Sonnets 21-40

Shakespeare s sonnets 21-40

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 21-40

Sonnets 21-40
  • Sonnet 21
    Sonnet 21

    «So is it not with me as with that Muse Stirr’d by a painted beauty to his verse».  Having explored the nature of his and the young man’s relationship in the previous sonnet, the poet now returns to his theme of immortality. Not only does…

  • Sonnet 22
    Sonnet 22

    «My glass shall not persuade me I am old, So long as youth and thou are of one date».  Until now, the poet’s feelings have soared to the level of rapture; in Sonnet 22, he suggests — perhaps deluding himself — that his affections are…

  • Sonnet 23
    Sonnet 23

    «As an unperfect actor on the stage Who with his fear is put besides his part».  Most of Sonnet 23 compares the poet’s role as a lover to an actor’s timidity onstage. The image of the poor theatrical player nervously missing his lines is the…

  • Sonnet 24
    Sonnet 24

    «Mine eye hath play’d the painter and hath stell’d Thy beauty’s form in table of my heart».  When the poet writes in Sonnet 24 of finding “where your true image pictured lies,” he focuses on a meaning of “true” in the sense of genuine as…

  • Sonnet 25
    Sonnet 25

    «Let those who are in favour with their stars Of public honour and proud titles boast».  In Sonnet 25, which has as its theme mortality versus immortality, the poet contrasts himself with those “who are in favor with their stars,” implying that, though he is…

  • Sonnet 26
    Sonnet 26

    «Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage Thy merit hath my duty strongly knit».  Sonnet 26 prepares for the young man’s absence from the poet, although the reason for this separation is not clear. The sonnet’s first two lines, “Lord of my love, to…

  • Sonnet 27
    Sonnet 27

    «Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed, The dear repose for limbs with travel tired».  The poet describes himself as being “weary with toil” and trying to sleep. The somber mood announces a new phase in the relationship. In the first four lines,…

  • Sonnet 28
    Sonnet 28

    «How can I then return in happy plight, That am debarr’d the benefit of rest?».  Images of absence, continued from the previous sonnet, show the poet at the point of emotional exhaustion and frustration due to his sleepless nights spent thinking about the young man.…

  • Sonnet 29
    Sonnet 29

    «When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes, I all alone beweep my outcast state».  Resenting his bad luck, the poet envies the successful art of others and rattles off an impressive catalogue of the ills and misfortunes of his life. His depression is derived…

  • Sonnet 30
    Sonnet 30

    «When to the sessions of sweet silent thought I summon up remembrance of things past».  The poet repeats Sonnet 29’s theme, that memories of the youth are priceless compensations — not only for many disappointments and unrealized hopes but for the loss of earlier friends:…

  • Sonnet 31
    Sonnet 31

    «Thy bosom is endeared with all hearts, Which I by lacking have supposed dead».  Sonnet 31 expands upon the sentiment conveyed in the preceding sonnet’s concluding couplet, “But if the while I think on thee, dear friend, / All losses are restored and sorrows end.”…

  • Sonnet 32
    Sonnet 32

    «If thou survive my well-contented day, When that churl Death my bones with dust shall cover».  Sonnet 32 concludes the sonnet sequence on the poet’s depression over his absence from the youth. Sonnet 32 Read and listen If thou survive my well-contented day, When that…

  • Sonnet 33
    Sonnet 33

    «Full many a glorious morning have I seen Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye».  Sonnet 33 begins a new phase in the poet and youth’s estrangement from each other. (The breach well may be caused by the youth’s seduction of the poet’s mistress, which the…

  • Sonnet 34
    Sonnet 34

    «Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day, And make me travel forth without my cloak».  The poet speaks of a quite different feeling than he did in Sonnet 33. He is puzzled and painfully disappointed by the youth, whose callousness dashes any hope of…

  • Sonnet 35
    Sonnet 35

    «No more be grieved at that which thou hast done: Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud».  Whereas in Sonnet 33 the poet is an onlooker, in the previous sonnet and here in Sonnet 35, the poet recognizes his own contribution to the youth’s wrongdoing…

  • Sonnet 36
    Sonnet 36

    «Let me confess that we two must be twain, Although our undivided loves are one».  Obstacles to the friendship between the poet and the young man remain, but the poet is no longer wholly duped by his young friend. However, he still maintains that their…

  • Sonnet 37
    Sonnet 37

    «As a decrepit father takes delight To see his active child do deeds of youth».  Sonnet 37, which echoes Sonnet 36, conveys the emotions of a doting parent and discontinues the confessional mode of the previous sonnets. Sonnet 37 Read and listen As a decrepit…

  • Sonnet 38
    Sonnet 38

    «How can my Muse want subject to invent, While thou dost breathe, that pour’st into my verse».  Like the previous sonnet, Sonnet 38 contrasts the selfishly lascivious youth and the adoring, idealistic poet. The poet appears pitifully unable to contemplate his life without the youth,…

  • Sonnet 39
    Sonnet 39

    «O, how thy worth with manners may I sing, When thou art all the better part of me?».  Sonnet 39 constructs an ingenious variation on the theme of absence. Ironically, separation is inspirational: “That by this separation I may give / That due to thee…

  • Sonnet 40
    Sonnet 40

    «Take all my loves, my love, yea, take them all; What hast thou then more than thou hadst before?».  Sonnet 40 begins a three-sonnet sequence in which the poet shares his possessions and his mistress with the youth, although it is not until Sonnet 41…

»»» 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