Sweet love, renew your strength; let it not be said
Thy edge should blunter be than appetite,
That your power is weaker than the power of lust,
Which but to-day by feeding is allay'd,
Lust which is satisfied today
To-morrow sharpen'd in his former might:
But tomorrow will return even more intense,
So, love, be thou; although to-day thou fill
So love, be with me, although today you fill
Thy hungry eyes even till they wink with fullness,
Your hungry eyes until, saturated, they close
To-morrow see again, and do not kill
Tomorrow open them again, and do not kill
The spirit of love with a perpetual dullness.
The spirit of love or let it sink into boredom.
Let this sad interim like the ocean be
Let this sad interval be like the ocean
Which parts the shore, where two contracted new
Which parts the shore, where two engaged lovers
Come daily to the banks, that, when they see
Come daily to the sea-side, and when they see
Return of love, more blest may be the view;
The return of love, the view is even greater.
Else call it winter, which being full of care
Or let this sad interval be like winter, which being full of anxiety
Makes summer's welcome thrice more wish'd, more rare.
Makes summer's arrival all the more wonderful and rare.
Sweet love (1): addressed not to the friend but to the concept of love itself.
wink (6): i.e., shut in sleep.
sad interim (9): could mean "period of estrangement" but it could also be referring to the friend's absence from London.
Let this sad...greater. (9-12): As G. Blakemore Evans explains: "This quatrain, while generally related to the renewal-of-love theme, is vaguely realised and its tone and intent stand in awkward relation to the first eight lines of the separation theme: a pair of newly bethrowed lovers standing on the opposite banks of an ocean estuary renewing their love by casting longing looks toward each other, or in the direction where they think the other may be (suggested by perhaps the Hero and Leander story), but the separation theme does not arise naturally out of the appetite/love analogy of the preceding lines, where there is little or no suggestion of impending temporal or spatial division, only the danger of satiety. Hood suggests that there well may be some unfocused association between the renewal of the tide in the estuary and the renewal of love's force" (164).
Sonnet 56 is puzzling because of its seemingly inappropriate placement next to Sonnet 55. In Sonnet 55, the poet's relationship with the young man is steady and secure, but here there is a sudden shift from confidence to deep insecurity as the poet implores "Sweet love" (1) to conquer the lust that is ruining his union with the young man. This analysis of the sonnet relies upon two assumptions: 1) the young man is the poet's lover and 2) that when the poet refers to "sad interim" (9), he does not mean that the young man is away from London, but that he is separated from him emotionally - i.e., they are in a "period of estrangement" from one another due to the young man's promiscuity. Thus the poet is "whipping up the young man's flagging affection. Behind lines 9-12 flickers a reminiscence of the situation of Hero and Leander" (Rowse 115). The situation becomes even more clear when we read Sonnet 57, in which the poet, now very worried about the young man's lustful nature, asks him outright, "Being your slave, what should I do but tend/Upon the hours and times of your desire?....dare I question with my jealous thought/Where you may be" (1-2/9-10).
Lee, Sidney, Sir. A Life of Shakespeare. New York: Macmillan, 1916.
Ramsey, Paul. The Fickle Glass: A Study of Shakespeare's Sonnets. New York: AMS Press, 1979.
Shakespeare, William. The Sonnets. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Shakespeare, William. Shakespeare's Sonnets. Ed. A.L. Rowse. London: Macmillan, 1964.
How to Cite this Article
Mabillard, Amanda. An Analysis of Shakespeare's Sonnet 56. Shakespeare Online. 2000. (day/month/year you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/56detail.html >.