SONNET 116 (“LET ME NOT TO THE MARRIAGE OF TRUE MINDS”) AS PART OF A SEQUENCE. Professor Helen Vendler, who is, I think, pre-eminent as a critic of the sonnets, says in her book THE ART OF SHAKESPEARE’S SONNETS that sonnet 116 “has usually been read as a definition of true love.” Indeed I am not surprised to hear the sonnet at a wedding, and have always thought of it as a lone speaker reflecting to himself on the nature of love.
Professor Vendler reads sonnet 116 as part of a conversation which is continued in the following sonnets. She says: “I read this poem as an example not of definition but of dramatic refutation or rebuttal.” This dramatic conversation is with a character—“the young man—who does not appear openly in the sonnets. Vendler deduces the prior utterance by the young man which is being rebutted in the sonnet. The young man’s contention would have been, in brief, that the marriage of minds cannot be permanent because persons alter. For Vendler, the poems is “a coherent refutation of the extended implied argument of an opponent.”
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.