Poetry: Shakespeare – Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove.

O no! it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wand’ring bark,

Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle’s compass come;

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me prov’d,

I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.

Shakespeare, Sonnet 116

Shakespeare has a number of tongue-in-cheek poems out there, many of which make me laugh rather than sigh. Most feel like a backhanded compliment than a love poem. Yet I find this one to be rather sweet, in a philosophic way. Love should not be a fickle thing, not true love. Yes, people and circumstances will change, but the ties that bind must not be broken once God has bound them. Otherwise, it is not love.

First, Shakespeare addresses the beginning of love. Why should he seek to impede those who desire true union? Least of all his own. But let us say, perhaps, that we are the speaker rather than Shakespeare. Here, we speak on those, and ourselves, who are already joined. Why should I, once I am married to him that I have truly connected myself to, seek to find a reason for separation? Love is not love which ceases to love when the other half changes.

We will grow old, we will fade, we may even change our tastes. But love is not meant for the fainthearted, or for him who turns back once he has begun. We should Also not cease to love when the one whom we love is not in our presence. What sort of love, or faithfulness, is that?

No, that love, that marriage bond, is faithfulness embodied. Donne and Shakespeare point back to the same thing when they envision love as an “ever-fixed mark” or the foot of a compass. Those promises are the center of what binds two people together. Though storms beat against two people, though time may change them, though trials unknown when they first made their vows may come, that love endures, for it is based on promise, not fickle feelings. It is a guiding star, a fixed mark, a thing of immeasurable worth because of its sureness. Of course, human love can be a fickle thing. But it is the promise before God that we hold to, and it is before Him that we stand. Thus, we rest securely, not looking away from this guiding mark.

We do not look away though time toys with us. Love cares not for time or change or weather. It cares not for age or sickness or wealth. These things all come and go, reaped with embracing and years. Regardless of the length, love endures.

To prove his point, he makes a bold statement: if anything he said is false, then he never wrote a word, and no man ever loved. Clearly, this isn’t true; Shakespeare wrote much! I find his argument amusing, and yet, he’s not wrong. If you cannot adhere to these facts of love, you should not bind yourself with another. If you cannot promise to hold to love’s enduring promise, then you cannot have a marriage of true minds for then you will seek impediments. For better or worse, sickness or health, poverty of riches, stability or change, love endures all things.

Blessings to you and yours,

~Madelyn Rose Craig

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