Cite This Page
Quatrain 1 Summary Page 1
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
So are you to my thoughts as food to life,
- The first line of Shakespeare's poem hits us up with a tricky little analogy—you know, like one of those pesky problems the creators of the SAT seem to have loved so much.
- Analogy puzzles usually have the following underlying form: (A) is to (B) as (C) is to (D). Usually, three of these variables will be filled in, leaving you to figure out what the missing one must be. For example, let's say you were told that "Pizza (A) is to Italy (B) as Sushi (C) is to (D)." The question here is, "What's D?" In this case, the information provided in the rest of the analogy puzzle lets you fill in the missing piece. Because "Italy" is the country where pizza originated, you know that the answer to (D) must be "Japan," because that's where sushi comes from.
- Got that? Cool. Now let's see how it applies to Shakespeare's poem. As you can see, it's pretty easy to map this opening line onto the pattern we just laid out: "you" (A) are to "my thoughts" (B) as "food" (C) is to "life" (D).
- So far so good. But here's the question: who is "you"? (Not, who are you? We know who you are, super-cool reader of Shmoop!) The "you" is not identified, so we've got to figure out what that pronoun is standing in for.
- Because this is only the first line of the poem, it's a safe bet that we'll be given more information to help flesh things out for us. Even so, it can't hurt trying to see what we can figure out from this puzzle itself, reasoning simply from the analogy it sets up.
- To do this, we have to think about what "food" is to "life." You probably already have some ideas about this relationship. For example, food is necessary to life, it's pleasing to life, and life requires periodic replenishing of food to stay in existence.
- Could these ideas also describe a relationship between two people? We think you'll agree that they very well might—but let's keep reading to see exactly what Shakespeare means by drawing this analogy.
Or as sweet seasoned show'rs are to the ground;
- In the second line of his poem, Shakespeare offers an alternative analogy for how "you" are to "my thoughts" (as he set things up in Line 1).
- This time, we learn that "you" are "to my thoughts" as "sweet seasoned show'rs" (a.k.a. rain) are to "the ground."
- The question we've got to be asking ourselves at this point is: why does old Bill Shakes need to add a new image in here? Was there something incomplete about the analogy in the first line, making him flesh things out with another set of imagery? What does this line add to our understanding of the relationship between "you" and "my thoughts"?
- Everyone will have their own interpretation of these lines of course, but here are our thoughts, for what they're worth. We think that Line 2 basically echoes the same idea as Line 1. Think about it. Point 1: Life needs food so it can stay healthy and… well, alive. Similarly, the ground needs rain so that plants can grow in it and be alive. Point 2: Life thinks food is tasty. Similarly, Shakespeare tells us that these "show'rs" of rain are "sweet seasoned," which (as Stephen Booth points out on p.262 of his commentary on the Sonnets) could refer to the pleasant taste of the rain, as well as to the custom of referring to the spring as "the sweet season."
- From these examples, it looks like the imagery of rain falling on the ground is just echoing and amplifying what we learned in Line 1.
- That said, there are some subtle differences. The main one is a slight asymmetry between the "food-life" relationship and the "show'rs-ground" relationship on the other. Think about it: "life" is the end product of giving a body "food." Thus, you could think of this as a three step process: (1) "food," (2) [body], (3) "life." We put the "body" step in square brackets because that word doesn't appear in Shakespeare's first line (or in the poem at all). But now consider the "show'rs-ground" relationship. The "ground" isn't the product of the rain, of course; the product of "show'rs" falling on the "ground" is something else: plants
- The three-step here should look something like this: (1) "show'rs," (2) "ground," (3) [plants]. Once again, we put in square brackets the term that Shakespeare leaves out.
- So, basically, the "ground" is just the middleman. The "ground" should be using the "show'rs" for some other purpose (producing plants), not just keeping it for itself.
- This discrepancy is a red flag that something weird is going on here. It might not seem like much at the moment, but let's keep it in mind, to see if it becomes more important later on.
And for the peace of you I hold such strife,
- Hmm. Something weird definitely is going on here. Why is the speaker suddenly bringing in military-sounding words like "peace" and "strife"?
- There's no question that this line is a little tricky to understand. (Many scholars have thought so too, over the years.)
- Still, here's Shmoop's best guess—which you are free to agree or disagree with: We think the basic idea has to do with lust—or at least very strong desire.
- How does desire fit in here? We think it is implied by the words "peace" and "strife." When the speaker says he wants "peace of you," he means that he wants peace from the desire for "you." Until this desire is satisfied, it will keep being a nuisance for the speaker, tormenting him—and thus is a form of "strife" (between the speaker and himself).
- The ideas in this line can be thought of as showing the darker side of the thoughts introduced in Lines 1 and 2. Sure, food is good for life, and rain is good for the ground. But when life lacks food and the ground lacks rain, things can get pretty uncomfortable.
- At least, that's what it looks like to us. Notice that we still don't know exactly what kind of "strife" the speaker is experiencing. That word "such," stuck in there before the last word of the line, forces us to read on to understand the speaker's full meaning.
As 'twixt a miser and his wealth is found;
- Note that "as"? It's a tell-tale sign of our good friend, simile. Basically, Shakespeare is making a comparison to illustrate how the speaker feels.
- Specifically, now we learn what kind of "strife" the speaker is experiencing: the same kind of "strife" that occurs between a miser and his money. (The word "'twixt" here is an abbreviation for "betwixt," which is an old-fashioned way of saying "between.")
- But wait—isn't a "miser" someone who loves money? Why would there be "strife" between such a person and what he loves best?
- It looks like, once again, Shakespeare has ended a line with a cliffhanger. Fortunately, this is only the end of Line 4. The poem is definitely to be continued...