William Shakespeare has certainly left a mark in the literary world with his sonnets and plays. Sonnet 116, also called “Let men not to the marriage of true minds” is a sonnet about the power and persistence of love.
A common theme that readers may have noticed in all of the sonnets by Shakespeare is the presence of “Time” as an entity, and its ability to take away everything.
But in Sonnet 116, we did something different. We see one thing that is immune to the ravages of time. Let’s take a look at the sonnet first, and then at the simplified version and the meaning of it.
Sonnet 116 by 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 prov'd, I never writ, nor no man ever lov'd.
Simplification of Sonnet 116
I do not think that where there is true love
any impediments can stop the love
For it is not love when it changes when things change
Or lessens if there is anything that tries to take it away
Love is always present like a fixed mark
That is not at all shaken no matter how strong the storm is
It is like the guiding star for every wandering ship
People do not realize how important it is but are aware of its power.
Love is not affected by time. Physical beauty fails as time passes.
But love does not change, be it hours or weeks.
It lasts till the end of time
And if all of this is wrong, and it is proven
Then all my works are worthless, and no man has ever loved.
Meaning of Sonnet 116
Sonnet 116, despite Shakespeare talking about the power of time, shows that true love is beyond the reaches of time. True love lasts and does not change, no matter what the circumstances are.
There are four parts in this sonnet, each part talking about an aspect of love. It is better that we divide the sonnet into these parts and talk about them individually to understand it better.
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.
The first four lines of the stanza talk about the nature of love. Shakespeare says that love is not something that can just change because times change or people change. It does not change at all.
But notice how the poet prefaces it by saying “Marriage of true minds” telling that only true love does not change. He is not talking about infatuation or other feelings similar to love. He is talking about pure love.
True love does not change if there is a remover to remove it.
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.
The next four lines talk about the importance of true love in our lives. It is not just a marriage of minds, but true love is the guiding star that always is there to guide lost people.
Since true love does not change, it is like a fixed mark high in the sky that people can look at and find their way. No matter how strong the storm is, it never shakes.
The analogy Shakespeare has chosen is that of a ship in an ocean storm. One can understand how overwhelming and dangerous a storm in the middle of the ocean can be with nothing but darkness around.
But even in these situations when everything around the ship is changing, love stays the same, always there to guide the wandering ships back home.
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.
The third stanza talks about the power of love. Shakespeare has already established in his previous works how powerful time can be.
No matter how strong the structure is, no matter how strong the person is, everything succumbs to the sickle of time. The Grim Reaper takes it all.
Love is not affected by time, which goes to show how powerful time is. It is not affected by time. So if someone loves someone for their rosy lips or cheeks, then they are in for disappointment.
Physical beauty cannot stand against time, and its demise is inevitable. Only the marriage of “true minds” can stay immune to Time’s destructive sickle.
The stanza concludes by claiming that love does not last for mere days or weeks or even years, but it goes beyond the edge of doom.
Shakespeare ends the sonnet with a beautiful couplet that states if whatever he has said in the sonnet is proved to be wrong, then all of his works are worthless. He has written nothing and no man has ever loved.
The couplet claims his unshakable belief in true love, so much so that he says none of his works matter if this belief is ever proved to be wrong. But not just that.
He concludes by saying that no man has ever loved if love, as he has defined it, is not true.
The sonnet has been written beautifully, with the theme being love, love’s persistence, and power. It also works as a definition of true love and what it means to be in love.
Read more by William Shakespeare: The Simplest and Easiest Explanation of Sonnet 64 by William Shakespeare