Sonnet 144, along with Sonnet 138, appears in Shakespeare’s collection called The Passionate Pilgrim (1599). The following is the text as found in The Passionate Pilgrim:
Two Loves I have, of Comfort and Despaire,
That like two Spirits do suggest me still;
My better Angell is a Man (right faire),
My worser spirite a Woman (colour’d ill).
To winne me soone to hell, my female evill
Tempteth my better Angell from my side,
And would corrupt my Saint to be a Devill,
Wooing his purity with her faire pride.
And whether that my Angell be turnde feend,
Suspect I may, (yet not directly tell:
For being both to me: both to each friend,
I ghesse one angel in anothers hell;
The truth I shall not know, but live in doubt,
Till my bad Angell fire my good one out.
Sonnet 144: Translation to modern English
“I love two people: one brings me comfort, the other despair. Like two angels, they’re always suggesting things to me. The good angel is a fair-haired man; the bad one is a dark complexioned woman. To take me swiftly into hell, my evil female tempts my good angel away from me, trying to turn him into a devil, corrupting him with her evil self-assurance. And whether that angel has indeed turned into a fiend is something I suspect but can’t be sure about. But since they are both away from me and friends with each other I’m guessing that one angel is inside the other’s hell. I’ll never know, though, and I’ll live in doubt until my bad angel shoots my good one out of hell.”
Sonnet 144: Meaning
“A sonnet that is considered by many to be the key to understanding Shakespeare’s attitude to love. It plays out the old battle between spiritual and physical love, a subject which had been the jousting field of argument for centuries. The poet seems to ally himself with the traditionalists who believed that the nature of woman was such as to corrupt pure love. In Platonic terms she was the material dross of which bodies were made, but the spiritual ideal love was independent of her, and true love could really only subsist between males. In terms of Christian theology, woman was the devil and was responsible for the fall since she had tempted man to eat forbidden fruit. Any form of congress with a woman was corrupting, and the ideal life would always be one of chastity and abstention from sex. The doctrine was alleviated slightly by devotion to Mary, the Mother of God, but despite giving birth she was a virgin and worshipped as the Blessed Virgin Mary. A mitigation to this view was the reality of life itself, which always returned to insist that the majority of men would continue to desire women.”
Sonnet 144: Analysis
“Sonnet 144 is the only sonnet that explicitly refers to both the Dark Lady and the young man, the poet’s “Two loves.” Atypically, the poet removes himself from the love triangle and tries to consider the situation with detachment. The humor of the previous sonnet is missing, and the poet’s mood is cynical and mocking, in part because uncertainty about the relationship torments him.”