Shakespeare Sonnet 91: "Some glory in their birth, some in their skill"

Updated on September 27, 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


 Shakespeare Sonnet Titles in My Article Titles

The Shakespeare Sonnet sequence does not feature titles for each sonnet; therefore, each sonnet's first line becomes the title. According to the MLA Style Manuel: "When the first line of a poem serves as the title of the poem, reproduce the line exactly as it appears in the text." APA does not address this issue.

Introduction: Paraphrase of Sonnet 91

The following offers a paraphrase of sonnet 91:

There are those people who find their fame and grandeur by having been born in the upper classes. Then there are others who bask in the knowledge that they are skilled in their profession, sport, or whatever, while still others admire their lot in life because they are materially well endowed, and others take pride in their physical body endowments of large muscles. There are also people who find pride in their clothing, despite the wretchedness of fashion fads. Then there are those who revel in their animals. Every type of personality finds its pleasure in whatever it will, taking enjoyment and delight from what it deems worthy. But all of these things are mere physical trinkets, and I choose a loftier goal, which I would argue, is far superior to all of those outward ornaments. Your love, O soul, provides a richer arena for me than any accident of upper class birth or any of the other things that attract the masses. Because I possess my own soul, I profess a delight that serves me better all others. My only sadness would be that I should lose touch with you through faulty awareness.

This speaker has observed closely all the things that attract his fellow beings. His deep thinking and discriminating faculties have led him to believe that only one human possession is truly valuable.

The crafty and talented scribbler in this speaker allows him to again create a unique drama to both elevate his abilities while remaining quite humble and subtle.

Reading of Sonnet 91

First Quatrain: "Some glory in their birth, some in their skill"

In the first quatrain, the speaker catalogues all of the earthly possessions about which people have chosen to feel prideful: high birth, useful skill, prodigious wealth, body’s force, garments, and fine animals.

Second Quatrain: "And every humour hath his adjunct pleasure"

The speaker continues as he avers that each personality is attracted to its own particular "pleasure" from which it may take "joy."

But to this clever speaker, none of those qualities and possessions seem at all pleasing and desirable.

This speaker's choice transcends all the other choices. Because his choice is simple, he regards it as far superior.

Third Quatrain: "Thy love is better than high birth to me"

The love of his soul is the being that elevates him above all others. It is far superior to high birth, wealth, and all of the other items in the catalogue.

And because this speaker possess this important soul love, he has everything—not just one choice or other from the physical level of being, because the entire cosmos is contained in every human soul.

The Couplet: "Wretched in this alone, that thou mayst take"

The speaker summarizes his comparison by averring that the only thing that would make the speaker "wretched" is that he could lose awareness of his most prized possession, this soul love that he cherishes above all else.

And the creative motivation of this speaker seems to assure him and his readers that such a loss remains a virtual impossibility.

Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Linda Sue Grimes


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