5 Best Shakespeare Sonnets

It may have taken an eternity, but I managed to read all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets and to agonisingly reduce them to my top 5 favourites. For various reasons, these 5 are the best of the bunch. But that’s my opinion…

Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove:

If this be error and upon me proved,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

This has to be my favourite sonnet of all time, mainly because it’s concerned with unconditional love and love as a concept rather than a set of actions. Perfect for any fellow hopeless romantics. There is something so beautiful in the permanence of the love described as an ‘ever-fixed mark’ that can withstand any situation. Perfect for weddings, literature themed tattoos or just to read when you want to rediscover faith in love. For these reasons, it has to be one of the best Shakespearian sonnets of all time.

Sonnet 18

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

I’m sure many of us heard this sonnet at some point during our GCSE’s or A-Levels, mainly because it’s such a classic. Although it also has an unexpected edgy undertone as it is supposed to be written for the famous young man of Shakespearean poems. Not only does it refer to a stunning beauty but one that needs to be immortalised in poetry and art. Although most famous for its first line, the rest of the sonnet is wonderful too, hence how it made into the top five Shakespearian sonnets.

Sonnet 19

Devouring Time blunt thou the lion’s paws,

And make the earth devour her own sweet brood,

Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws,

And burn the long-lived phoenix, in her blood,

Yet do thy worst old Time: despite thy wrong,

My love shall in my verse ever live young.

Shakespeare was nothing if not diverse in his choice of topics, so for anyone who isn’t into the romantic sonnet, you’ll like this one as there is only a little mention of love right at the end. The themes are concerned with the passing of time, with the link to decay, aging, and inevitably. This is in relation to the infamous young man as the speaker barters with time to spare the lovers face instead of his own before claiming the love will instead be immortal in art. Something deep to ponder over your morning coffee, or when feeling a bit philosophical.

Sonnet 127

In the old age black was not counted fair,

Or if it were it bore not beauty’s name:

But now is black beauty’s successive heir,

And beauty slandered with a bastard shame,

Yet so they mourn becoming of their woe,

That every tongue says beauty should look so.

Here there is a move away from the beauty of romantic love in favour of a discussion of the dangers of lust. There is definitely an edge to this sonnet that distinguishes it from the more sentimental romantic ones, making it perfect for the less traditional lover of Shakespeare. It makes it into the top 5 as it is so different to his other works, and defies expectation of his sonnets as mushy and romantic, when clearly they can be much darker.

Sonnet 130

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun,

Coral is far more red, than her lips red,

If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun:

If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head:

And yet by heaven I think my love as rare,

As any she belied with false compare.

In some ways, this sonnet may be just as romantic as sonnet 116, just in a more unconventional way. Instead of referring to the perfection of love, it instead refers to the description of the Dark Lady (rather unflattering in some respects) but the writer claims he will love her even though she isn’t the perfect specimen of beauty. Now whilst most of us wouldn’t love hearing this from our other halves, from another perspective, it is arguably still rather lovely! In essence, she may not be a ‘goddess’ but at least she’s his.

Lizzie Robinson

Image Credit: Tom Watchorn

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