What Thing is Love? Poem By George Peele Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English for Students


What Thing is Love? is a short poem by George Peele. In this poem, the poet is talking about love and how he defines love. He starts the poem with a question of what love is and answers that question in the poem. He also says that love seems to be beautiful on the surface, but when one actually dwells in-depth, one finds that it is full of pain and sacrifices.

About the poet

George Peele (circa 1556–1596) was an English poet, playwright, and translator during the Elizabethan era. He is often considered one of the crucial figures in the development of English drama. 

Peele’s contributions to English literature include both poetry and plays. One of his notable works is the pastoral poem “The Old Wives’ Tale,” which showcases his skill in the use of language and vivid imagery. One of his most famous plays is “The Battle of Alcazar,” a historical drama known for its political themes and action-packed narrative.


The poem is of 9 lines and contains only one stanza. The first line of the poem is written in iambic pentameter, and the rest of the poem continues to be in iambic tetrameter. 


Stanza 1 

What thing is love? – for sure, love is a thing.

It is a prick, it is a sting,

It is a pretty, pretty thing;

It is a fire, it is a coal,

Whose flame creeps in at every hole;

And, as my wit doth best devise,

Love's dwelling is in ladies' eyes,

From whence do glance love's piercing darts,

That make such holes into our hearts.

The first line of the poem asks a rhetorical question: what is love? The rest of the poem answers that question while describing the attributes of love. The poet sees love as a substantial and timeless thing. Then, in the following lines, the poet draws a comparison of love with ‘prick’ and ‘sting,’ suggesting that love can be a painful ordeal, and then the poet also compares love with a pretty, pretty thing.’ It means even though the poet thinks that love is a painful thing, it is still beautiful. 

Then, the poet compares love with fire, suggesting that love is passionate, exciting, and hot, and its flames cannot be kept out. The poet also compares love with coal, which may be an indication that love is essential to sustain life. 

In the last four lines, the poet talks about where love comes from. When the poet says that ‘Love’s dwelling is in ladies’ eyes,’ he does not mean love affects women but can mean that a glance from women is enough to make people fall in love. These glances that cause love are said to be like darts, which make holes in the heart and result in pain.


In the poem, the poet describes love as a tangible thing. He portrays love in both negative as well as positive light. He renders love as a painful thing yet cannot help but appreciate its beauty. The poet’s love is like a fire that is passionate, hot, and exciting. The flames of love get in everywhere, consuming everything even if it is not appreciated. The poet also tries to explain where love comes from. He seems to suggest that it resides in a glance from women and that a love-filled glance works like a dart in one’s heart because love is dangerous and painful. The pain seems fascinated by love, though he thinks it will cause pain, yet he thinks love is unstoppable.