“My Mistress Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun” is William Shakespeare’s 130th sonnet. It follows the traditional sonnet style that many of Shakespeare’s poem incorporate. The sonnet is 14 lines long and has an ababcdcdefefgg rhyme scheme as do many of Shakespeare’s famous works. Lines 1 and 3 rhyme sun and dun, lines 2 and 4 rhyme red and head, lines 5 and 7 rhyme white and delight, lines 6 and 8 rhyme cheeks and reeks, lines 9 and 11 rhyme know and go,lines 10 and 12 rhyme sound and ground, and lines 13 and 14 rhyme rare and compare.
The poem is written in iambic pentameter as were many poems in traditional English poetry and verse drama. The poem follows this meter closely including the two rhyming lines at the end called a couplet. “And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare / As any she belied with false compare,”(13-14). While most lines in the poem rhyme with a line separated by another, this couplet rhymes back to back and marks the turning point in the story where the theme of imperfection transitions to one of love. The first line of this couplet, “And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare”(line 13) is also an outlier in the poem.
This is because all previous lines had 10 syllables but this comes out to 11 because heaven has two syllables. Shakespeare likely did this to make the poem’s transition all the more pronounced and he accomplished this as the couplet stands out like a rose in a lily garden because of it. Part 2 This poem has multiple prominent themes and ideas, all equally important for the establishment of the message this poem delivers. The first overarching theme is that the root of love. The message many leave with after reading the poem a few times is that the root of love is not a shallow one.
The narrator ponders comparisons without accepting them as germane. It seems as if he does this ironically and thus is bringing attention to the problems instead of spreading the stereotypes. The nature of these comparisons becomes apparent only when the narrator says, “And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare / As any she belied with false compare,(line 13-14). These two lines perfect the poem’s meaning from one that might be an expression of dissatisfaction with his mistress to a poem showing that love does not come from anything you can immediately judge about a person.
This leads into the next theme in the poem: appearance. Appearance is the most distinguished theme because the repeated appearance-related similes make it impossible not to notice. A particularly peculiar example is given in the line, “If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head,”(4). This line might seem initially to be simply stating that the mistress’s hair is black, but it directly criticizing her hair. When one imagines someone with “black wires,”(4) as hair the image comes of an ugly doll, not a beautiful woman comes to mind.
This theme of appearance comes up in multiple other similar ways, with all being descriptions of his mistress as some imperfect object not as one would expect him to describe someone for whom he has affection. A final theme is the rejection of the conventional view of femininity as delicate and fragile in favor of a more grounded and robust view of value in women as shown by the line “My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground”(12). This theme resonates especially well today as women seek and achieve parity with men both in the workplace and in domestic relationships.
In some ways one can imagine that this poem took steps down a trail perhaps inspired for Shakespeare by Elizabeth I and one which we have yet to complete. Part 3: This poem is dense with imagery and figurative language. We have all heard such similes employed in the pursuit of love. The bulk of the imagery surrounds his mistress and her physical features. The first simile comes in the second line when the speaker says, “Coral is far more red than her lips’ red”(line 2). Comparing lips to red coral seems a little absurd as they are so unrelated it immediately invokes thoughts of a fish market.
Certainly not romantic. The next simile comes in the very next line when the narrator says, “If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun,”(line 3). This imagery of female breasts is obviously a sensual one and has long since been surrounded by stereotypes and scrutiny over beauty standards. Since white is a symbol of purity, instead he says they are “dun” which invokes imagery of cows and barnyards. Beasts and places that are anything but pure. This is so ridiculous that it almost has to be ironic. This symbol of breasts as perfect and white he is rejecting completely.
This is why it seems fitting that this line would be sarcastic and instead making fun of those who hold women on pedestals like this. Another powerful synonym comes under scrutiny when the narrator compares cheeks, “I have seen roses damasked, red and white, / But no such roses see l in her cheeks,”(lines 5-6). This line is likely meant to be less of a metaphor calling her cheeks roses than it is just making fun of another trite line used not in the service of love but perhaps more with the purpose of seduction.
This goddess-like, pale white with rosy cheeks character is one often brought up in literature and it seems like Shakespeare is writing this to poke fun at this. This imagery can all be interpreted in two, ways. One way it can be perceived is literally and as saying that his mistress should be perfect and held to that standard. However, it seems more probable that this poem is simply full of irony and meant to draw attention to the problems with these stereotypes and more specifically the reduction of the concept of love to stereotypes such as these!
In a strange way it is fun to think that Shakespeare might be saying love is too sublime for the language that many and especially he has used to describe it. Part 4: Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 bares a lot of similarities to Sonnet 130. Sonnet 18 is a very emotional and flirty poem, while Sonnet 130 seems, broadly speaking, to be satirical. Thou these poems both have roots in love and attraction they go about this in different ways. While Sonnet 18 speaks of love in a classical and romantic “Shakespearean” way, Sonnet 130 chooses to describe love more realistically.
Sonnet 18 is full of lovey-dovey lines about how his sweetheart is better than a summer day. Lines such as, “Thou art more lovely and more temperate”(2) are the foundation of this poem. The poem reads like a love song and may have been read like one as it is theorized that Shakespeare wrote it for someone. In contrast, Sonnet 130 reads in a way that almost seems to be mocking poems like Sonnet 18. Sonnet 18 is a poem all about comparing a woman to a summer’s day and Sonnet 130 end with the resonating line claiming that his love is as good, “As any she belied with false compare,”(14).
This seems to be a fairly direct criticism of poems like Sonnet 18. Sonnet 18 describes the woman as an eternal and angelic figure while in the other the narrator directly states that, “My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground”(12). This is another example of Sonnet 130 realistically describing women while Sonnet 18 describes women in hackneyed terms. This kind of thing is odd for Shakespeare to say, so it begs the question of whether this is Shakespeare’s true voice and whether or not he agrees with many of the quixotic things he has his characters say.
It seems as if this is the case which makes Sonnet 130 all the more iconic and praiseworthy. Though they have these key differences, the two sonnets share the core theme of love and feminine beauty that so many of Shakespeare’s works do. Both discuss this theme but from opposing angles, but all come back to this at their core. Sonnet 18 describes women objectively while Sonnet 130 describes women subjectively by valuing their lasting strengths rather than only youthful beauty and other attractions.