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Shakespeare Sonnet 147

The Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence remains essential in my poetry tool kit. Masterfully crafted, they dramatize love, beauty, and truth.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 147

At first, Sonnet 147 appears to be merely the speaker’s musing about his uncontrolled desires for the affection of the mistress, but it turns out that he is actually addressing her as he examines his situation.

Sonnet 147

My love is as a fever, longing still
For that which longer nurseth the disease;
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
The uncertain sickly appetite to please.
My reason, the physician to my love,
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
Hath left me, and I desperate now approve
Desire is death, which physic did except.
Past cure I am, now Reason is past care,
And frantic-mad with evermore unrest;
My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are,
At random from the truth vainly express’d;
For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.

Reading of Sonnet 147

Commentary

The speaker examines and condemns his unhealthy attachment to the dark lady, bemoaning his loss of reason, the result of allowing his lower nature to rule his conscience.

First Quatrain: Still in the Throes

My love is as a fever, longing still
For that which longer nurseth the disease;
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
The uncertain sickly appetite to please.

In the first quatrain, the speaker admits that he is still in the throes of sexual longing for the woman. He knows that such longing is unhealthy and calls it a "sickly appetite." He asserts that not only is his unhealthy longing a disease, but it also feeds upon itself, perpetuating and nursing itself and thus the horrific situation "doth preserve the ill."

Reckoning that his emotions elicit and perpetuate a degraded state, he chooses to reveal his hunger in medical terms, employing such words as "fever," "nurseth," "disease," and "ill." All these images result in leaving the patient with the "sickly appetite" which he feels he must somehow learn "to please."

Second Quatrain: Reason Has Retreated

My reason, the physician to my love,
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
Hath left me, and I desperate now approve
Desire is death, which physic did except.

The speaker then asserts that his "reason" or "physician," metaphorically his capability of thinking clearly, has abandoned him. He can no long think rationally, because of his irrational craving for an unhealthy relationship with the slattern, to whom he has allowed himself the misfortune of becoming attached.

The speaker states that because of his lost ability to reason he now continues to confuse desire and death. He remains aware that his reasonable physician, if he were still in touch with that entity, would continue to keep him cognizant of the desire to keep body and soul together.

Third Quatrain: Irrationality Has Stolen over Him

Past cure I am, now Reason is past care,
And frantic-mad with evermore unrest;
My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are,
At random from the truth vainly express’d;

The speaker then complains that he is "past cure," and he also lost his ability to even be concerned about his irrational state. He considers himself, "frantic-mad with evermore unrest." The individual who allows sexual urgings to dominate his thoughts finds it virtually impossible to put that genie back in the bottle. The strong nature of such longings overcomes reason, and the aroused passion savagely seeks satisfaction.

The speaker understands that he has allowed himself to become driven by these perverse desires which cause "[his] thoughts" and his speech to become as frenzied as "madmen’s are." He finds himself wavering in his ability to seek truth, which has always, heretofore, been his prerogative and preference.

The Couplet: A Monstrous Prevaricator

For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.

Only in the couplet does it become clear that the speaker has all along been addressing his ravings to his mistress. The couplet not only hurls an accusation at the filthy woman, "Who [is] as black as hell," and "as dark as night," but it also reveals the exact spot on which the speaker’s mental health is shining its light: he made the mistake of believing that the woman was a loving as well as lovely creature, but her true personality and behavior have revealed to him a monstrous prevaricator, who is incapable of truth and fidelity.

The De Vere Society

 The De Vere Society is  dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

The De Vere Society is dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

Questions & Answers

Question: What is the Sonnet 147's theme?

Answer: In Shakespeare sonnet 147, the speaker is examining and then condemning his unhealthy attachment to the dark lady, as he bemoans his loss of reason, the result of allowing his lower nature to rule his conscience.

Question: Why does the speaker in Shakespeare's sonnet number 147 think his reason is messed up?

Answer: The speaker sees that lust has blinded his reasoning power.

Question: What is the meaning behind the Shakespeare sonnet 147?

Answer: The speaker examines and condemns his unhealthy attachment to the dark lady, bemoaning his loss of reason, the result of allowing his lower nature to rule his conscience.

Question: Who is the speaker in Shakespeare Sonnet 147?

Answer: The speaker of this sonnet and the other 153 in the sequence is a personal creation of the sonneteer, "William Shakespeare," whose real name is Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. While the speaker of this sonnet sequence may be fairly accurately thought of as being the poet himself, it is still more convenient and ultimately more accurate to think of the speaker as a created character through which the poet speaks in his creations.

Question: What kind of person is the speaker in Shakespeare's Sonnet 147?

Answer: This speaker, as a representative of the poet Edward de Vere, aka "William Shakespeare," is a deep thinker, whose talent for creating poetry out of the raw material of thought and experience is unparalleled in the Western literary canon. At the interpersonal level, he can be somewhat egotistical, prone to giving in to lust, and even at times lackadaisical in keeping his commitment to his chosen vocation of writing, but all in all, he is quite industrious, loves beauty, truth, and love, rendering him an amiable and trustworthy fellow.

Question: What is the purpose of Shakespeare's Sonnet 147?

Answer: Sonnet 147 is grouped with the "Dark Lady" sonnets 127-154
. In this final sequence, the speaker targets an adulterous romance with a woman of questionable character; the term “dark” likely modifies the woman’s character flaws, not her skin tone.

Question: What is one literary device in the sonnet?

Answer: The first line, "My love is as a fever, longing still," features a simile.

Question: Can you give me a modern commentary of Sonnet 147?

Answer: The speaker examines and condemns his unhealthy attachment to the dark lady, bemoaning his loss of reason, the result of allowing his lower nature to rule his conscience. In the first quatrain, the speaker admits that he is still in the throes of sexual longing for the woman. He knows that such longing is unhealthy and calls it a "sickly appetite." He asserts that not only is his unhealthy longing a disease, but it also feeds upon itself, perpetuating and nursing itself and thus the horrific situation "doth preserve the ill." Reckoning that his emotions elicit and perpetuate a degraded state, he chooses to reveal his hunger in medical terms, employing such words as "fever," "nurseth," "disease," and "ill." All these images result in leaving the patient with the "sickly appetite" which he feels he must somehow learn "to please." The speaker then asserts that his "reason" or "physician," metaphorically his capability of thinking clearly, has abandoned him. He can no long think rationally, because of his irrational craving for an unhealthy relationship with the slattern, to whom he has allowed himself the misfortune of becoming attached. The speaker states that because of his lost ability to reason he now continues to confuse desire and death. He remains aware that his reasonable physician, if he were still in touch with that entity, would continue to keep him cognizant of the desire to keep body and soul together. The speaker then complains that he is "past cure," and he also lost his ability to even be concerned about his irrational state. He considers himself, "frantic-mad with evermore unrest." The individual who allows sexual urgings to dominate his thoughts finds it virtually impossible to put that genie back in the bottle. The strong nature of such longings overcomes reason, and the aroused passion savagely seeks satisfaction. The speaker understands that he has allowed himself to become driven by these perverse desires which cause "[his] thoughts" and his speech to become as frenzied as "madmen’s are." He finds himself wavering in his ability to seek truth, which has always, heretofore, been his prerogative and preference. Only in the couplet does it become clear that the speaker has all along been addressing his ravings to his mistress. The couplet not only hurls an accusation at the filthy woman, "Who [is] as black as hell," and "as dark as night," but it also reveals the exact spot on which the speaker’s mental health is shining its light: he made the mistake of believing that the woman was a loving as well as lovely creature, but her true personality and behavior have revealed to him a monstrous prevaricator, who is incapable of truth and fidelity.

© 2018 Linda Sue Grimes