Sonnet 76

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Sonnet 76
Detail of old-spelling text
Sonnet 76 of the 1609 Quarto
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Why is my verse so barren of new pride,
So far from variation or quick change?
Why with the time do I not glance aside
To new-found methods and to compounds strange?
Why write I still all one, ever the same,
And keep invention in a noted weed,
That every word doth almost tell my name,
Showing their birth and where they did proceed?
O, know, sweet love, I always write of you,
And you and love are still my argument;
So all my best is dressing old words new,
Spending again what is already spent:
For as the sun is daily new and old,
So is my love still telling what is told.





—William Shakespeare[1]

Sonnet 76 is one of 154 sonnets written by the English playwright and poet William Shakespeare. It's a member of the Fair Youth sequence, in which the poet expresses his love towards a young man.


This poem repeats the theme of Sonnet 38, which examines the issue of the poet's obsession with the Youth as the repeated and sole theme of his poetry.

The poet expresses frustration with his poetry; that it is repetitive and he can't find inspiration. He ponders finding inspiration from other artists. He ends the poem justifying the endless, uninspired, repetition of his love poetry to the endless repetition to the rising and setting sun.


Sonnet 76 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 7th line exemplifies a regular iambic pentameter:

  ×  /   ×  /    ×   /  ×    /    ×  / 
That every word doth almost tell my name, (76.7)
/ = ictus, a metrically strong syllabic position. × = nonictus.

The 1st line begins with a common variation, an initial reversal (a figure repeated several times in the sonnet), and ends with a less-frequent one, the rightward movement of the 4th ictus (resulting in a 4-position figure, × × / /, sometimes referred to as a minor ionic). The 2nd line repeats the minor ionic at the same point in the line:

  / ×   ×  /     ×  /  ×  ×   /    / 
Why is my verse so barren of new pride,

 ×  /    ×   / ×/  ×  ×   /      / 
So far from variation or quick change? (76.1-2)

Controversial interpretation[edit]

"Noted weed" is usually glossed to mean familiar clothing. The Norton Shakespeare annotates "and keep invention in a noted weed" thus: And keep literary creativity in such familiar clothing. This conforms with the Oxford English Dictionary's definition of Weed, sb2: 1: an article of apparel; a garment, and is consistent with the theme of mending, re-using, etc. ("all my best is dressing old words new").[2]

Although no academics concur, it has been suggested that Shakespeare is referring to the influence of drugs in poetry creation,[3] with the subject phrase "Noted weed" referring to the use of cannabis, which was common in England at the time.[4][5] In this interpretation, "Compounds strange" is taken to be a reference to strange chemicals (i.e. drugs), instead of a use of inverted construction, a common poetical device common to Shakespeare. One could argue the poet is thinking he could use drugs to be inspired. He then states he decides not to use such inspiration. (The poet does not "glance aside". Also, he decides to keep the inspirational in the "noted weed" rather than use it.)[citation needed]

The colloquialism "weed" was not used in reference to the drug cannabis in the USA until the 1920s.[6] However, the term could have been used as a reference to the commonplace plant, which was mass-produced for fiber.


In music[edit]

  • Poeterra recorded a pop rock version of Sonnet 76 on their album "When in Disgrace" (2014).
  • Alfred Janson set the sonnet for SATB choir with Tenor/Baritone solo (2000).


  1. ^ Pooler, C[harles] Knox, ed. (1918). The Works of Shakespeare: Sonnets. The Arden Shakespeare [1st series]. London: Methuen & Company. OCLC 4770201. 
  2. ^ Norton Shakespeare, ed. Stephen Greenblatt. NY: Norton, 1997.
  3. ^ CNN Online
  4. ^ Harvard Magazine Sep-Oct 2001.
  5. ^ Nkosi, Milton. "Much ado about puffing or did Shakespeare smoke cannabis?". BBC News. BBC News. Retrieved 12 August 2015. 
  6. ^ "". Retrieved 30 September 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

First edition and facsimile
Variorum editions
Modern critical editions