The poem “True Love” is William Shakespeare’s sonnet number 116. It belongs to the poet’s first series of sonnets addressed to certain Mr. W.H., a young man possessing excellent physical charm. Love, as was customary, is the theme dealt with in the poem. The inaugurating line “Let me not to the marriage of true minds” immediately sets forth what the poem is going to tell us. In certain anthologies the poem appears under the title “Let me not to the marriage of true minds”.
The poem is about love as it is distinct and different from lust or sensuality. The poet dose not admits “impediments in to the marriage of true minds”. Love, says the poet, is the union or marriage of minds true to each other. Two minds united in love never change their loyalty to each other. Love that changes when it finds occasion or opportunity for change is not love in the genuine sense of the term. It is not true love. It is, at its best, lust camouflaging as love. Love is strong. It is steadfast and constant. It does not “bend with the remover to remove”. No circumstance, however strong, can sever the bonding between true minds.
The exclamation ‘O no!’ at the beginning of quatrain two reinforces the steadfastness and infrangibility of love. This has been deftly done by the apt use of the pole-star (an ever-fixed mark) metaphor built into imagery. The pole-star is an ever-fixed on the northern sky. Before the invention of the mariners, compass the ship drafting in the darkness in the storms looked for the pole-star and determined the direction of their voyage. The pole-star was their guide. It was “the star to every wandering bark.” The pole-star looks on tempests and is never shaken. Similarly true love looks on circumstances bringing in change, but itself remains constant, unchanged. The height of the pole-star can be taken or is known. Its worth is too immense to be measured. Similarly true love is of immense worth or value for lovers: “wandering bark”.
In the third quatrain Shakespeare speaks about the time transcending aspect of true love. In the expression “Love’s not Time’s fool”. Here time is personified. During Shakespeare’s time the word ‘fool’ meant ‘doll’. Love is not a playing on the hand of time. Time is a great transmutative force. Things and beings grow and decay with the passage of time.
Aspect of youthful charm like rosy lips and cheeks are subject to the ravages of time. Physical charm is transient. Lust, based on physical charm, is transitory, temporal. True love, on the contrary, is above and beyond the reach of time. It is immune from the ravages of time. “Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks”. The recurrence of the word “alters” in this line links it with line three “which alters when it alteration finds.” With such organic structure the poem is a splendid piece or art.
True love has the ability to endure. True love “bears it out even to the edge of doom”. Dooms Day or the Day of Judgement is a biblical belief. One dose not knows when it would come and whether it would come at all. The dooms day will see the end of life and the universe. True love would endure, would live till that time. The implication is that true love is everlasting.
The statement made in the couplet at the end of the poem makes it apparent that the poet’s analysis of the nature of true love is not solely based on his personal experience of feeling. If what he has said about true love be proved wrong, no man ever loved. He never wrote. No doubt the poet’s views about true love are what have been often stated and written about.
Shakespeare’s sonnet number 116 is a superb example of the poet’s artistic craftsmanship, his mastery over language, his ability of creating pictures with words and imbibing these pictures with life to voice his thoughts Shakespeare is a pastmaster in the choice and use of metaphors as evidenced by the metaphor of the pole-star in this poem.