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Shakespeare Sonnet 41: "Those pretty wrongs that liberty commits"

Updated on December 12, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

The real "Shakespeare"
The real "Shakespeare" | Source


The speaker in sonnet 41 does an about face regarding his unity with his poetic creations. As he dramatizes the nature of genuine poetic qualities, he contrasts them with the mere pouring on of decoration.

Because the speaker's only interests are the genuine stuff of poetry, he now reasserts his unity with his poetry. He has made it clear that his only duty is to produce genuine art.

This speaker thus assures his readers that he would never afford himself mere "poetic license," which would result only in fabrication and even folly.

Reading of Shakespeare Sonnet 41

First Quatrain: "Those pretty wrongs that liberty commits"

In sonnet 41, the speaker addresses the poem again: sometimes when the poet/speaker is not practicing his art, his thoughts commit "pretty wrongs."

The musing speaker does not completely specify the wrongs, but the point is that even when he is "absent from [the poem’s] heart," its loveliness of intent follows him.

Most poets and artists find themselves from time to time asserting that they are always looking for something that will contribute to their next creation.

Practicing aestheticism tempts the artist to anything the artist may deem beautiful. This speaker hints that he is not a beginning poet but has for many years been allured by art’s aesthetic temptations.

Second Quatrain: "Gentle thou art, and therefore to be won"

The speaker then reveals the qualities that most attract him—gentleness and beauty. He insists that any mother’s son would do the same.

The gentle and beautiful slope of art wins the artist’s heart. It is as natural as night following day.

If the speaker tried to resist such temptation, it would cause him to feel bitter. His life would sour until he returned again to his God-given attractions and practiced his in-born talent.

This talented speaker can prevail only in following his intuition that leads him always back to his love of creating his art, his poems.

Third Quatrain: "Ay me! but yet thou mightst my seat forbear"

However, the speaker then addresses the notion that the poem might garner more attention than the poet.

The beauty and the "straying youth" of the poem might seem to "chide" the speaker or even the poem itself; thus, such a chiding would count as one of the "pretty wrongs that liberty commits."

However, the speaker insists that the poem is forced to tell the truth, even as it appears to "break a twofold truth."

The speaker asserts that whoever would "lead thee in their riot even there" is the one who would cause the muse to break with truth, but the twofold truth is delayed until the couplet.

The Couplet: "Hers by thy beauty tempting her to thee"

If the muse breaks truth with the poem, her beauty would tempt the speaker to address the necessary correction to bring the poem back to its proper condition, and if the beauty is merely superficial, the poem would not only be untruthful to itself, but it would also prove false to the speaker.

The speaker has on every occasion convinced the reader that he could never allow such an atrocity; therefore, the unity of poet and poem is recaptured.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes


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