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Sonnet 116: Let Me Not To The Marriage Of True Minds

by Litinbox

‘Sonnet 116: Let Me Not To The Marriage Of True Minds’ is one of the most celebrated sonnets of William Shakespeare addressed to the “Fair Youth”, an unidentified young man.

This sonnet was first published in the 1609 quarto publication, known as “Shakespeare’s Sonnets”. Shakespeare’s sonnets are poems in 14 lines divided into three quatrains and a rhyming couplet.

In Short

  • Sonnet 116 is a typical Shakespearean sonnet that follows the rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.
  • It is addressed to the Fair Youth, an unidentified youth.
  • It explores the nature of true love.

In this article, we are to cover the summary (line by line), literary devices, and answer for frequently searched questions on internet about Sonnet 116 (Let Me Not To The Marriage Of True Minds) by William Shakespeare.

Sonnet 116 Summary

True Love

‘Sonnet 116: Let Me Not To The Marriage Of True Minds’ explores the nature of true love. The speaker begins his argument like this: A true will never change and has the ability to face any obstacles.

It is not true love if it alters when circumstances change. According to the speaker, true love (the marriage of true minds) should not be influenced by impediments. 

Love, an Ever-fixèd Mark

The speaker then goes on to describe the steadfastness of true love using a powerful imagery. He compares the true love to “an Ever-fixèd Mark”, signifying its ability to withstand ravages of time.

“Ever-fixèd Mark” refers to ‘the North Star’, a guiding star for sailors at sea. Like the North Star which is not altered over time, a true love is not ‘Time’s Fool’. True love is something that lives beyond the boundaries of time.

Love’s not Time’s Fool

The speaker continues to talk about true love. Physical beauty (symbolised by “rosy lips and cheeks”) may fade away over time. Time can create an impact on the physical beauty, yet it cannot alter the true love. “(True) Love is not Time’s Fool” and it is not at the mercy of relentless progress of Time.

The speaker declares that the hours and weeks may pass. But, true love does not fade away along with the time. It withstands the challenges and obstacles Time puts forth. True love does not perish even in the face of (physical) death itself.

The Speaker’s Challenge

The final couplet ends the sonnet with a open challange of the speaker. He challenges anyone who would oppose his assertions on true love.

The speaker roars with confidence that if his assertions about true love are proven wrong, it means he has never written anything, and no one has ever loved – no man has experienced true love: “If this be error, and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved.”

This serves as a declaration of the speaker’s strong belief in the steadfastness and constancy of true love.

Sonnet 116 Line By Line Summary

William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 expresses the speaker’s views on true love and how it can withstand Time inspite of various obstacles and challenges.

Let’s go through line by line to explore the meaning of sonnet 116:

Line 1-3:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds

Sonnet 116 starts with the speaker’s statement that he will never allow any impediments that would interfere with the union of two true minds: two true, genuine and sincere lovers. “Marriage of true minds” signifies a genuine love between two people. Any obstacles should not be allowed in the true love.

What is not true love? The speaker answers this  question in the next lines. True love will not alter when the circumstances change. It doesn’t change in uncertainties. True love remains unchanged inspite of all the uncertain circumstances.

Line 4-6:

Or bends with the remover to remove.

O, no, it is an ever-fixèd mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

The speaker insists that true love never yields to separation and distance. It doesn’t weaken or break under pressures.

The speaker then makes a comparison: True love is an “ever-fixèd mark”. Ever-fixed mark is a reference to the North Star in the sea. It guides the Mariners at sea. The comparison is made here to signify that true love withstands the ravages of time just like the North Star.

True love is never shaken by tempests (difficulties). It is immovable and unchanging. The uncertainties and obstacles cannot shake the love.

Line 7-9:

It is the star to every wand’ring bark,

Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

In the 7th line, the speaker compares true love to a star that guides every wandering bark (lost ships or wanderers at sea). The speaker is certain that love can guide like the guiding star.

Everyone can acknowledge the significance of true love, yet its value cannot be fully measured, comparable to the guiding star whose worth is not recognised fully.

Love is not Time’s Fool, the speaker suggests, it remains unchanged or unaffected by the passing of time. Even though time can have its influence on the physical beauty (“rosy lips and cheeks”) that fades away with time, love is not so. It is not easily affected by time.

Line 10-12:

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.

Everyone knows the destructive power of Time. The speaker asserts that time can destroy the physical beauty, but true love never yields to the time’s destructive power.

Time is symbolised here using the image of a ‘sickle’ that reflects its destructive power. True love does not change over time and is not subject to the fluctuations, never affected by the ups and downs of life. It withstands even until the end of time (“the edge of doom”).

Line 13-14:

If this be error, and upon me proved,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

In the ending couplet, the speaker seems to acknowledge the possibility that his understanding about love may be subject to correction. However, he challenges that if his understanding of love is proven wrong, then, he asserts that neither he nor anyone else has truly experienced love.

This final couplet emphasises the speaker’s strong and unwavering belief in the immortal nature of true love.

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