Summary and Analysis Sonnet 130


Sonnet 130 is a parody of the Dark Lady, who falls too obviously short of fashionable beauty to be extolled in print. The poet, openly contemptuous of his weakness for the woman, expresses his infatuation for her in negative comparisons. For example, comparing her to natural objects, he notes that her eyes are “nothing like the sun,” and the colors of her lips and breasts dull when compared to the red of coral and the whiteness of snow.

Whereas conventional love sonnets by other poets make their women into goddesses, in Sonnet 130 the poet is merely amused by his own attempt to deify his dark mistress. Cynically he states, “I grant I never saw a goddess go; / My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.” We learn that her hair is black, but note the derogatory way the poet describes it: “black wires grow on her head.” Also, his comment “And in some perfumes is there more delight / Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks” borders on crassness, no matter how satirical he is trying to be. The poet must be very secure in his love for his mistress — and hers for him — for him to be as disparaging as he is, even in jest — a security he did not enjoy with the young man. Although the turn “And yet” in the concluding couplet signals the negation of all the disparaging comments the poet has made about the Dark Lady, the sonnet’s last two lines arguably do not erase the horrendous comparisons in the three quatrains.


dun tan or mud-colored.