Sonnet 138 Poem Summary, Notes And Line By Line Analysis In English By William Shakespeare


William Shakespeare, an English poet and playwright, wrote “Sonnet 138.” The poem was most likely written in the first half of 1590. The poem delves deeply into an incongrous and complex relationship. The speaker and the lady he loves lie to each other all the time, about little things like whether or not his mistress is cheating on him as well as bigger things like that.

The two lovers find themselves in a counterintuitive scenario where they choose to seek comfort in one other’s lies rather than the love they feel for one another.

About The Poet

Shakespeare was a playwright, poet, and actor from England. He is largely recognized as the greatest playwright and writer of English literature ever. He is frequently referred to as the “Bard of Avon” and England’s national poet.

Lines 1-4

When my love swears that she is made of truth,
I do believe her, though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutored youth,
Unlearnèd in the world’s false subtleties.

The speaker says that he trusts his love when she “swears that she is made of truth” in the opening words of “Sonnet 138.” The second line, however, complicates things.  Even though he is aware that “she lies,” he continues, “I believe her.” He claims in lines three and four that she is not the only one who lies.

He also lies. To give the impression that he is youthful and naive, like a child, he acts ignorant about her lies. He believes that his age is his vulnerability and that acting younger will help him win her love. She is aware that he is lying about not comprehending “the world’s false subtleties,” just as he is aware that she is lying.

Lines 5-8

Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
Although she knows my days are past the best,
Simply I credit her false-speaking tongue:
On both sides thus is simple truth suppressed.

The speaker admits that the Dark Lady is aware that he is not a young man. He is old since his  “days are past the best.” This has a loose connection to the fact that she finds him old and unattractive. He is aware that in order to capture her attention given that she has a choice of lovers, he must portray himself as attractively as possible.

He claims that just as she acts as though she believes his act, he pretends to believe her lies. This restores their harmony since both sides are blatantly lying.

Lines 9-14

But wherefore says she not she is unjust?
And wherefore say not I that I am old?
Oh, love’s best habit is in seeming trust,
And age in love loves not to have years told.
	Therefore I lie with her and she with me,
	And in our faults by lies we flattered be.

The speaker poses two questions. He questions why she lies to him rather than just telling him the truth. And why doesn’t he just remark that he’s “old”? Undoubtedly, doing it that way would be simpler. In response, he claims that their feigning to be in love with one another is the best part of their relationship. But the speaker says that the lies they tell one another aren’t a problem. They actually find solace in them both.