Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
I’ve always felt this sonnet was not exactly what folks want it to be. Yes, it is a kind of declaration of what love is, and what love is not, but it seems to be saying it in response, as a kind of quarrel about love’s inconstancy. I am reminded of Wordsworth’s Immortality Ode–“Rainbows come and go/and lovely is the rose”…
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.
The rainbow comes and goes,
And lovely is the rose;
The moon doth with delight
Look round her when the heavens are bare;
Waters on a starry night
Are beautiful and fair;
The sunshine is a glorious birth;
But yet I know, where’er I go,
That there hath pass’d away a glory from the earth.
Time will tell. The tales may be variants depending on our stage in life–from youth through old age–our gender, our social class, and so on.
In Sonnet 116 we sense that time speaks of loss of beauty but also of minds changing. One perspective is indeed that a change in one produces a change in another, and often not for the better. If you grow ugly (by becoming old) then my love will be altered as your appearance is altered. It is no matter to some if they too are aging and growing “ugly” in that manner.
A predilection for beauty (rosy lips and cheeks) found in youth that doesn’t evolve into appreciations for beauty not attached to youth will ensnare one in a “constant” dream of youth along with a distaste for the comparative narrow perspective that aging is ugly.
In this way, a “constant” desire for apparent beauty which “I can see no more” shows a deficiency of mind. Love that is truly love and not the desires of bodies is a constancy as timeless as death.
One imagines that “true minds” then can accept bodily impediments to one form of beauty; are there not myriad?
But youth is often fickle and inconstant in its favors. It does not believe in time and death.
And the perpetual nature of “alteration” has something in common with a kind of boy’s drive to find new worlds.
We should find ways to inculcate a love that is a constancy; that honors with great dignity the gathering of time under one’s cloaks and skin and behind one’s eyes.
It is instead the inconstancy and fickleness of youth that is the western drive to discovery and change, that honors the alchemical dream of turning lead into gold into eternal life.
We had better learn the consolations of philosophy as we bring our lust for youth and evasions of the constancy of time’s finality to the “edge of doom.” We had better learn to love our beginnings, middles and endings so that we may give the gift and glory of limited duration to our children’s children.