When love speaks (William Shakespeare)
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William Shakespeare's sonnet 130. A love song, No romanticism here, just down-to-earth thoughts. And a deep feeling.


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, 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.


Two different comparison forms are used in this sonnet:

LIKE + noun
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun

MORE + adjective / FAR+comparative (for emphasis)
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red


My baby’s eyes are not like the sun
The red colour of corals is much more intense than the red of her lips
If snow is white, why are her breasts brownish grey? (a neutral colour like dirty skin)
If hairs were wires, then black wires grow on her head.

I have seen damask roses, red and white
But I can’t see roses like that in her cheeks
And some perfumes are more pleasant
Than the stinking breath of my lover

I love hearing her speak, but I know very well
That music sounds much better
When she walks, I assure you I never thought she was a goddess

My baby, when she walks, stumps* on the ground (*steps like an elephant)
Nevertheless, I promise my love for her is as unique
As any other love adorned with false comparisons

With a deftness of touch that takes away any sting that might otherwise arise from implied criticism of other sonneteers, the poet satirises the tradition of comparing one's beloved to all things beautiful under the sun, and to things divine and immortal as well.

It is often said that the praise of his mistress is so negative that the reader is left with the impression that she is almost unlovable. On the contrary, although the octet makes many negative comparisons, the sestet contrives to make one believe that the sound of her voice is sweeter than any music, and that she far outdistances any goddess in her merely human beauties and her mortal approachability.

A typical sonnet of the time which uses lofty comparisons to praise a beloved idol is given below. There are many others, and the tradition of fulsome praise in this vein stretches back to Petrarch and his sonnets to Laura. E.g.

The way she walked was not the way of mortals
but of angelic forms, and when she spoke
more than an earthly voice it was that sang:

a godly spirit and a living sun
was what I saw, and if she is not now,
my wound still bleeds, although the bow's unbent.
Canzoniere 90, trans. Mark Musa.

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