Saturday, December 22, 2012

William Shakespeare: Sonnet CXXX (130)

My Mistress’ Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red:
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damaskt, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight 
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know 
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
              And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare 
              As any she belied with false compare.

عيني سيدتي لا تشبهان الشمس في شئ
الشعاب أكثر من حمرة شفتيها
لو أن الثلوج بيضاء فلماذا إذن ثدييها داكنين
لو أن الشعر أسلاك فأسلاك سوداء تنمو علي رأسها

لقد رأيت زهور دمشقية حمراء وبيضاء ومازالت
لكني لا أري مثل هذه الزهور علي وجنتيها
وهناك بعض الروائح أكثر بهجة
من الأنفاس الخارجة من رائحة سيدتي الثقيلة

لقد سمعت حديثها ومازالت مع علمي جيداً
بأن الموسيقي بها أصوات أكثر متعة بكثير
أعترف بأني شاهدت إلهة تتجول
إلا أن سيدتي حين تمشي تتطأ بقوة علي الأرض

ومع ذلك أقسم بالسماء أني أعتقد أن حبي نادراً
كأي حب تظنه أمرأة في المقارنات الكاذبة

  • mistress: a woman that a married man has a sexual relationship with.
  • coral: a hard pink, red, or white substance that is formed from the bones of very small sea animals. It is often classed among precious stones.
  • dun: a dull or brownish gray
  • damasked: from Damascus.
  • grant: to admit something true, but it does not change your opinion.
  • tread: to put foot on something.
  • by heaven
  • rare: very unusual or uncommon, especial.
  •  she: woman
  • betied: to give a wrong idea about something; misrepresented (by unbelievable comparison)
  • false compare: by unbelievable, ridiculous comparison

In Sonnet 130, the speaker describes the woman that he loves in extremely unflattering terms but claims that he truly loves her, which lends credibility to his claim because even though he does not find her attractive, he still declares his love for her. 

This sonnet compares the speaker’s lover to a number of other beauties, but never in the lover’s favor. Her eyes are “nothing like the sun,” her lips are less red than coral; compared to white snow, her breasts are dun-colored, and her hairs are like black wires on her head. Then, the speaker says he has seen roses separated by color (“damask”) into red and white, but he sees no such roses in his mistress’s cheeks; and he says the breath that “reeks” from his mistress is less delightful than perfume. Moreover, he admits that, though he loves her voice, music “hath a far more pleasing sound,” and that, though he has never seen a goddess, his mistress unlike goddesses walks on the ground. At the end, the speaker declares that, however, he thinks his love as rare and valuable “As any she belied with false compare”. That is, any love in which false comparisons were invoked to describe the loved one’s beauty.


This poem can be seem as either a humorous tribute to his lover or a way to mock other poets of his time. On one hand, there is no use of over the top metaphors or allusions as he does compare his love to a goddess nor compare her beauty to rare and beautiful objects found in nature. On the other hand, "sonnet 130" sounds as if it mocks all of the other poems of Shakespeare's ear. Love poems of this time period made women about out to be superficial goddesses. "Sonnet 130" seems to expresses the theme of unconditional love. It takes the love poem to a deeper intimate level where the appearance is no longer important and it is inner beauty that matters.


This poem is written in the traditional Shakespearean sonnet form. It has three quatrains followed by one couplet of two lines. In the octet, Shakespeare presents the opposing argument and dabbles with comparing his mistress to the usual objects. In each case, a picture of a perfect woman is presented and then quickly taken away and replaced by one which is less attractive. In the first quatrain, the speaker spends one line each comparison between his mistress and something else (the sun, coral , snow and wires). Some parts of his mistress is like the one positive thing in the whole poem. In the second and third quatrains, he expands the descriptions to occupy two lines each, so that (roses/cheeks, perfume/breath, music/voice, and goddess/mistress) each receive a pair of unrhymed lines. This creates the effect of an expanding and developing argument, and neatly prevents the poem—which relies on a single kind of joke for its first twelve lines—from becoming stagnant. In the sestet, he offers completely different view on love, one in which superficialities are meaningless. 

The rhyme scheme for the poem is ABABCDEFEFGG. The A sound is made of an (-an) rhyme while the B sound is made of an (-ed) rhyme. The sound of C is an (-ait) rhyme and the sound of D is a rhyme of (-i:k). The E and F sound are rhymed of (-ou) and (-aund) respectively and the G sound is a rhyme of (-er), which ends the poem. The ongoing rhyming of the format ABAB contributes to continuity of the entire poem, making it seem fluent and flowing. Having a poem rhyme it seem structured and developed. The most important contribution of rhyme towards the content of the poem, however, is the textual effect that rhyming has. The effect that the heroic couplet has a different rhyme scheme "GG" creates the distinction that it is different from the rest of the poem. It is important the reader knows the last two lines are unique because they finalized the entire poem's argument.

Figures of Speech:

Shakespeare paints a joyful picture using a wonderful combination of metaphors and simile through the poem. He starts the poem out with a simile in a negative form comparing his mistress's eyes to the sun. Here, he insists that she has no "twinkle" in her eyes and that her eyes are not shiny like the sun and are not to be. He also speak of coral being "far more red than the lips of his mistress"; this use of simile to show her non-beauty. He He then quickly switches off to use the metaphors to compare the rest of his mistress' characteristics such as her breasts to snow. He also recognizes that there are "no roses on her cheeks" in the second quatrains. This is another use of metaphor, showing she is not with little complexion. In addition, there is a metaphor in the "black wire grow on her head"; her hair is compared to a plant growing out of her head. This image is humorous, and it implies that her hair is certainly not soft. He, in the third quatrain, compared his mistress' grace as "treading on the ground when a goddess go(es)".    He is basically saying she trips over herself; this is in a time when all women were to wlak elegantly, as if in a pageant.


There are a variety of language techniques employed by Shakespeare to emphasize his argument. The most obvious of them is the interesting choice of words. An examples is the use of "roses" in comparison between roses and his mistress' checks. Rose are soft, almost silky to the touch, pleasant to look at and have perfect shades of colour. Just from the use of one word, he says that his mistress’ cheeks are not soft, nor do they own the colour of roses. By using the example of a ‘goddess’ in comparison to his mistress, the author again heightens the effect of the poem. That is, the poet makes the reader think of superhuman perfection and beauty. ‘I grant I never…’ also suggests to us that some of the less-obvious qualities of his mistress may be like those of goddesses. In addition, using a word like "dun", or brown, instead of white as snow, brings the reader down to earth with a bump. In addition, the poem is written from a first-person viewpoint. This has two major effects. That is, it makes the argument of the poems seem universal, and it makes it seem more emotional and sincere.

The use of heightened language gives a more formal, important tone which perfectly expresses the serious nature of the poem. Using common words would detract from the overall impression while heightened language compliments it.

Sound Devices:

"My Mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun" is an excellent example of the use of sound devices to develop meaning within a poem. Firstly, the repetition of certain words such as "My mistress", "roses" and "red" is used to make the poem and argument more effective. It brings out the monotony in talking about love and makes it seems as though the superficial comparisons themselves are repetitive.


Shakespeare says that, although the girl is ugle, he loves her. He was not making any statements about her looks, but instead being realistic. He was making a point of claiming that his girlfriend was a regular person and not a mythological goddess.

Shakespeare expresses that women are not the perfect beauties like what they are portrayed to be and that we should love them anyway. He uses two types of descriptions, one of their physical beauty and the other of their characteristics to make fun of all those ‘romantic’ poets trying to ‘brown nose’ the girls they like.

Shakespeare speaks of her breasts as being "dun," or brown, instead of white as snow. Being tan was a physical sign that someone has been outside a lot and therefore is working. The last physical attribute to be mentioned is her "black wiry hair." This is a contrast to most descriptions of women, where they would have blonde silky hair.

The use of straightforward comparisons that go from line to line, instead of one metaphor elaborated through the entire poem, makes this sonnet quite different in style. Sonnet 130 purposefully branches off from the traditional romantic love poem, for he does not describe the subject as a true beauty but as his true love. 

The format of this poem is terms of content and Shakespeare's feelings served two purposes. He wants first to convey the image that even though his mistress was not as fair as one hopes for, they seemed to share some kind of kinship or bond that no other shares. Secondly, he explains the fact that he does not necessarily want a "mistress" that is rare or extraordinary. That simply means that he actually likes her because she offers him something more than just good appearance. The picture of unconditional love is best presented by William Shakespeare's "Sonnet 130." Though his lover's lips are not full, he yearns for them. Though her cheeks are not rosy, he feels her glow. Her hair is certainly not soft and her breath does not project sweet perfume, but he is still truly captivated. She cannot sing to save her life, yet he loves to hear her voice. When she walks you would not call her graceful but he still cherishes her clumsy strides. This is a poem written by a man that has learned to love with his heart and not his eyes.

This sonnet, one of Shakespeare's most famous, plays an elaborate joke on the conventions of love poetry common to Shakespeare's day, and it is so well-conceived that the joke remains funny today. Shakespeare's "My Mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun" subverts and reverses the conventions of the common love poems. This poem, for instance, is written not to a perfect woman but to an admittedly imperfect woman. Sonnet 130 mocks the typical common metaphors by presenting a speaker who seems to take them at face value, and somewhat bemusedly, decides to tell the truth. In the couplet, then, the speaker shows his full intent, which is to insist that love does not need these conceits in order to be real; and women do not need to look like flowers or the sun in order to be beautiful.

The rhetorical structure of Sonnet 130 is important to its effect. 

Shakespeare's Sonnet CXXX mocks the conventions of the garish and flowery courtly sonnets in its realistic portrayal of his mistress. It was written in response to the sonnets, which made idealized comparisons between a woman's beauty and natural imagery, such as by comparing her eyes to the sun or her hair to gold. Such imagery was already, and still considered cliche. Shakespeare, in a gentle and plaine spoken manner, shows the difference between such off-useed natural imagery of cliche comparison and his mistress. The first quatrain contains one such difference per line, while the second and third contain one every two lines. Although he detracts from his mistress' beauty, Shakespeare still retains a tone of gentleness and love.

The sonnet ends with an assertion that despite her imperfections, their love is as wonderful as any, that has been falsely poetized and compared by poets.  

For example, the line ‘If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun’ instantly presents us with a picture of a beautiful, snow-white woman - probably because we are so accustomed to love poems describing exactly that - but then that picture suddenly vanishes, leaving us with a woman with dull, dark breasts. Using this technique, we develop quickly a picture of a woman whose physical appearance leaves much to be desired. It seems in the octet as if Shakespeare is undermining love. That is only something frivolous. Keeping in mind the images and ideas presented to us initially and vaguely in the octet, the sestet puts into words the argument that Shakespeare had silently been developing up till now. Of particular interest in the sestet is the section that compares his mistress with a goddess – ‘I grant I never saw a goddess go; My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.’ This suggests to us that his mistress is completely human, and clinch the entire poem’s argument. He declares that the love for his mistress is ‘as rare’ as any other woman whose beauty has been exaggerated with ‘false compare’. The use of the octet – to present the opposing argument; the sestet – to present the author’s argument; and the heroic couplet – to clinch the final argument all contribute towards developing the meaning of Sonnet 130.

Shakespeare uses the word to conjure up several different images and create several different effects.

Just like all of her other features, they are plain and not worth nothing. 

There are a number of other effects Shakespeare employs in ‘My mistress is nothing like the sun’. The poem is written from a first-person viewpoint. This has two major effects. Firstly, it makes the argument of the poem seem universal, not specific to one person as it would have been if Shakespeare would have said “Mr. Smith’s mistress is….”. Secondly, it makes it seem more emotional and sincere – if he were speaking about it in third person, he would not be talking about his own experience and the people and events would seem distant. By the constantly referring to the first person “I…” and “My…” it makes the author seem as though he is hypnotized by love – in a trance full of repetition.

Shakespeare managed to develop these sides of poetry and build meaningful arguments around the topic of love. 

Rhyme and rhythm is important to any piece of sonnet poetry. The basic rhyming scheme of ‘My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun’ is a-b-a-b-c-d-c-d-e-f-e-f-g-g. 

The long length of sentences compliments the complex ideas that are expressed and allows an idea to be developed more completely in one sentence. 

The use of punctuation is also something of note. Only two full stops are used to separate the sestet and the octet and again at the end of the poem. The colon just prior to the heroic couplet shows its complete relation to the rest of the poem, and it’s indentation highlights its importance. The use of semicolons at the end of the lines instead of full stops adds to the flow. 

Another interesting point is that in this sonnet (unlike many others) Shakespeare does not speak to his mistress directly – almost as if he were musing to himself or talking to friends.

Women who have been described in terms such as their eyes shinning like sun have not been accurately described. No woman's body parts really look like the beautiful images that have been described, so the speaker is being truthful rather than using the flowery language common during Shakespeare's time. Also, beauty should not be the reason that one leaves someone. Perhaps true love is accepting that a person has faults and loving him anyway.

With a deftness of touch that takes away anything that might otherwise arise from implied criticism of other sonneteers, the poet satirizes the tradition of comparing one's beloved to all things beautiful under the sun, and to things diving and immortal as well. It is often said that the praise of his mistress is so negative that the reader is left with the impression that she is almost unlovable. On the contrary, although the octet makes many negative comparisons, the sestet contrives to make one believe that the sound of her voice is sweeter than any music, and that she far out stances any goddess in her merely beauties and her mortal approachability.