Shakespeare Sonnet 150: "O! from what power hast thou this powerful might"

Updated on March 28, 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

Source

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 150

In sonnet 150, again the speaker poses questions to the mistress, and again they are questions that only he can answer. The form of questioning is merely a rhetorical device and is not concerned with gathering answers from this person, who he knows would not have the intelligence to answer anyway.

Sonnet 150

O! from what power hast thou this powerful might
With insufficiency my heart to sway?
To make me give the lie to my true sight,
And swear that brightness doth not grace the day?
Whence hast thou this becoming of things ill,
That in the very refuse of thy deeds
There is such strength and warrantise of skill,
That, in my mind, thy worst all best exceeds?
Who taught thee how to make me love thee more,
The more I hear and see just cause of hate?
O! though I love what others do abhor,
With others thou shouldst not abhor my state:
If thy unworthiness rais’d love in me,
More worthy I to be belov’d of thee.

Reading of Sonnet 150

Commentary

The speaker of the "dark lady" sonnets has become addicted to this form of poetic rhetoric, employing it often, posing four questions in the quatrains of sonnet 150.

First Quatrain: Two Questions

O! from what power hast thou this powerful might
With insufficiency my heart to sway?
To make me give the lie to my true sight,
And swear that brightness doth not grace the day?

The first quatrain contains two questions: where does it come from, this force you exert to cause my heart to bend to your wishes? He adds that even though she posses this "powerful might," he labels it "with insufficiency" making it known that he understands how lame her power really is.

The weakness of her power reveals ever more clearly how wretched the speaker has become from all of his attention paid to this unworthy woman. He knows she can only do him harm, weaken his resolve to live a moral life, distract him from his previously stated goals of the pursuit of truth and beauty. His outbursts cause his sonnets to resemble a confessional, but instead of dumping his sins onto a priest, he crafts them into works of art.

His second question asks how she has the power to make him see what is not there. His sight becomes so distorted that he has not the ability to aver that the sun shines. Her ability to attract him to filth closes his eyes to all else that is good, clean, and bright.

Second Quatrain: Turning Everything Disgusting

Whence hast thou this becoming of things ill,
That in the very refuse of thy deeds
There is such strength and warrantise of skill,
That, in my mind, thy worst all best exceeds?

The third question takes up the entire second quatrain: how is it that you have the muscle to cause everything to turn disgusting and with "such strength" to cause "my mind" to believe that the worst things you do are better than the best that can be done.

The speaker, at this point, becomes nearly mad with a confused brain. Knowing that the woman is immoral, yet feeling without power to struggle against the attraction he maintains for her, he can only moan and complain bitterly in sonnet after dramatic sonnet.

Third Quatrain: Distorting His Feelings

Who taught thee how to make me love thee more,
The more I hear and see just cause of hate?
O! though I love what others do abhor,
With others thou shouldst not abhor my state:

The final question takes up the first two lines of the third quatrain: "who taught thee" how to distort my feelings? The more he experiences her harmful ways, that is, the more he experiences the things he knows he should hate, the more he appears to love her, or be attracted to her.

Although he seems to love what other people, who think with clarity, hate, he admonishes that her she should not agree with the others who find his own state of mind hateful. He seems always to be telling her what to think and feel, knowing his advice never exerts any awareness in her.

The Couplet: The Uncomprehending

If thy unworthiness rais’d love in me,
More worthy I to be belov’d of thee.

The speaker then sums up his rhetorical questioning with a strange remark: since the "dark lady's" lack of worth has influenced him to be attracted to her, somehow it seems to follow that he is "worthy" of her love and affection. If the woman were capable of understanding such logic, not even this small brained "dark lady" would agree with such a sham .

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.

Many scholars and critics now argue persuasively that Edward de Vere is the writer of the works attributed to the nom de plume, "William Shakespeare."

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

    © 2018 Linda Sue Grimes

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • Maya Shedd Temple profile image
        Author

        Linda Sue Grimes 3 weeks ago from U.S.A.

        Louise, thank you for the kind words. I'm glad to have you as a reader. I do enjoy your feedback.

        I enjoy writing the pieces. Writing about them offers a way of delving deeper into each poem in order to get its full impact. And then researching the the poets' lives offers another profound activity that broadens my own knowledge base from which to comment.

        Thanks again, Louise! Always love hearing your thoughts.

      • Coffeequeeen profile image

        Louise Powles 3 weeks ago from Norfolk, England

        I like following your hubs on poetry, I do enjoy reading them.

      working