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Sweet love, renew thy force; be it not said 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.


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).

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.

Else (13): Q. "As." Else was an anonymous conjecture, later used by White and Rolfe.

How to cite this article:
Shakespeare, William. Sonnet 56. Ed. Amanda Mabillard. Shakespeare Online. 8 Dec. 2008. < >.

Shakespeare, William. Sonnets, from the quarto of 1609. Ed. Raymond MacDonald Alden. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1916.
Shakespeare, William. Shakespeare's Sonnets. Ed. A.L. Rowse. London: Macmillan, 1964.

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