Sonnet 130 Poem by William Shakespeare Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English


William Shakespeare is one of the most well-known playwrights and poets in English literature, and “Sonnet 130” is one of his most well-known sonnets. In contrast to the typical sonnet standards of his day, Shakespeare offers a novel and unconventional method of expressing love and beauty in this sonnet. Shakespeare adopts a more realistic and open approach than idealizing his love or using too poetic terms to describe her. The sonnet addresses the actual essence of love and questions conventional ideas of beauty. It’s renowned for its wit, humor, and satire of conventional love poetry. “Sonnet 130” presents a new perspective on love by showcasing the beauty inherent in each person’s individuality and flaws via its distinctive aesthetic and subject matter.

About the poet

William Shakespeare was an English playwright, poet, and actor. He is recognized as the greatest English-language author and the greatest playwright in history. 39 plays, 154 sonnets, three lengthy narrative poems, and a few additional verses make up his body of work that has survived. He was married to Anne Hathaway and was born and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire. As an actor, writer, and co-owner of a theatre company, he launched a prosperous career in London. Three years later, in Stratford, he passed away. His plays are produced more frequently than those of any other playwright since they have been translated into every significant living language.


Line 1-4

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.

The poet’s ego criticizes his beloved’s eyes in the opening line of “Sonnet 130.” “Nothing like the sun” would best describe them. Such a connection would have been virtually anticipated in the Elizabethan tradition. But the lyrical speaker slashes any attempt to compare his beloved’s look to things found in nature, continuing to mock his beloved’s appearance. Her skin is not white like snow. Her breasts are more of a “dun” color, which is a shade of grey-brown. The description of her hair is “black wires.”

Line 5-8

I have seen roses damasked, 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.

The beloved of the speaker doesn’t have a pretty glow on her cheeks. He even criticizes the aroma of her and the tone of her voice. The purpose of the Elizabethan tradition of love poetry was to elevate a person’s love to a level that was almost impossible to attain and to elevate a mortal lady to the level of a near-goddess via her reading. Instead of uplifting her, the lyrical speaker lowers her even more.

Line 9-12

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:

He says that he enjoys hearing her voice as she speaks while he writes. He is aware, however, that music has a calming effect that her speech does not. But even so, he enjoys her voice. His mistress walks on the earth, but he has never seen a goddess leave. As it is generally known that many Elizabethan writers would equate their lovers to things that mortals could not accomplish, leaving the world of people to reach the pantheon of gods, that passage, in particular, appears almost blatantly satirizing the practice itself.

Line 13-14

And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,   

As any she belied with false compare.

The poet insists that he still loves her despite her flaws, not because she is a goddess or an unreachable beauty, but because she is his and because she is real. Instead of adoring her because he can compare her to beautiful things, he loves her for who she really is.