Take your pick of Shakespeare’s sonnets below, along with a modern English interpretation of each one aid understanding.
Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets published in his ‘quarto’ in 1609, covering themes such as the passage of time, mortality, love, beauty, infidelity, and jealousy. The first 126 of Shakespeare’s sonnets are addressed to a young man, and the last 28 addressed to a woman – a mysterious ‘dark lady’.
Jump to a section: Read all sonnets | Famous sonnets | Publishing the sonnets | Sonnet dedications
What is a Shakespearean sonnet?
Shakespeare’s sonnets are poems of expressive ideas and thoughts that are layered with multiple meanings, and always have two things in common:
1. All sonnets have fourteen lines
2. All sonnets are written in iambic pentameter
Read more about what a sonnet is, and iambic pentameter.
Read all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets
Take your pick from the list of Shakespeare sonnets below (or learn how to write a sonnet of your own!):
Sonnet 1: From Fairest Creatures We Desire Increase
Sonnet 2: When Forty Winters Shall Besiege Thy Brow
Sonnet 3: Look In Thy Glass, And Tell The Face Thou Viewest
Sonnet 4: Unthrifty Loveliness, Why Dost Thou Spend
Sonnet 5: Those Hours, That With Gentle Work Did Frame
Sonnet 6: Then Let Not Winter’s Ragged Hand Deface
Sonnet 7: Lo! In The Orient When The Gracious Light
Sonnet 8: Music To Hear, Why Hear’st Thou Music Sadly?
Sonnet 9: Is It For Fear To Wet A Widow’s Eye
Sonnet 10: For Shame Deny That Thou Bear’st Love To Any
Sonnet 11: As Fast As Thou Shalt Wane, So Fast Thou Grow
Sonnet 12: When I Do Count The Clock That Tells Time
Sonnet 13: O! That You Were Your Self! But, Love, You Are
Sonnet 14: Not From The Stars Do I My Judgement Pluck
Sonnet 15: When I Consider Everything That Grows
Sonnet 16: But Wherefore Do Not You A Mightier Way
Sonnet 17: Who Will Believe In My Verse In Time To Come
Sonnet 18: Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day?
Sonnet 19: Devouring Time, Blunt Thou The Lion’s Paw
Sonnet 20: A Woman’s Face With Nature’s Own Hand Painted
Sonnet 21: So It Is Not With Me As With That Muse
Sonnet 22: My Glass Shall Not Persuade Me I Am Old
Sonnet 23: As An Unperfect Actor On The Stage
Sonnet 24: Mine Eye Hath Play’d The Painter and Hath Steel’d
Sonnet 25: Let Those Who Are In Favour With Their Stars
Sonnet 26: Lord Of My Love, To Whom In Vassalage
Sonnet 27: Weary With Toil, I Haste To My Bed
Sonnet 28: How Can I Then Return In Happy Plight
Sonnet 29: When In Disgrace With Fortune and Men’s Eyes
Sonnet 30: When To The Sessions Of Sweet Silent Thought
Sonnet 31: Thy Bosom Is Endeared With All Hearts
Sonnet 32: If Thou Survive My Well-Contented Day
Sonnet 33: Full Many A Glorious Morning I Have Seen
Sonnet 34: Why Didst Thou Promise Such A Beauteous Day
Sonnet 35: No More Be Grieved At That Which Thou Hast Done
Sonnet 36: Let Me Confess That We Two Must Be Twain
Sonnet 37: As A Decrepit Father Takes Delight
Sonnet 38: How Can My Muse Want Subject To Invent
Sonnet 39: O! How Thy Worth With Manners May I Sing
Sonnet 40: Take All My Loves, My Love, Yea Take Them All
Sonnet 41: Those Pretty Wrongs That Liberty Commits
Sonnet 42: That Thou Hast It Is Not All My Grief
Sonnet 43: When Most I Wink, Then Do Mine Eyes Best See
Sonnet 44: If The Dull Substance Of My Flesh Were Thought
Sonnet 45: That Thou Hast It Is Not All My Grief
Sonnet 46: Mine Eye And Heart Are At A Mortal War
Sonnet 47: Betwixt Mine Eye And Heart A League Is Took
Sonnet 48: How Careful Was I When I Took My Way
Sonnet 49: Against That Time, If Ever That Time Come
Sonnet 50: How Heavy Do I Journey On The Way
Sonnet 51: Thus Can My Love Excuse The Slow Offence
Sonnet 52: So Am I As The Rich, Whose Blessed Key
Sonnet 53: What Is Your Substance, Whereof Are You Made
Sonnet 54: O! How Much More Doth Beauty Beauteous Seem
Sonnet 55: O! Not Marble, Nor The Gilded Monuments
Sonnet 56: Sweet Love, Renew Thy Force; Be It Not Said
Sonnet 57: Being Your Slave What Should I Do But Tend
Sonnet 58: That God Forbid, That Made Me First Your Slave
Sonnet 59: If There Be Nothing New, But That Which Is
Sonnet 60: Like As The Waves Make Towards The Pebbled Shore
Sonnet 61: Is It Thy Will, Thy Image Should Keep Open
Sonnet 62: Sin Of Self-love Possesseth All Mine Eye
Sonnet 63: Against My Love Shall Be As I Am Now
Sonnet 64: When I Have Seen By Time’s Fell Hand Defac’d
Sonnet 65: Since Brass, Nor Stone, Nor Earth, Nor Boundless Sea
Sonnet 66: Tired For All These, For Restful Death I Cry
Sonnet 67: Ah! Wherefore With Infection Should He Live
Sonnet 68: In Days Long Since, Before These Last So Bad
Sonnet 69: Those Parts Of Thee That The World’s Eye Doth View
Sonnet 70: That Thou Art Blamed Shall Not Be Thy Defect
Sonnet 71: No Longer Mourn For Me When I Am Dead
Sonnet 72: O! Lest The World Should Task You To Recite
Sonnet 73: That Time Of Year Thou Mayst In Me Behold
Sonnet 74: But Be Contented When That Fell Arrest
Sonnet 75: So Are You To My Thoughts As Food To Life
Sonnet 76: Why Is My Verse So Barren Of New Pride
Sonnet 77: Thy Glass Will Show Thee How Thy Beauties Wear
Sonnet 78: So Oft Have I Invoked Thee For My Muse
Sonnet 79: Whilst I Alone Did Call Upon Thy Aid
Sonnet 80: O! How I Faint When I Do Write Of You
Sonnet 81: Or I Shall Live Your Epitaph To Make
Sonnet 82: I Grant Thou Wert Not Married To My Muse
Sonnet 83: I Never Saw That You Did Painting Need
Sonnet 84: Who Is It That Says Most, Which Can Say More
Sonnet 85: My Tongue-Tied Muse In Manners Holds Her Still
Sonnet 86: Was It The Proud Sail Of His Great Verse
Sonnet 87: Farewell! Thou Art Too Dear For My Possessing
Sonnet 88: When Thou Shalt Be Dispos’d To Set Me Light
Sonnet 89: Say That Thou Didst Forsake Me For Some Fault
Sonnet 90: Then Hate Me When Thou Wilt; If Ever, Now
Sonnet 91: Some Glory In Ttheir Birth, Some In Their Skill
Sonnet 92: But Do Thy Worst To Steal Thyself Away
Sonnet 93: So Shall I Live, Supposing Thou Art True
Sonnet 94: They That Have Power To Hurt, And Will Do None
Sonnet 95: How Sweet And Lovely Dost Thou Make The Shame
Sonnet 96: Some Say Thy Fault Is Youth, Some Wantonness
Sonnet 97: How Like A Winter Hath My Absence Been
Sonnet 98: From You Have I Been Absent In The Spring
Sonnet 99: The Forward Violet Thus Did I Chide
Sonnet 100: Where Art Thou, Muse, That Thou Forget’st So Long
Sonnet 101: O Truant Muse, What Shall Be Thy Amends
Sonnet 102: My Love Is Strengthen’d, Though More Weak In Seeming
Sonnet 103: Alack, What Poverty My Muse Brings Forth
Sonnet 104: To Me, Fair Friend, You Never Can Be Old
Sonnet 105: Let Not My Love Be Called Idolatry
Sonnet 106: When In The Chronicle Of Wasted Time
Sonnet 107: Not Mine Own Fears, Nor The Prophetic Soul
Sonnet 108: What’s In The Brain That Ink May Character
Sonnet 109: O! Never Say That I Was False Of Heart
Sonnet 110: Alas! ‘Tis True, I Have Gone Here And There
Sonnet 111: O For My Sake Do You With Fortune Chide
Sonnet 112: Your Love And Pity Doth Th’ Impression Fill
Sonnet 113: Since I Left You, Mine Eye Is In My Mind
Sonnet 114: Or Whether Doth My Mind, Being Crowned With You
Sonnet 115: Those Lines That I Before Have Writ Do Lie
Sonnet 116: Let Me Not To The Marriage Of True Minds
Sonnet 117: Accuse Me Thus: That I Have Scanted All
Sonnet 118: Like As To Make Our Appetites More Keen
Sonnet 119: What Potions Have I Drunk Of Siren Tears
Sonnet 120: That You Were Once Unkind Befriends Me Now
Sonnet 121: ‘Tis Better To Be Vile Than Vile Esteemed
Sonnet 122: Thy Gift, Thy Tables, Are Within My Brain
Sonnet 123: Thy Pyramids Built Up With Newer Might
Sonnet 124: If My Dear Love Were But The Child Of State
Sonnet 125: Were’t Ought To Me I Bore The Canopy
Sonnet 126: O Thou, My Lovely Boy, Who In Thy Pow’r
Sonnet 127: In The Old Age Black Was Not Counted Fair
Sonnet 128: How Oft When Thou, My Music, Music Play’st
Sonnet 129: Th’ Expense Of Spirit In A Waste Of Shame
Sonnet 130: My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing Like The Sun
Sonnet 131: Thou Art As Tyrannous, So As Thou Art
Sonnet 132: Thine Eyes I Love, And They, As Pitying Me
Sonnet 133: Beshrew That Heart That Makes My Heart To Groan
Sonnet 134: So Now I Have Confessed That He Is Thine
Sonnet 135: Whoever Hath Her Wish, Thou Hast Thy Will
Sonnet 136: If Thy Soul Check Thee That I Come So Near
Sonnet 137: Thou Blind Fool, Love, What Dost Thou To Mine Eyes
Sonnet 138: When My Love Swears That She Is Made Of Truth
Sonnet 139: O! Call Not Me To Justify The Wrong
Sonnet 140: Be Wise As Thou Art Cruel
Sonnet 141: In Faith I Do Not Love You With Mine Eyes
Sonnet 142: Love Is My Sin, And Thy Dear Virtue Hate
Sonnet 143: Lo, As A Careful Housewife Runs To Catch
Sonnet 144: Two Loves I Have Of Comfort And Despair
Sonnet 145: Those Lips That Love’s Own Hand Did Make
Sonnet 146: Poor Soul, The Centre Of My Sinful Earth
Sonnet 147: My Love Is As A Fever Longing Still
Sonnet 148: O Me! What Eyes Hath Love Put In My Head
Sonnet 149: Canst Thou, O Cruel! Say I Love Thee Not
Sonnet 150: O! From What Power Hast Thou This Powerful Might
Sonnet 151: Love Is Too Young To Know What Conscience Is
Sonnet 152: In Loving Thee Thou Kow’st I Am Forsworn
Sonnet 153: Cupid Laid By His Brand And Fell Asleep
Sonnet 154: The Little Love-God Lying Once Asleep
This complete collection of 154 sonnets with explanations is available in an ebook to download now.
Famous Sonnets By Shakespeare
Shakespeare published 154 sonnets, and although they are all poems of the highest quality, there are some that have entered deeply into the consciousness of our culture to become the most famous Shakespeare sonnets. This handful of sonnets are quoted regularly by people at all levels of modern western life – sometimes without even realizing that they are quoting a line from Shakespeare.
In our humble opinion the 8 sonnets below represent Shakespeare’s most famous words in the sonnet form:
Sonnet 18: Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Perhaps the most famous of all the sonnets is Sonnet 18, where Shakespeare addresses a young man to whom he is very close. It would be impossible to say whether Shakespeare was an arrogant man because we don’t know what he was like. We also don’t know whether he thought he was the ‘great,’ immortal writer that we regard him as today. However, after describing the young man’s great beauty, he suggests that his poetry is ‘eternal’ and ends by stating that as long as there are people who can still read, the sonnet, and therefore the description of the young man’s beauty, will still be there.
Sonnet 30: When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
An interesting take on aging and love. The narrator describes the things that people agonize over as they descend into old age – all the regrets and the pain of reliving the mistakes he has made. It’s full of agony but when he thinks about his beloved all the regrets and pain evaporate.
Sonnet 33: Full many a glorious morning have I seen
This is a poem about loss; the loss of a loved one. Shakespeare approaches it by expressing the contrast in the way we feel when the morning sun is shining brightly and when it’s obscured by clouds, making the world a forlorn place. When he was loved by the beloved it was like the glorious morning, but now, having lost the beloved, it feels like an overcast and gloomy morning. He concludes that he doesn’t condemn the beloved because human frailty, even among the best of humanity, is just as much a part of nature as the obscuring clouds are.
Sonnet 73: That time of year thou mayst in me behold
The narrator of Sonnet 73 is approaching death and thinking about how different it is from being young. It’s like the branch of a tree where birds once sang but the birds have gone and the leaves have fallen, leaving only a few dry yellow leaves. It’s like the twilight of a beautiful day, where there is only the black night ahead. It’s like the glowing ashes of a fire that once roared. The things that one gave him life have destroyed his life. From that experience, he has learned that one has to love life as strongly as one can because it will end all too soon.
Sonnet 104: To me, fair friend, you never can be old
Here Shakespeare expresses the love one person has for another by showing how the beauty of the beloved doesn’t change in the eyes of the lover. He shows time passing through the seasons and the years, everything changing. Except for the beauty of the beloved. He goes further by saying that no matter how long the world will endure, even though the beloved is long dead there will never be another as beautiful.
Sonnet 116: Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments
There are two striking definitions of love that we refer to again and again. Perhaps the most popular of the two is in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (Corinthians 13: 4-8):
Love is patient, love is kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude.
Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends.
Paul’s text is as well known as Sonnet 116 because it is used in most weddings as the young couple stands before the minister. But Shakespeare’s sonnet employs an amazing array of poetic devices to convey the eternal nature of love. Shakespeare ends by staking everything on his observations about love by asserting that if he is wrong about it then no-one ever wrote anything and no-one ever loved.
Sonnet 129: The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Sonnet 129 is an interesting take on the imperative force of lust, but its ultimate shallowness. Everyone knows how shallow and guilt-producing lust is but very few men can avoid it. Shakespeare shows how lust brings out the very worst in people and the extremes they will go to. And then he explains the guilt that follows the satisfaction of one’s lust.
Sonnet 130: My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun
Shakespeare is expressing the kind of love that has nothing to do with the beloved’s looks. He satirizes the usual way of expressing love for a woman – praising her lips and her hair, the way she walks, and all the things that a young man may rave about when he thinks about his beloved. What he does is invert those things, assert that his beloved is ugly, ungainly, bad-smelling, etc, but ends by saying that his love for her is as ‘rare’ as that of any young man who writes flatteringly about the object of his love.
Interested in sonnets from other authors? Check out our sonnet examples from highly regarded poets who do things a little differently to Shakespeare’s sonnets.
Publishing Shakespeare’s Sonnets
A widely held belief contends that Shakespeare’s sonnets were published without his consent. Had Shakespeare endorsed their publication, many believe he would have provided their printer with an authoritative text and a dedication. However, “Shakes-peares Sonnets” contains no dedication from the author and the text has many errors. Some critics also maintain that some sonnets are unfinished and that the sequence is too incoherent to have been intended for publication.
Exponents of this view have argued that someone whom Shakespeare trusted betrayed him by giving the poems to their first publisher, Thomas Thope, or that a thief, perhaps motivated by animosity or personal profit, seized the poets manuscript and sold it on. Some hold that the publication of the sonnets surely upset Shakespeare, whose poems dealt with scandalous forms of love; homoerotic and adulterous. Others variously insist that these subjects are more shocking to post-Victorian readers than to Jacobean ones; that, whilst the sonnets voice strong feelings, these were entirely appropriate to the form; and that emotions expressed in his sonnets do not mirror Shakespeare’s own any more than those of dramatic characters in his plays.
Who Were The Shakespeare Sonnets Dedicated To?
Certain features of the sonnet form – not least the first-person narrative and themes of love – give the impression of offering direct access to their author’s inner world. Since there has long been intense curiosity about the ‘youth’ addressed in the sonnets, clues to his identity have also been extracted with no little strain from the frontispiece of the first edition. The author of this dedication, T.T, was Thomas Thorpe, the publisher. But the identity of the “begetter” of the sonnets, “Mr W. H.” remains a mystery. Some think this is a misprint for “Mr W. S.” or “Mr W. Sh.”, as in William Shakespeare. Others suspect that the “begetter” refers to the scoundrel who may have conveyed the poems to Thorpe against Shakespeare’s wishes. But the most widely held assumption is that the “beggetter” must be the person who inspired the “ensuing sonnets”, the majority of which address a young man.
Working from the scant evidence offered by the initials W. H., literary detectives have proposed many candidates. One is Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, to whom Shakespeare dedicated Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece in the mid-1590s. Another is William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, whose name figures among those to whom the First Folio was dedicated in 1623. A third candidate is Sir William Hervey, stepfather of the Earl of Southampton, who may have commissioned lyrics urging the young man to marry and produce an heir – the first 17 sonnets of the sequence treat this theme. Of these candidates, however, two were earls and one was a gentleman, referred to as “Sir”. None would have been called “Mr” save by error or to suggest intimacy. In the end, these probing enigmas of Shakespeare’s sonnets are forced to speculate; information is poor, scarce and inconclusive.
The numbers behind the sonnets
Who knew that Shakespeare’s sonnets and mathematics were so linked?
In the super-interesting video below, Professor Roger Bowley talks about the tight constraints – and shape – that numbers gave to Shakespeare’s sonnets.
What’s your take on the Shakespeare sonnets listed above? Let us know by joining in the conversation in the comments section below!
I verry mutch like sonnet154
I proposed a hypothesis revealing the meaning of the mysterious Dedication – see my article `Shakespeare’s Sonnets: The Riddle of Dedication` https://vixra.org/abs/2102.0107
The sonnets, especially 34, suggest to me that Shakespeare may have been unhappy in his relationships. It makes me sad.
nice, thanks, his works are more than meets the eye!