Study Guide

Sonnet 116 Quatrain 1 (lines 1-4)

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Quatrain 1 (lines 1-4)

Lines 1-2

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love

  • This poem opens with one of the most famous lines ever: "Let me not to the marriage of two minds/ Admit impediments…" Sure, it sounds nice – but what does it mean? Is he talking about a real marriage? If so, who’s getting married? What impediments? Gaaah!
  • Yes, there are a lot of questions just in this one declaration – but relax, we’ll walk you through it.
  • First of all, the poem alludes to marriage, and to the actual marriage ceremony, which remains basically unchanged; the word "impediment" is lifted straight from the official Church of England wedding service (you might recognize its modern equivalent, the whole "speak now or forever hold your peace" section of weddings, so frequently used and abused in romantic comedies).
  • However, don’t get all crazy and start throwing rice or anything – this poem isn’t actually talking about a real marriage.
  • The "marriage of true minds" is a metaphor for true love. We’re not sure if this refers specifically to platonic love or sexual love; instead, we are intended to see it as capital-L, ideal, perfect Love.
  • Note that the Poet uses the word "minds" instead of anything more base, like "hearts" or (heaven forbid!) "bodies." This is to let us know that this perfect love is the partnership of two thinking, willing individuals, who aren’t simply driven by emotions or hormones.
  • Finally, the truly genius part of this opening statement comes in the enjambment between "minds" and "Admit" – by putting the idea of obstruction in the second line, the Poet doesn’t even admit the word "impediment" into the same line as the phrase "the marriage of true minds."

Lines 2-4

Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:

  • Here, we see love defined by what it’s not.
  • The repetition here is very significant – and very confusing to puzzle out. Let’s tackle the first phrase: apparently, real love doesn’t change ("alter") under different circumstances. That is to say, even if the lovers themselves change, or if the world around them does, true love remains constant.
  • The doubled "alter" and "alteration" pairing reminds us of what a less worthy sentiment, which we might think of as "not-love," is like – it’s changeable, fickle, and all too easily altered.
  • So what about the next phrase? What does all that "bends with the remover to remove" business mean? Basically, it makes the above point even more vehemently, claiming that even when someone tries to "remove" affection, real love doesn’t give in and disappear. Faced with difficulties or adversity, love will always survive.

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