William Shakespeare – Sonnet 145

Those lips that Love’s own hand did make,
Breathed forth the sound that said ‘I hate’,
To me that languished for her sake:
But when she saw my woeful state,
Straight in her heart did mercy come,
Chiding that tongue that ever sweet
Was used in giving gentle doom;
And taught it thus anew to greet;
‘I hate’ she altered with an end,
That followed it as gentle day,
Doth follow night, who like a fiend
From heaven to hell is flown away.
   ‘I hate’, from hate away she threw,
   And saved my life, saying ‘not you’.

This is the only sonnet of the 154 which is not written in the usual iambic pentameter (verses of five feet consisting of a short followed by a long syllable) but of the more jerky iambic tetrameter, or octosyllabic verse, which is thought to be more appropriate for epigrammatic and comic verse. It is a sonnet that is not highly regarded, being thought of as rather trivial, and most commentators would prefer to discard it. It has been suggested** that it might be a piece of juvenilia, written in 1582, which Shakespeare subsequently adapted to fit in with the sonnets. This involves a pun on Anne Hathaway in line 13, and possibly another pun, (suggested by Booth) in line 14, ‘Anne saved my life’. (SB.p.501).

Tempting though these suggestions are, I think they are overcome by the supreme difficulty of imagining how Shakespeare could have familiarized himself at this early stage with the sonnet tradition and its language and ideas. In 1582 he was only 18 years old, had just contracted what was probably a shotgun marriage with Anne Hathaway, was still living in Stratford, knew little of London and the literary set, and yet (we are asked to believe) was able to write a poem which anticipated the language of Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella by at least nine years. For it is important to remember that the sonnet tradition did not really begin to flourish until after the posthumous publication of Sidney’s work in 1591, which produced a flood of emulative literature.

I have listed in the notes similarities of idea and language of this sonnet with extracts from Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella. Not that I insist that any of the echoes are based entirely or even partly on Sidney’s work, but only that they reflect the perennial themes of the sonneteers of the day, i.e. of the 1590’s, and show how deeply imbued Shakespeare was with that tradition. This sonnet in fact resembles more in tone one of the songs that Sidney interspersed among the sequence of 108 sonnets addressed to Stella. They are mostly of a light and skittish mood, and the lightness of this sonnet 145 is probably deliberate, placed here to offset the seriousness of 144, (or grossness as KDJ points out, referring to a pun on its number), and the weightiness of 146. I give an extract from one of the Stella songs below.

I also give in full at the bottom of the page two of the Astrophel and Stella sonnets which deal with the loved one’s unkindness towards and hatred of the lover. They show a few parallels with this one, but are more significant in that they depict the traditional setting and rapport which subsists between lover and beloved, as it had been well defined by the Italian and French sonneteers. It is ultimately to that tradition which this Shakespearian sonnet appeals, and the probability is that Shakespeare absorbed the tradition mostly through the English sonnet writers of the 1590’s from Sidney onwards, and not ten years earlier in the rural market town of Stratford.

If the puns are insisted upon, it is always possible that Shakespeare sent off this sonnet to his wife when he was writing the other ones, to assure her that all was well. The other sonnets were hardly such as to promote marital concord, and one wonders how she might have responded to their publication in 1609. The pun of line 14 ‘Anne saved my life’ could equally apply to the dark lady, if her name was Anne.

The intimate knowledge Shakespeare had of Sidney’s work may be gauged from the following, taken from Antony and Cleopatra, written by Shakespeare c.1606-7, a period when he might have been revising the sonnets. Cleopatra is anxious to be told anything and everything of Antony’s whereabouts.

                                              O Charmian,
Where think’st thou he is now? Stands he, or sits he?
Or does he walk? or is he on his horse?
                                    He’s speaking now,
Or murmuring, ‘Where’s my serpent of old Nile?’,
For so he calls me. 

Compare this with these lines from Sidney’s sonnet 92.

I would know whether she did sit or walk,
How clothed , how waited on; sighed she or 
smiled ;
Whereof, with whom, how often she did talk,
With what pastime time’s journey she beguiled,
If her lips deigned to sweeten my poor name.
Say all, and all well said, still say the same.

Sweet alas, why strive you thus?
Concord better fitteth us;
Leave to Mars the force of hands,
Your power in your beauty stands:
Take me to thee, and thee to me.
“No, no, no, no, my dear, let be.”

Woe to me! And do you swear
Me to hate? But I forbear.
Cursed be my destinies all,
That brought me so high, to fall;
Soon with my death I will please thee.
“No, no, no, no, my dear, let be.”

Note that the poet foresees death as a result of the beloved’s refusal and disdain. She could have saved his life by agreeing to lie with him.

** Andrew Gurr, Essays in Criticism, 21 (1971) Shakespeare’s first poem: Sonnet 145. 221-6.

The 1609 Quarto Version

THoſe lips that Loues owne hand did make,
Breath’d forth the ſound that ſaid I hate,
To me that languiſht for her ſake:
But when ſhe ſaw my wofull ſtate,
Straight in her heart did mercie come,
Chiding that tongue that euer ſweet,
Was vſde in giuing gentle dome:
And tought it thus a new to greete:
I hate ſhe alterd with an end,
That follow’d it as gentle day,
Doth follow night who like a fiend
From heauen to hell is flowne away.
    I hate,from hate away ſhe threw,
    And ſau’d my life ſaying not you.


1. Those lips that Love’s own hand did make,Love’s own hand = Venus’s hand, which fashioned all of you, but especially lips, eyes and heart. It was traditional to consider the beloved as being entirely composed of parts that Love had assimilated to herself or himself, be it Venus or Cupid. Possession of the eyes by Cupid was the most common conceit, for from the beloved’s eyes he could shoot his darts. But he was also known to hover around or upon the beloved’s lips.2. Breathed forth the sound that said ‘I hate’,The mistress traditionally, on occasion, hated her lover. See for example the sonnet by Sidney below, which describes how
Now since her chaste mind hates this love in me,
With chastened mind, I straight must show that she
Shall quickly me from what she hates remove
. A&S.61.
The pronouncement of hate was enough to kill the lover, who nevertheless usually survived to speak of the experience, and begged for future pity and mercy. Sidney also speaks of ‘breathing forth words’:
While tears pour out his ink, and sighs breathe out his words
 A&S.6.3. To me that languished for her sake:Languishing was also a condition of being in love, according to the sonneteers. In the following, Sidney languishes while the hated lap dog is treated to kisses from Stella’s sugared lips:
Yet while I languish, him that bosom clips,
That lap doth lap, nay lets in spite of spite
This sour-breathed mate taste of those sugared lips.

A&S.59.4. But when she saw my woeful state,The woeful state is the lover’s piteous condition through pining for the mistress’s love, and languishing over its unfulfilment. Sidney frequently mentions it:
Stella oft sees the very face of woe
Painted in my beclouded stormy face:
 A&S.455. Straight in her heart did mercy come,Straight = straightaway, immediately. Used also in Sidney’s sonnets 61 and 62, printed below.
 = kindness, pity of my languishing state. Mercy and pity were the qualities which the lover frequently requested from his beloved. It could be taken to mean anything from a less harsh and cold disdain, to a kiss, or even the bliss of sexual congress. But rarely did a beloved pity her lover to that extent, and mostly the convention required that the love be physically unfulfilled. Sidney does not use the word ‘mercy’ but ‘pity’ is frequently encountered. E.g.:
Her heart, sweet heart, is of no tiger’s kind:
And yet she hears, yet I no pity find;
But more I cry, less grace she doth impart,
more I cry = the more I cry, suffer.6. Chiding that tongue that ever sweet

Chiding that tongue – her heart, which had been softened by mercy, rebukes her tongue, which normally only pronounces gentle dooms, but in this case was threatening to utter hatred.
ever sweet
 – always sweetly. The main meaning of this seems to be an adverbial usage, ‘she spoke sweetly to me’, rather than the adjectival sense of a sugary tongue. Compare the usage with Sidney’s in his sonnet 62, given below in full at the bottom of the page, and in 61 also:
She in whose eyes Love, though unfelt, doth shine,
Sweet said that I true love in her should find.
 62.7. Was used in giving gentle doom;Was used = was accustomed to, was in the habit of.
in giving = to pronouncing, to administering.
gentle = not unkind, not harsh, moderate, soft.
doom = sentence, fate. The mistress was expected or requested to pronounce the fate of her suppliant, whether it was to be eternal bliss in her arms, or to be an outcast from her sight. Sidney complains that his mistress threatens to use harsh looks from her eyes as his punishment, but since her eyes were also his heaven, he is threatened with the worst of fates and implores her to change her mind:
No doom should make one’s heav’n become his hell.
Note the heaven/hell imagery which shows that Shakespeare’s use of it in line 12, and in the previous sonnet the saint/angel/hell imagery, is not original.
I guess one angel in another’s hell: 144.12.
See for example:
When my good angel guides me to the place,
Where all my good I do in Stella see,
That heav’n of joys throws only down on me
Thundered disdains and lightnings of disgrace: 
and the use of saint in Sidney’s sonnet 62 below.8. And taught it thus anew to greet;it = her tongue (of line 6).
anew = newly, in a new way.
to greet = to greet, salute, speak to. Compare also, from Sidney:
My Muse and I must you of duty greet A&S.84.9. ‘I hate’ she altered with an end,an end = an ending (to the sentence). She altered the meaning by changing the end of the sentence.10. That followed it as gentle day,Sidney uses the day and night imagery:
I might, unhappy word, oh me, I might,
And then would not, or could not see my bliss;
Till now, wrapt in a most infernal night,
I find how heav’nly day, wretch, I did miss.
Heart, rend thyself, thou dost thyself but right; 
Day is happiness and night is misery in lover’s metaphors. The epithet gentle suggests soothing caresses, as of the sun flattering the mountain tops (sonnet 33). But it was not an uncommon description of day. Compare this from Much Ado about Nothing:
Good morrow, masters; put your torches out:
The wolves have preyed; and look, the gentle day,
Before the wheels of Phoebus, round about
Dapples the drowsy east with spots of grey
. MA.V.3.24-7.11. Doth follow night, who like a fiendwho = which (i.e. night).
a fiend
 = a devil. Devils were creatures of darkness and the night. Satan was known as the arch-fiend, perhaps by derivation from the days when he was an archangel, although the word is not recorded by OED earlier than 1667, in Milton.12. From heaven to hell is flown flown away = has fled. The imagery of these two lines recalls that of the previous sonnet, with the fiend departing to hell. flown suggests the flight of a winged evil spirit.13. ‘I hate’, from hate away she threw,Her declaration of hate she threw away from the actuality of hate (by changing the meaning at the last minute). Gurr suggests that there is a pun on hate away – Hathaway. See the introductory note for a discussion on this.14. And saved my life, saying ‘not you’.And saved my life – Booth suggests a pun – Anne saved my life. The pronunciation of ‘and’ was probably close to ‘an’. That the beloved could save the lover’s life with a friendly glance was almost a commonplace in the literature. Compare from the fifth song of Astrophel and Stella:
Who may and will not save, murder in truth committeth.
i.e. the beloved who is able to save her lover with a friendly glance, and yet refuses to do so, is effectively killing him and committing murder.

Additional notes


Oft with true sighs, oft with uncalled tears,
Now with slow words, now with dumb eloquence
I Stella’s eyes assail, invade her ears;
But this at last is her sweet breathed defense:
That who indeed infelt affection bears,
So captives to his saint both soul and sense,
That wholly hers, all selfness he forbears,
Thence his desires he learns, his life’s course thence.
Now since her chaste mind hates this love in me,
With chastened mind, I straight must show that she
Shall quickly me from what she hates remove.
Oh Doctor Cupid, thou for me reply,
Driv’n else to grant by angel’s sophistry,
That I love not, without I leave to love.

4. sweet = sweetly, 10. straight = straightaway.

Late tired with woe, ev’n ready for to pine,
With rage of love, I called my love unkind;
She in whose eyes Love, though unfelt, doth shine,
Sweet said that I true love in her should find.
I joyed, but straight thus watered was my wine,
That love she did, but loved a Love not blind,
Which would not let me, whom she loved, decline
From nobler course, fit for my birth and mind:
And therefore by her love’s authority,
Willed me these tempests of vain love to flee,
And anchor fast myself on Virtue’s shore.
Alas, if this the only metal be
Of Love, new-coined to help my beggary,
Dear, love me not, that you may love me more.

4. sweet = sweetly, 5. straight = straightaway.

Note that sweet used adverbially is common to all three poems, as is straight = straightaway. Cf. 145:

6/7. that tongue that ever sweet / Was used

5. Straight in her heart did mercy come.


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