Sonnets 1-20

Shakespeare s sonnets 1-20

Shakespeare’s Sonnets are some of the most fascinating and influential poems written in English. First published in 1609, in a small quarto edition (roughly the size of a modern paperback), almost nothing is known about the poems’ composition. But the Sonnets have been read, recited, reprinted and written about ever since their first appearance.

»»» Sonnets introduction
»»» Sonnets complete list

Sonnets 1-20

Sonnets 01-20
  • Sonnet 1
    Sonnet 1

    «From fairest creatures we desire increase, That thereby beauty’s rose might never die».  Shakespeare begins his sonnets by introducing four of his most important themes — immortality, time, procreation, and selfishness — which are interrelated in this first sonnet both thematically and through the use…

  • Sonnet 2
    Sonnet 2

    «When forty winters shall beseige thy brow, And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,».  Sonnet 2 continues the argument and plea from Sonnet 1, this time through the imagery of military, winter, and commerce. Time again is the great enemy, besieging the youth’s brow,…

  • Sonnet 3
    Sonnet 3

    «Look in thy glass, and tell the face thou viewest Now is the time that face should form another».  Drawing on farming imagery, the poet focuses entirely on the young man’s future, with both positive and negative outcomes. However, the starting point for these possible…

  • Sonnet 4
    Sonnet 4

    «Unthrifty loveliness, why dost thou spend Upon thyself thy beauty’s legacy?».  The themes of narcissism and usury (meant here as a form of use) are most developed in this sonnet, with its references to wills and testaments. The terms “unthrifty,” “legacy,” “bequest,” and “free” (which…

  • Sonnet 5
    Sonnet 5

    «Those hours, that with gentle work did frame The lovely gaze where every eye doth dwell».  Sonnet 5 compares nature’s four seasons with the stages of the young man’s life. Although the seasons are cyclical, his life is linear, and hours become tyrants that oppress…

  • Sonnet 6
    Sonnet 6

    «Then let not winter’s ragged hand deface In thee thy summer, ere thou be distill’d».  Sonnet 6 continues the winter imagery from the previous sonnet and furthers the procreation theme. Winter, symbolizing old age, and summer, symbolizing youth, are diametrically opposed. Sonnet 6 Read and listen…

  • Sonnet 7
    Sonnet 7

    «Lo! in the orient when the gracious light Lifts up his burning head, each under eye».  The poet begs the young man not to die childless — “ere thou be distill’d” — without first making “sweet some vial.” Here, “distill’d” recalls the summer flowers from…

  • Sonnet 8
    Sonnet 8

    «Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly? Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy».  In this sonnet, the poet compares a single musical note to the young man and a chord made up of many notes to a family. The marriage of…

  • Sonnet 9
    Sonnet 9

    «Is it for fear to wet a widow’s eye That thou consumest thyself in single life?».  The poet imagines that the young man objects to the bliss of marriage on the grounds that he might die young anyway or that he might die and leave…

  • Sonnet 10
    Sonnet 10

    «For shame deny that thou bear’st love to any, Who for thyself art so unprovident».  Sonnet 10 repeats and extends the argument of Sonnet 9, with the added suggestion that the youth really loves no one. Clearly, the poet does not seriously believe the young…

  • Sonnet 11
    Sonnet 11

    «As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou growest In one of thine, from that which thou departest».  The poet now argues that the young man needs to have a child in order to maintain a balance in nature, for as the youth grows…

  • Sonnet 12
    Sonnet 12

    «When I do count the clock that tells the time, And see the brave day sunk in hideous night».  Sonnet 12 again speaks of the sterility of bachelorhood and recommends marriage and children as a means of immortality. Additionally, the sonnet gathers the themes of…

  • Sonnet 13
    Sonnet 13

    «O, that you were yourself! but, love, you are No longer yours than you yourself here live».  Sonnet 13 furthers Sonnet 12’s theme of death by again stating that death will forever vanquish the young man’s beauty if he dies without leaving a child. Sonnet…

  • Sonnet 14
    Sonnet 14

    «Not from the stars do I my judgment pluck; And yet methinks I have astronomy,».  Sonnet 13 depends on an intimate relationship between the poet and the young man that is symbolized in the use of the more affectionate “you”; Sonnet 14 discards — at…

  • Sonnet 15
    Sonnet 15

    «When I consider every thing that grows Holds in perfection but a little moment,».  In Sonnet 15‘s first eight lines, the poet surveys how objects mutate — decay — over time: “. . . every thing that grows / Holds in perfection but a little…

  • Sonnet 16
    Sonnet 16

    «But wherefore do not you a mightier way Make war upon this bloody tyrant, Time?».  Sonnet 16 continues the arguments for the youth to marry and at the same time now disparages the poet’s own poetic labors, for the poet concedes that children will ensure…

  • Sonnet 17
    Sonnet 17

    «Who will believe my verse in time to come, If it were fill’d with your most high deserts?».  In the earlier sonnets, the poet’s main concern was to persuade the youth to marry and reproduce his beauty in the creation of a child. That purpose…

  • Sonnet 18
    Sonnet 18

    «Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate».  One of the best known of Shakespeare’s sonnets, Sonnet 18 is memorable for the skillful and varied presentation of subject matter, in which the poet’s feelings reach a level of…

  • Sonnet 19
    Sonnet 19

    «Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws, And make the earth devour her own sweet brood».  In Sonnet 19, the poet addresses Time and, using vivid animal imagery, comments on Time’s normal effects on nature. The poet then commands Time not to age the young…

  • Sonnet 20
    Sonnet 20

    «A woman’s face with Nature’s own hand painted Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion».  In this crucial, sensual sonnet, the young man becomes the “master-mistress” of the poet’s passion. The young man’s double nature and character, however, present a problem of description: Although to…

»»» Sonnets introduction

They have inspired many creative works, including music and dance pieces as well as other poems. And they continue to intrigue those of us who watch, read and study Shakespeare’s plays, for the insight they might offer into the mind of the man who wrote our most beloved dramatic works. This piece will explore why the Sonnets are so important to the history of English poetry and why they continue to be enjoyed – and imitated – today.

Part of the reason Shakespeare’s Sonnets speak to us so directly is that they are written with their own afterlife in mind. These are poems designed to commemorate the poet’s beloved for all eternity. In the famous lines of Sonnet 18 Shakespeare suggests that his poem confers immortality: ‘So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, / So long lives this, and this gives life to thee’ (ll. 11.13–14). Long after his lover’s death, Shakespeare’s poem will continue to keep his lover alive. The Sonnets look to their own future, imagining the readers who will come to them hundreds of years after Shakespeare’s death. We continue to read the poems partly because of this sense of contact with Shakespeare as he reaches out into the future, a sense of presence as well as a reminder of his absence (a theme that will return later in this piece).

But we need to be careful about reading the poems autobiographically, or seeing them as a key to the themes of love, jealousy, anger and lust that pervade Shakespeare’s plays. The poetic persona who speaks through the sequence is not Shakespeare himself. While many readers of the poems have traced a love triangle between the ‘poet’ and two figures often called the ‘Young Man’ and the ‘Dark Lady’, the Sonnets themselves resist straightforward narrative. The poems seem to play with the reader in this regard, tempting us with hints of the kind of love story that underpinned other popular poetic sequences of the time, or the plot of a Shakespearean comedy. At the same time, the poems constantly frustrate our attempts to trace the exact moment at which the poet loses – or gains – the affection of his lovers, or to map the precise relationship between the two enigmatic figures that so preoccupy his attentions. It is also significant that one of the lovers is male; Shakespeare’s Sonnets do not give us a predictably heterosexual romance but rather a complex and intricate exploration of gender and sexuality that encourages ambiguity rather than resolution.


1 – 20 21 – 40 41 – 60
61 – 80 81 – 100 101 – 120
121 – 140
141 – 154

»»» Sonnets introduction
»»» Sonnets complete list