Poem of the Week: Sonnet 116

Ah, the British Library. In one room: Shakespeare’s First Folio, Thomas More’s last letter to Henry III, Lewis Carroll’s diary, the Gutenberg Bible, a letter from Darwin to Wallace, a letter from Newton to Hooke, Shakespeare’s mortgage, Magna Carta, a page from Edward VI’s diary (very bad handwriting), the manuscript of Jane Eyre. I got goosebumps! The British Library is also holding a special exhibition of religious texts, called “Sacred.” The Lindisfarne Gospels alone are worth the tour, but I began to go into shock after an hour of world-class illuminated manuscripts.

My favorite document – and this surprised me – was actually a little 1609 quarto of Shakespeare’s sonnets. It lay open to 116, probably his most famous sonnet, and one of my favorite poems. Have a guess at the first two lines?

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
admit impediments. . .

Sonnet 116 is actually mislabeled in the British Library’s copy – the 6 is flipped, to read 119. But there was no mistaking one of the finest love poems ever written:

Sonnet 116
William Shakespeare

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:

O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom:

If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.


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One Response to Poem of the Week: Sonnet 116

  1. D says:

    They should put Hooke on one side of Newton and Leibniz on the other. I swear Newton would get right up out of that grave. The idea fills me with delight. It’s true, smarts like that are essentially a mental disorder. I can happily say, I suffer not.

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