Shakespeare’s famous sonnet of realistic expectations is both an expression of earthly knowledge and a declaration of irrational, inexplicable feeling. What makes this poem an intensely personal one is its ‘pay off’ in the final couplet; the ordinary lover becomes remarkable through the poet’s affection. This sonnet is an unravelling of the very language of love poetry in all its artifice and insincerity and yet at the same time much of its drama comes from its persuasive force. Even so, I would not recommend using this approach in the bars of Liverpool.
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.