Study Guide

Sonnet 137 Attachment Imagery

By William Shakespeare

Attachment Imagery

So, we’ve just seen that deception is the most important idea in Shakespeare’s sonnet. But if that were the only idea, would that really be enough to hold the poem together? We don’t know about you, but we think a sonnet entirely about deception would be over pretty quickly: the speaker realizes he’s been deceived, dishes out some choice insults for his lady-love, and then hits the road. But that isn’t what happens in Shakespeare’s sonnet. Instead, his sonnet shows us a conflict between two different emotions that are tugging the speaker in different directions. Sure, he’s mighty angry about the fact that his lady-love has cheated on him, but he’s also still powerfully attached to her. This is the stuff of high drama, alright. You almost get the impression that the author of this poem must have written plays or something…

  • Lines 5-8: These lines, which make up quatrain 2, are the most important section in the poem to deal with the theme of attachment. The main literary device Shakespeare uses to hold these lines together is a rhetorical question. Basically, he says to Love that it was bad enough that he couldn’t take his eyes off the world’s biggest cheater—so why did Love have to go and make his heart stuck on her, too? But even inside that rhetorical question, Shakespeare has got a lot of other literary devices crammed in, too. For starters, he uses a very vivid metaphor to compare his affection to a ship "anchored" in a "bay." As for the emotional tone the speaker brings to this passage, you can get a sense of it from his alliteration on the letter "f" in the words "falsehood" and "forgèd" in line 7—to us, this makes it sound as if he is practically spitting out the words in his frustration. 
  • Lines 13-14: In the final two lines of the poem, the speaker explains how his cheating lady has really got him trapped. He expresses this through a metaphor derived from business transactions, and specifically the legal lingo that surrounds them. This metaphor comes in his use of the word "transferred," which usually refers to "transferring" ownership of something from one person to another. When the speaker says that his "heart and eyes" have been "transferred" to "this false plague" (his lady-love), he doesn’t literally mean that she owns them, of course. Instead, he’s just saying that it feels like she does, because he can’t stop thinking about her and looking at her.

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