

Was this article helpful?

+2 -3
Enneagram Essentials

Enneagram Essentials

Tap into your inner power today. Discover The Untold Secrets Used By Experts To Tap Into The Power Of Your Inner Personality Help You Unleash Your Full Potential. Finally You Can Fully Equip Yourself With These “Must Have” Personality Finding Tools For Creating Your Ideal Lifestyle.

Get My Free Ebook


  • Megan
    What is the theme of to me fair friend poem?
    7 years ago
  • Sesuna
    What is the structure of To me fair friend?
    7 years ago
  • tuomas
    Who is the friend referred to in shakespeare's sonnets?
    7 years ago
    What year did william shakespeare write the poem to me, fair friend?
    7 years ago
  • jan
    Who was the friend in poem Sonnet 104. Who was Shakespear referring to?
    7 years ago
  • jaska hentunen
    What is the theme of sonnet l by shakespear?
    7 years ago
    What point is the speaker making in line 910 from to me fair friend you never can be old?
    5 years ago
  • brandon
    Does it seem like shakespeare 's friend saw himself getting older in sonnet 104?
    4 years ago
  • fiori
    How nature is used by Shakespeare' in his"sonnet104"?
    4 years ago
    How many years have passed since the speaker met his friend in to me fair friend?
    4 years ago
  • viljo
    What is sonnet write a summary of shakespeare sonnet to me fair friend you never can be old?
    3 years ago
  • Amanuel
    What is the meaning of the last couplet in sonnet 104?
    2 years ago
  • John
    Who is the speaker addressing in the last two lines in sonnet 104?
    10 months ago

Post a comment