Study Guide

Sonnet 116 Love

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…the marriage of true minds (1)

The poet concisely defines his conception of ideal love as a bond between minds, not bodies or souls.

…love is not love
which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove. (2-4)

True love never changes or diminishes, despite any challenges it encounters. The confident certainty of "love is not love" shows us just how sure the poet is of his convictions, and this series of three repetitions emphasizes the negative definitions of love here – it doesn’t do any of these things.

O no! [Love] is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken (5)

Love is permanent and unchanging, even though adverse circumstances may arise; this is another sign that the love described here might be more of an ideal than a real-life experience. After all, what relationship can emerge from a huge fight totally unscathed?

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come (9-10)

Time (a.k.a. mortality) doesn’t command love, the way a king might command a court jester; instead, love is always more powerful, even though time takes its toll on physical appearance.

Love alters not with [Time’s] brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom. (11-12)

Again, the poet reiterates that the passing of time doesn’t change love, which is eternal. In comparison to the eternal nature of love, Time seems irrelevant and weak.

If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved. (13-14)

If we turn this statement backwards, we see that the fact that people have loved before proves that the poet’s view of love is right.

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