Shakespeare Sonnet 118: "Like as, to make our appetites more keen"

Updated on January 30, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

The real "Shakespeare"
The real "Shakespeare" | Source

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 118

Sonnet 118 finds the speaker musing on odd bits of thought. Although he has become aware that using artificial stimulation cannot enhance is writing ability, he continues to muse on the notion that perhaps some outside potion might help boost his ardor.

The speaker, as most artists do from time to time, is experiencing a bit of burn out. But he continues to respect his ability, and he knows he must do only what will keep him productive. As he contemplates the nature of health, he returns to the notion that remaining faithful to his muse will assist him in retaining his own health, physically, mentally, and creatively.

Sonnet 118

Like as, to make our appetites more keen,
With eager compounds we our palate urge;
As, to prevent our maladies unseen,
We sicken to shun sickness when we purge;
Even so, being full of your ne'er-cloying sweetness,
To bitter sauces did I frame my feeding;
And, sick of welfare, found a kind of meetness
To be diseased, ere that there was true needing.
Thus policy in love, to anticipate
The ills that were not, grew to faults assured,
And brought to medicine a healthful state
Which, rank of goodness, would by ill be cured;
But thence I learn and find the lesson true,
Drugs poison him that so fell sick of you.

Reading of Sonnet 118

Commentary

First Quatrain: "Like as, to make our appetites more keen"

Like as, to make our appetites more keen,
With eager compounds we our palate urge;
As, to prevent our maladies unseen,
We sicken to shun sickness when we purge;

In the first quatrain of sonnet 118, the speaker compares his ability to retain his passion and enthusiasm for writing and therefore his ability to remain centered in his muse to the consumption of appetizers before meals and to implementation of preventative medicines.

Addressing his muse, he tells her that in order to retain his interest and craving, he commits certain acts, or exercises certain mental muscles, and he avers that those activities resemble those other physical activities.

Second Quatrain: "Even so, being full of your ne’er-cloying sweetness"

Even so, being full of your ne'er-cloying sweetness,
To bitter sauces did I frame my feeding;
And, sick of welfare, found a kind of meetness
To be diseased, ere that there was true needing.

The speaker then reports that when he becomes satiated with the "ne’er-cloying sweetness" of the muse, he finds he must use an appetizer in order to whet his satiated appetite in order to take in more of the musal's inspiration. But he also admits that those appetizers are "bitter sauces," not like the sweetness of his muse.

On the physical plane of existence, pairs of opposites rule: day/night, health/sickness, sweet/bitter, hot/cold, etc. The speaker is showing that he is quite human; he cannot appreciate all sweetness all of the time nor can he tolerate perfect health without experiencing sickness. Especially for his writer persona, he must experience both qualities of the pairs of opposites.

Thus, the speaker reports that after finding himself "sick of welfare," that is, faring well or being healthy all the time, he discovered that there was necessity "to be diseased." However, he did not actually do anything to bring on true illness, he only used a preventative medicine, which makes the patient ill in order to prevent a worse illness, for example, taking a vaccine. The patient may experience a slight fever or other symptoms, but these are far preferable to having the disease itself, or so the layman is led to believe.

Even so, the speaker is using all this as a metaphor. He does not mean that he took a physical medicine; he is referring only to a way of thinking; therefore, the medicine to which he refers is mental, his thinking process, not physical, not actually swallowing medicine.

Third Quatrain: "Thus policy in love, to anticipate"

Thus policy in love, to anticipate
The ills that were not, grew to faults assured,
And brought to medicine a healthful state
Which, rank of goodness, would by ill be cured;

The speaker then applies his metaphor of taking a food appetizer and preventive medical remedy to the "policy in love." He mentally "anticipated" the "ills that were not," but in doing so, he did experience some flaws in his thinking, but luckily, the preventive medicine worked and "brought to medicine a healthful state."

If the speaker had, in fact, become ill, that is, sick of his muse to the point of abandoning her, he knows his writing ability would end. All artists must use techniques to keep themselves interested in their art so that they will continue to ply it, or they will lose their skill if they abandon it even for a short period.

The Couplet: "But thence I learn, and find the lesson true"

But thence I learn and find the lesson true,
Drugs poison him that so fell sick of you.

The speaker then concludes that he has learned his lesson: artificial stimuli are not the answer; they actually weaken the craving. His passion must be prompted by his deep spiritual urging because "drugs poison him that so fell sick of you." By allowing himself to feel satiated of the very inspiration that keeps him healthy, he sickens himself, and no outside remedy can help him.

A Brief Overview of the 154-Sonnet Sequence

Marriage Sonnets 1-17

The speaker in the Shakespeare “Marriage Sonnets” pursues a single goal: to persuade a young man to marry and produce beautiful offspring. It is likely that the young man is Henry Wriothesley, the third earl of Southampton, who is being urged to marry Elizabeth de Vere, the oldest daughter of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.

For more information regarding Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, as the real writer of the Shakespearean canon, please visit The De Vere Society, an organization that is "dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford."

Muse Sonnets 18-126 (Erroneously "Fair Youth")

The speaker in this section of sonnets is exploring his talent, his dedication to his art, and his own soul power. In some sonnets, the speaker addresses his muse, in others he addresses himself, and in others he even addresses the poem itself.

Even though many scholars and critics have traditionally categorized this group of sonnets as the "Fair Youth Sonnets," there is no "fair youth," that is "young man," in these sonnets. There is no person at all in this sequence, with exception of the two problematic sonnets, 108 and 126.

Dark Lady Sonnets 127-154

The final sequence targets an adulterous romance with a woman of questionable character; the term “dark” likely modifies the woman’s character flaws, not her skin tone.

Two Problematic Sonnets: 108 and 126

Sonnet 108 and 126 present a problem in categorization. While most of the sonnets in the "Muse Sonnets" do focus on the poet's musings about his writing talent and do not focus on a human being, sonnets 108 and 126 are speaking to a young man, respectively calling him "sweet boy" and "lovely boy."

Sonnet 126 presents an additional problem: it is not technically a "sonnet," because it features six couplets, instead of the traditional three quatrains and a couplet.

The themes of sonnets 108 and 126 would better categorize with the "Marriage Sonnets" because they do address a "young man." It is likely that sonnets 108 and 126 are at least partially responsible for the erroneous labeling of the "Muse Sonnets" as the "Fair Youth Sonnets" along with the claim that those sonnets address a young man.

While most scholars and critics tend to categorize the sonnets into the three-themed schema, others combine the "Marriage Sonnets" and the "Fair Youth Sonnets" into one group of "Young Man Sonnets." This categorization strategy would be accurate if the "Muse Sonnets" actually addressed a young man, as only the "Marriage Sonnets" do.

Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

    Comments

    Submit a Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)