by Curswell Tshihwela
Let me not to the marriage of true minds (Sonnet 116) is a legendary poem written by William Shakespeare. It is a sonnet type of a poem, meaning that it consists of 14 lines, mostly full rhyme and iambic pentameter as a basic meter (meter in the USA). Iambic pentameter predominates – ten syllables, five beats per line – but there are exceptions in lines six, eight and twelve, where an extra beat at the end softens the emphasis in the first two and strengthens it in the latter.
Most end rhymes are full except for lines 2 and 4: love/remove, 10 and 12: come/doom and 13 and 14: proved/loved. But don’t forget, in Shakespeare’s time some of these words may have had the same pronunciation or explanation. The first twelve lines build to a climax, asserting what love is by stating what it is not. The last two lines introduce us to the first-person speaker, who suggests to the reader that if all the aforementioned ‘proofs’ concerning love are invalid, then what’s the point of his writing and what man has ever fallen in love. In this poem, Shakespeare goes in deep describing the nature of love, how people should perceive it in relationships and relative to the time. The sonnets form a unique outpouring of poetic expression devoted to the machinations of mind and heart.
They encompass a vast range of emotion and use all manner of a device to explore what it means to love and be loved. Sonnet 116 sets out to define true love by firstly telling the reader what love is not in-depth. It then continues to the end couplet, the speaker (the poet) declaring that if what he has proposed is false, his writing is futile, and no man has ever experienced love. Sonnet 116 is an attempt by Shakespeare to persuade the reader of the indestructible qualities of true love, which never changes, and is immeasurable. But what sort of love are we talking about actually? Romantic love most probably, although this sonnet could be applied to Eros, Philos or Agape – erotic love, platonic love or universal love. Shakespeare uses the imperative Let me not to begin his persuasive tactics and he continues by using negation with that little word not appearing four times.
It’s as if he’s uncertain about this concept of love and needs to state what it is NOT to make valid his point. So, love does not alter or change if circumstances around it change. If physical, mental or spiritual change does come, love remains the same, steadfast and true. If life is a journey, if we’re all at sea, if our boat gets rocked in a violent storm we can’t control, love is there to direct us, like a lighthouse with a fixed beam, guiding us safely home. Or metaphorically speaking love is a fixed star that can direct us should we go astray. And, unlike beauty, love is not bound to time, it isn’t a victim or subject to the effects of time. Love transcends the hours, the weeks, any measurement, and will defy it right to the end, until Judgement Day. Lines nine and ten are special for the arrangement of hard and soft consonants, alliteration and enjambment:
“Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;” Love is not harvested by time’s sharp edge, it endures. Love conquers all circumstances.
Note the following:
- Metaphor – love is an ever-fixed mark and love is the star.
- in line five the words ever-fixed mark – fixed is pronounced fix-ed, two syllables.
- in line six the word tempest which means a violent storm.
- in line seven the word bark which means ship.
- in line ten the bending sickle’s compass refers to the sharp metal curved tool used for harvesting, that cuts off the head of ripe cereal with a circular swipe or swing. Like the scythe used by the Grim Reaper.
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