Shakespeare Sonnet 21: "So is it not with me as with that Muse"

Updated on September 22, 2017
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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: "William Shakespeare" was the nom de plume of the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere.
The real Shakespeare: "William Shakespeare" was the nom de plume of the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere. | Source


In Shakespeare’s era as now, many people thought that poetry was something that was ethereal and dainty and that poets were only interested in sugar-coating the ugliness or removing it out of daily affairs.

But the speaker in this group of sonnets is writing to change that perception, by affirming that true love does not have to be compared only to beautiful flowers and gemstones and the stars.

This speaker wants to reveal beauty as it appears, not as something that has been cosmeticized and, therefore, falsified.

Shakespeare sonnet 21, “So is it not with me as with that Muse," finds the speaker railing against a poetic tradition that he disdains because of its failure to describe truthfully, thus depriving true beauty of its rightful place in the cosmos.

Reading of Shakespeare Sonnet 21

First Quatrain: "So is it not with me as with that Muse"

In the first quatrain of the Shakespeare sonnet 21, “So is it not with me as with that Muse,” the speaker says that he will not be like the poet who motivated by false beauty paints artificial beauty upon his beloved. Interestingly, the speaker is not referring to a person, but to his sonnets.

The speaker has no intention of painting a false face or façade of beauty upon his poems by comparing his subject matter to heaven. Also he will not assert or claim that “every fair with his fair doth rehearse.”

This speaker desires to further his reputation by functioning as a plain speaking individual. He has no interest in employing the use of imaginary claims of the true and the beautiful merely to enhance is poetry.

This speaker wishes to have his poetry represent truth itself, not a version of truth. He strives for the original, not the stock images that had come to dominate poetry.

Second Quatrain: "Making a couplement of proud compare"

Continuing his list of ways that other poets have painted beauty on the faces of their poems, he asserts that he will not compare his sonnets’ subjects to the “sun and moon” or gemstones or the first rush of beauty of April’s blooms.

While other poets pick out many of the most beautiful things on the earth to enhance their poems, he opposes such exaggeration as falsehood. He will not engage in such false speaking.

Third Quatrain: "O! let me, true in love, but truly write"

In the third quatrain, the speaker asserts that his heart is interested in truth. This speaker desires to feature only what is actually real, not exaggeration and artificiality.

This speaker desires that his writing dramatize and portray only true beauty in order for his readers to accept what he says as truth. He knows that readers can see through such exaggeration and that they do no appreciate being lied to.

The speaker asserts that his love, that is, his poetry—remember, there are no persons in this sequence of sonnets, 18-126, the largest section of the 154 sonnet sequence—may not be as bright as stars; nevertheless, his poetry is like his children and is as glorious to him as "any mother's child."

The Couplet: "Let them say more that like of hear-say well"

The speaker allows that others may exaggerate—“[l]et them say more”—those who are not interested in direct or plain speaking, those who are interested only in “hear-say.”

This speaker has no intention of praising that which does not deserve praise. And he is not interested in selling his verse widely to an undiscriminating audience.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes


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