Sonnet 85

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Sonnet 85
Detail of old-spelling text
Sonnet 85 in the 1609 Quarto
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My tongue-tied Muse in manners holds her still,
While comments of your praise, richly compil’d,
Reserve their character with golden quill,
And precious phrase by all the Muses fil’d.
I think good thoughts, whilst other write good words,
And, like unletter’d clerk, still cry “Amen”
To every hymn that able spirit affords,
In polish’d form of well-refined pen.
Hearing you prais’d, I say “’Tis so, ’tis true,”
And to the most of praise add something more;
But that is in my thought, whose love to you,
Though words come hindmost, holds his rank before.
Then others for the breath of words respect,
Me for my dumb thoughts, speaking in effect.





—William Shakespeare[1]

Sonnet 85 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, and the eighth sonnet of the Rival Poet subsequence.


The poet's inarticulacy compares with the golden words of other poets. The poet's thoughts are good, but others are more impressive in expression. All the poet can do is agree with the praises of others and offer his own dumb sincerity.


Sonnet 85 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:

 ×  /      ×    /   ×   /  ×    /     ×    / 
My tongue-tied Muse in manners holds her still,

  ×    /  ×    /   ×     /     /   ×  ×  / 
While comments of your praise richly compiled, (85.1-2)
/ = ictus, a metrically strong syllabic position. × = nonictus.

This is followed (in line 2) by a mid-line reversal ("richly"). A more common initial reversal occurs in line 9. In the final line, "dumb thoughts", a monosyllabic adjective + noun, would most naturally fill × / positions. Its shift here suggests that a contrastive accent is to be applied to "dumb", which is indeed followed closely by its antithesis "speaking".

The meter demands a few variant pronunciations: line 7's "spirit" would have been pronounced as 1 syllable (possibly as spear't, sprite, sprit, or spurt[2]),[3] and line 8's "refinèd" as 3.[4]


  1. ^ Pooler, C[harles] Knox, ed. (1918). The Works of Shakespeare: Sonnets. The Arden Shakespeare [1st series]. London: Methuen & Company. OCLC 4770201. 
  2. ^ Booth 2000, p. 262.
  3. ^ Booth 2000, p. 287.
  4. ^ Booth 2000, p. 75.


First edition and facsimile
Variorum editions
Modern critical editions