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 wandering 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.
“Despite the confessional tone in this sonnet, there is no direct reference to the youth. The general context, however, makes it clear that the poet’s temporary alienation refers to the youth’s inconstancy and betrayal, not the poet’s, although coming as it does on the heels of the previous sonnet, the poet may be trying to convince himself again that “Now” he loves the youth “best.” Sonnet 116, then, seems a meditative attempt to define love, independent of reciprocity, fidelity, and eternal beauty: “Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks / Within his bending sickle’s compass come.” After all his uncertainties and apologies, Sonnet 116 leaves little doubt that the poet is in love with love.”
“The essence of love and friendship for the poet, apparently, is reciprocity, or mutuality. In Sonnet 116, for example, the ideal relationship is referred to as “the marriage of true minds,” a union that can be realized by the dedicated and faithful: “Let me not to the marriage of true minds / Admit impediments.” The marriage service in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer — “If any of you know cause or just impediment” — provides the model for the sonnet’s opening lines. In them, we see the poet’s attitude toward love, which he proceeds to define first negatively. He explains what love is not, and then he positively defines what it is. The “ever-fixed mark” is the traditional sea mark and guide for mariners — the North Star — whose value is inestimable although its altitude — its “height” — has been determined. Unlike physical beauty, the star is not subject to the ravages of time; nor is true love, which is not “Time’s fool.””
“Sonnet 116: Let not the marriage of true minds admit impediments
There are two striking definitions of love that we refer to again and again. Perhaps the most popular of the two is in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (Corinthians 13: 4-8):
Love is patient, love is kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude.
Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends.
Paul’s text is as well known as Sonnet 116 because it is used in most weddings as the young couple stands before the minister. But Shakespeare’s sonnet employs an amazing array of poetic devices to convey the eternal nature of love. Shakespeare ends by staking everything on his observations about love by asserting that if he is wrong about it then no-one ever wrote anything and no-one ever loved.”
“Sonnet 116: Translation to modern English
I would not admit that anything could interfere with the union of two people who love each other. Love that alters with changing circumstances is not love, nor if it bends from its firm state when someone tries to destroy it. Oh no, it’s an eternally fixed point that watches storms but is never itself shaken by them. It is the star by which every lost ship can be guided: one can calculate it’s distance but not gauge its quality. Love doesn’t depend on Time, although the rosy lips and cheeks of youth eventually come within the compass of Time’s sickle. Love doesn’t alter as the days and weeks go by but endures until death. If I’m wrong about this then I’ve never written anything and no man has ever loved.”