Shakespeare (1599) In format, Sonnet 87 follows the three quatrains and a couplet pattern traditionally associated with the English sonnet form. Similar to Sonnet 20, Sonnet 87 relies on feminine rhyme for most of the poem (lines 2 and 4 are an exception). Feminine rhymes pair two-syllable words in a stressed/ unstressed pattern reminiscent of the rhyme schemes found in medieval romances; they were usually saved for comical poems, whereas this sonnet is solemn in tone. The poem is filled with financial and legal imagery designed to support the patently trivial metaphor of a beloved too expensive to love, which becomes the poem's ruling conceit. In this case, the beloved is usually considered to be the lovely boy.
The sonnet opens with the unidentified speaker telling the young man goodbye because he is too "dear" (expensive, with the pun on dear also meaning precious) for the speaker to keep around. The young man, in all his vanity, undoubtedly knows his own worth. His worth releases him from the speaker's hold, which has expired, just as bids to purchase stocks or bonds expire at a certain point in time. The speaker recognizes that, like the butterfly that must be free to be appreciated, the only way that he can hold the young man is by allowing him the freedom to make the choice to stay or go. For that generosity, the speaker deserves to be treated better. However, the reason for the speaker's generosity is unclear even to him, so in the poem, he is leaning toward reversing his decision. Either the young man gave himself to the speaker (whether sexually or in friendship) not knowing his own worth, or the speaker, to whom the young man gave himself, made a mistake in accepting the gift; so the young man's generous gift is, in hindsight, even more generous, and it is being returned to him after the speaker has had second thoughts on the matter. In this way, the speaker has had the wealth of the young man's companionship in his dreams, like a king, but that is no longer the case when the speaker awakes, and he becomes poor again.
This poem is part of a group of sonnets in which the poet expresses concern about his originality of expression and his own worth. Also considered an estrangement sonnet, it demonstrates the poet's struggles saying goodbye.
See also Shakespeare, William; Shakespeare's sonnets (overview).
Peggy J. Huey
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