Sonnet 115

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Sonnet 115
Detail of old-spelling text
The first nine lines of Sonnet 115 in the 1609 Quarto
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Those lines that I before have writ do lie,
Even those that said I could not love you dearer:
Yet then my judgment knew no reason why
My most full flame should afterwards burn clearer.
But reckoning Time, whose million’d accidents
Creep in ’twixt vows, and change decrees of kings,
Tan sacred beauty, blunt the sharp’st intents,
Divert strong minds to the course of altering things;
Alas, why, fearing of Time’s tyranny,
Might I not then say “Now I love you best,”
When I was certain o’er incertainty,
Crowning the present, doubting of the rest?
Love is a babe; then might I not say so,
To give full growth to that which still doth grow?





—William Shakespeare[1]

Sonnet 115 is one of 154 sonnets written by the English playwright and poet William Shakespeare. It is a member of the Fair Youth sequence, in which the poet expresses his love towards a young man.[2][3]


The poet's earlier verses were a lie because it said he could not love the youth more. At the time he didn't understand that his love could be more intense in future, assuming that time would blunt it. Fearing this, he said that he loved the youth most powerfully then. Love is a baby, so might he not ascribe full size to one that's still growing?[4][5]


Sonnet 115 is an English or Shakespearean sonnet. The English sonnet has three quatrains, followed by a final rhyming couplet. It follows the typical rhyme scheme of the form ABAB CDCD EFEF GG and is composed in iambic pentameter, a type of poetic metre based on five pairs of metrically weak/strong syllabic positions. The 1st line exemplifies a regular iambic pentameter:

  ×    /      ×  /  × /    ×     /   ×  / 
Those lines that I before have writ do lie, (115.1)

This sonnet contains examples of all three metrical variations typically found in literary iambic pentameter of the period. Lines 2 and 4 feature a final extrametrical syllable or feminine ending:

 ×  /    ×     /     ×    /  ×  /     ×     / (×) 
My most full flame should afterwards burn clearer. (115.4)
/ = ictus, a metrically strong syllabic position. × = nonictus. (×) = extrametrical syllable.

The 12th line exhibits an initial reversal, which can also be found in line 13 (and potentially in lines 6, 7, and 10):

  /  ×     ×   / ×     /   ×   /    ×  / 
Crowning the present, doubting of the rest? (115.12)

Finally, the 9th line exhibits the rightward movement of the third ictus (resulting in a four-position figure, × × / /, sometimes referred to as a minor ionic):

× /     ×   /  ×   ×   /      / ×  / 
Alas! why, fearing of Time's tyranny, (115.9)

The meter demands a few variant pronunciations: line 2's "even" functions as one syllable, line 5's "reckoning" and line 8's "altering" as two, and line 8's "to the" is contracted to "to th'".[6]


  1. ^ Pooler, C[harles] Knox, ed. (1918). The Works of Shakespeare: Sonnets. The Arden Shakespeare [1st series]. London: Methuen & Company. OCLC 4770201.
  2. ^ Morton Luce. Shakespeare, the Man and His Work. Seven Essays. Adamant Media Corporation. p. 58. ISBN 1402139926.
  3. ^ Shakespeare: Poet and Citizen. 1993. p. 244. ISBN 0860913929.
  4. ^ David Schalkwyk (2002). Speech and Performance in Shakespeare's Sonnets and Plays. Cambridge University Press. pp. 163–164. ISBN 0521811155.
  5. ^ James Blair Leishman (2005). Themes and Variations in Shakespeare's Sonnets. Routledge. p. 103. ISBN 0415352959.
  6. ^ Booth 2000, pp. 99, 379.

Further reading[edit]

First edition and facsimile
Variorum editions
Modern critical editions