William Shakespeare

(26 April 1564 - 23 April 1616 / Warwickshire)

Sonnet CXXX: My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun


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.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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  • Terence George Craddock (7/4/2010 1:59:00 AM)

    This sonnet by William Shakespeare is not an attack on his beloved mistress, nor is it a recommendation to abstain from taking a mistress. Indeed in the concluding couplet, Shakespeare declares both his exceptional love for his mistress and his purpose with the lines ‘And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
    /As any she belied with false compare.’
    Shakespeare is rejecting the normal Petrarchan conceit employed in love poems, which had become hacked-neyed by some imitator Elizabethan sonneteers. The Italian poet Petrarch used the “conceit” as a striking, usually elaborate parallel between two dissimilar things or situations.
    Shakespeare in Sonnet 130 seems to mourn the fall of ingenious, detailed, often exaggerated figures of speech, into predictable poetaster verse forms. Shakespeare has wonderfully parodied standard comparisons. His mistress does not have eyes like the sun, coral lips, white skin, golden hair, rose cheeks or a nice breath as convention dictates.
    Shakespeare is writing an accurate realistic comparative description of his mistress. Her breath stinks, it reeks; her voice grates yet he still loves to listen to her voice. She does not walk on air but on the ground, because she is a real woman, not a goddess. Rejecting all false comparisons, Shakespeare pays his mistress, the ultimate compliment, his love for her is greater and rarer than, the love for a goddess like idealized beauty. This is true love which overcomes the decay of age and the test of time. Therefore a sonnet earthed in reality attaining immense significance. (Report) Reply

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