Sonnet 21

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Sonnet 21

So is it not with me as with that Muse,
Stirred by a painted beauty to his verse,
Who heaven itself for ornament doth use
And every fair with his fair doth rehearse,
Making a couplement of proud compare
With sun and moon, with earth and sea's rich gems,
With April's first-born flowers, and all things rare,
That heaven's air in this huge rondure hems.
O let me, true in love but truly write,
And then believe me: my love is as fair
As any mother's child, though not so bright
As those gold candles fixed in heaven's air:
Let them say more that like of hearsay well;
I will not praise that purpose not to sell.

–William Shakespeare

Sonnet 21 was written by William Shakespeare. Like Sonnet 130, it addresses the issue of truth in love, as the speaker frankly admits that his lines, while less extravagant than those of other poets, are more truthful.


I am unlike the other poet, who praises a woman made artificially beautiful by cosmetics, who compares her to the heavens, and indeed to everything beautiful. He proudly compares his beloved to the sun and moon, to the beauties of earth and sea, to the flowers of April. For myself, because my love is true, I wish merely to write truly. My beloved is as beautiful as any human, though not so bright as the stars. Those who like exaggerated rumors may speak more if they wish; since I do not plan to sell my beloved, I will not waste time with superfluous praise.

Source and analysis[edit]

George Wyndham calls this the first sonnet to address the problem of the rival poet; Beeching and others, however, differentiate the poet mentioned here from the one later seen competing with Shakespeare's speaker for the affections of a male beloved.

Edmond Malone found parallel descriptions of the stars as candles in Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth. While Alexander Schmidt glosses line 13 as "fall in love with what others have praised," Edward Dowden has it "those who like to be buzzed about by talk." As William James Rolfe notes, the line refers definitely to the type of exaggerated praise the sonnet has just described.

George Wyndham notes a parallel to the final line in Samuel Daniel's Delia 53; in that poem, the speaker condemns the "mercenary lines" of other poets. As Madeleine Doran and others note, criticism of exaggerated praise was only slightly less common in Renaissance poetry than such praise itself.

Because of the repeated—are rhymes in the third quatrain, the poem has six rhymes instead of seven.

Note that, contrary to most of Shakespeare's Sonnets, this one is not addressed to any one person. There is no second person, no overt "you" or "thou" expressed in it.




  • Alden, Raymond (1916). The Sonnets of Shakespeare, with Variorum Reading and Commentary. Houghton-Mifflin, Boston.
  • Baldwin, T. W. (1950). On the Literary Genetics of Shakspeare's Sonnets. University of Illinois Press, Urbana.
  • Booth, Stephen (1977). Shakespeare's Sonnets. Yale University Press, New Haven.
  • Doran, Madeleine (1976). The Idea of Excellence in Shakespeare. Shakespeare Quarterly, 27. pp. 133–149.
  • Dowden, Edward (1881). Shakespeare's Sonnets. London.
  • Evans, G. Blakemore, Anthony Hecht, (1996). Shakespeare's Sonnets. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  • Hubler, Edwin (1952). The Sense of Shakespeare's Sonnets. Princeton University Press, Princeton.
  • McGuire, Philip (1987). Shakespeare's Non-Shakespearean Sonnets. Shakespeare Quarterly, 38 (1987): pp. 304–319.
  • Schoenfeldt, Michael (2007). The Sonnets: The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare’s Poetry. Patrick Cheney, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  • Tyler, Thomas (1989). Shakespeare’s Sonnets. London D. Nutt.
  • Vendler, Helen (1997). The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

External links[edit]